June 16, 2011

Lunar Eclipse Seen Across Europe And Australia

There was a rare treat for sky gazers last night as the first lunar eclipse of the year revealed itself across the planet from Australia to Europe. What made it especially interesting was that instead of the usual brownish color, the moon appeared as a dusty, blood red color, AFP is reporting.

There was speculation that the hue was the result of ash from the erupting Puyehue volcano, high in Chile's Andes. "We can't say for sure," explained Sydney Observatory astronomer Geoffrey Wyatt. "The red color is not caused by dust in the atmosphere. What dust does is extinguish color and make it look darker."

Professor Fred Watson, chief astronomer at the Australian Astronomical Observatory, explained that the best view would have been from the moon itself. "If you could watch the phenomena, you would see the Earth moving across the sun and it creating a brilliant red rim around the Earth," The Telegraph reported.

Another special aspect of this eclipse was the length of the totality, when the lunar face is completely covered, which lasted for 100 minutes, the longest since July 2000.

Since the event took place during daytime in north and south America, much of the world was not able to view it firsthand. However, Google and Slooh.com teamed up to stream the eclipse online. Slooh accesses telescopes around the world and Google live-streamed the event, with audio narration from astronomers.

Google even replaced its usual banner "doodle" with an animated eclipse, continuing its playful and informative tradition of highlighting special events.

At the Sydney Observatory, there were about 130 people in attendance to view the event. Some dressed in costumes to enjoy the fun. One woman dressed as a vampire and "There was (also) a child dressed very elegantly as if she was from another century, and a little boy dressed up as a red superhuman," the observatory's manager Toner Stevenson said.

More than 700 gathered in Singapore outside a science center to watch. Some enthusiasts staked out spots several hours ahead of schedule with the center organizing astronomy talks and movie screenings to entertain the audience.

"I will never get tired of watching these events," said Maximo Sacro, 67, the retired curator of the National Museum Planetarium in Manilla, who dusted off his telephoto lens to capture the image. "The moon's entry into the Earth's shadow was right smack in the middle, it was just perfect. It was very rare and the duration was long," he told the Telegraph

Eclipse enthusiasts across Pakistan and India enjoyed the event also, with crowds gathered at the Nehru planetarium in New Delhi, which organized a "moon carnival", setting up special viewing telescopes.

Traditionalists, however, were not as enthusiastic, as authorities at several Indian temples reportedly shutting their doors to ward off the supposed "evil effects" of the eclipse.

Mosques in the Afghan capital of Kabul, mosques were packed, and crowds recited verses from the Koran. "In Afghanistan, people believe that the eclipse is a sign of the power of Allah," said Mir Ahmad Joyenda, an Afghan analyst who commentates on culture and society.

"People usually offer special prayers and shout Allah Akbar (God is great) at the time of the eclipse. Most of them are not aware how and why the eclipse takes place."

Sky gazers will need to wait until November 13, 2012 to view the next full lunar eclipse although there will be partial solar eclipses in July and November of this year.

Image Courtesy Wikipedia (CC BY-SA 3.0)