Total lunar eclipse provides a pleasant surprise

QUEEN Victoria Museum and Art Gallery astronomer Martin George said he was ``pleasantly surprised'' by last night's total lunar eclipse. 

He said that although the moon rose during the total phase, it became faintly visible to the unaided eye around 6pm, with the coppery-red colour of the totally eclipsed moon being very clear by 6.20pm, shortly before it began to emerge from the Earth's shadow.

``This was a fairly bright total lunar eclipse, meaning that the shadow of our planet was less dark than average,'' Mr George said.

``This led to the beautiful reddish colour of the eclipsed moon being visible even while there was still quite a bit of twilight,'' he said.

He said the moon is visible even when completely cut off from direct sunlight because some light passes through our atmosphere and falls on to the moon. 

It appears red because more red light passes through the atmosphere than other colours do.  The brightness of the eclipse was an indication that the ``rim'' of the Earth as seen from the moon was relatively cloud-free.

``Sometimes, the moon is very difficult to see when in total eclipse, even against a dark sky, but this time I was pleasantly surprised,'' Mr George said.

Tasmanians have a feast of eclipses this year.  On April 29 there will be a partial solar eclipse, and on October 8 another total lunar eclipse, which will be visible higher up against a darker evening sky.

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