By Rishabh Jain
The longest Lunar Eclipse of your lifetime will happen on the July 27-28, 2018. If this your first time, it is even better as the timing couldn’t be better. The eclipse is on a weekend and starts right after dinner time (if you are in India). Unlike the eclipse of the sun, the eclipse of the moon can be seen over a very large area and for a very long time. The upcoming eclipse is for more than six hours. Before we learn how you can observe this beautiful celestial phenomenon, let’s understand a few basics.
What is a Lunar Eclipse?
A Lunar Eclipse is caused by the alignment of Sun, Earth and the Moon in the same order and the alignment has to be very precise. Even if it’s off by fraction of a degree, a Total Lunar Eclipse could become a partial one (no red moon basically). As the light of the Sun filters through the atmosphere of the Earth, it gets scattered and absorbed. Only red light and orange colours get through, giving the Moon its characteristic red colour during the total phase of the eclipse.
What is so special about this eclipse?
This Lunar Eclipse is really long and the reason for that is that it’s happening on a micro moon phase. This means that the Moon is just about as far it can be from Earth in that orbit. This happens because of the elliptical orbit of the Moon around the Earth. The shadow of the Earth covers the Moon for a longer duration in this case and hence the eclipse is longer.
You have to pull an all-night observation if you are keen to observe all the phases of the eclipse. My advice to everyone reading this is to make the effort. I wouldn’t be surprised if you become an eclipse chaser like me after the experience. The eclipse is also visible over a very large part of the Earth due to the circumstances.
Is the eclipse safe to watch?
The eclipse is totally safe to watch, unlike the partial phase of a solar eclipse and you can stare at the eclipsed moon for as long as you want. You may also eat all you want. Millions of people do that while watching the eclipse and they turn out just fine. The same is true for pregnant women and ill people. In fact, there are a minimum of four eclipses every year (Solar + Lunar), so just enjoy the beautiful view of this celestial event.
You can use the following optical instruments to watch the eclipse:
* Unaided eyes
* Any camera (Smartphone camera included)
So, you want to take a photograph?
This is perfect photo opportunity for even casual photographers and you can use very basic equipment (phone camera) to capture the eclipse. If you have a camera and a tripod, just point it to the Moon, set it to AV mode and press the shutter button and you have an eclipse photograph. For the phone, make sure that the flash is off. The camera software should do the rest. You may also use a simple digital camera if you don’t have an expensive DSLR or a telescope. Another smart way of taking an eclipse photo is by placing your phone on one of the eyepieces of your toy binoculars. Remember, just point and shoot. It is actually that simple.
You may try one of these lenses which can be ordered online or brought from a phone accessories shop. They produce a pretty decent result and can be used during day time also.
Click HERE to find your circumstances using a map released by NASA (https://eclipse.gsfc.nasa.gov). It will help you plan the eclipse observation. (You have to scroll down to see the map.)
The map is really simple to understand.
- The black area means you won’t get to see the eclipse at all. You might want to reconsider that overseas trip you’ve been planning for so long.
- The white area means you will get to see the whole eclipse from beginning to end.
- If you are in the areas where the black and white merge, you will get to see the eclipse at either moonrise or moonset.
The exact moonrise and moonset times for your location can be found HERE (www.timeanddate.com/moon/).
What are the timings for the lunar eclipse?
The timings for India are as follows (a few seconds here and there, depending on where you are):
Moonrise 06:59 PM
Penumbral Eclipse Begins 10:44 PM
Partial Eclipse Begins 11:54 PM
Totality Starts 01:00 AM
Maximum Eclipse 01:51 AM
Totality ends 02:43 AM
Partial Eclipse Ends 03:49 AM
Penumbral Eclipse Ends 04:58 AM
Some tips to watch the lunar eclipse:
* An eclipse is a painfully slow process, check its progress once every 5-10 minutes to see a visible difference.
* Try switching between various optical instruments to appreciate the beauty of the eclipse.
* Practice observing the eclipse a day before the actual event. You will get an idea about where the moon will appear and where it will be at particular times (moon will rise about 40 minutes earlier a day before).
* Contact a local astronomy club and see if they have any mass eclipse observations planned. In Delhi, the Amateur Astronomers Association of Delhi (AAAD) in association with the Nehru Planetarium and Library, Delhi is organising an eclipse watch on the 27th July 2018. The event kicks off at 10 pm (IST). The event is open to all and there are no observation charges or entry fee.
(The writer is popularly known as ‘astronomy guru’ to friends and colleagues and has an asteroid discovery to his credit. He is the founder of Telescope Watch (www.telescopewatch.in), a non-profit which aims to spread awareness about science and astronomy. On a random day, you may find him in your neighbourhood, showing the moon and planets to everyone who passes by. When he is not doing astronomy, he spends his time with EdTerra Edventures and creates fun travel programmes for school students.)