Partial Lunar Eclipse in West Berkshire

Full Moon Rising

Our lives are dominated by the sun. Everyone knows the time of day, the day of the week, and the season of the year. The moon is different. Most of us are only aware of the moon from time to time, usually when we are sitting outside in summer.

About 20 years ago, my wife and I were sitting in the garden in summer, enjoying a bar-b-q and watching the moon rising. This led to a conversation about the moon and its behaviour. Most people believe that the moon comes up in the evening, and it goes down in the morning, and when the moon is full, this is indeed the case. Since then my wife and pay attention to the moon. We enjoy watching it especially on summer evenings. The photograph above shows the moon rising and was taken in the evening.

In the description which follows, all the times are for British summertime in London. The times in our area will be about 5 minutes later, as we are west of London [1].

Eclipse of the moon

Tonight (16 July 2019), the moon will be full and there will be an eclipse of the moon. The eclipse will start at 9:01 and reach its maximum at 10:30 and it will end around midnight. The sun will set at 9:10, and the sky will be quite dark by 10:30.

Solar and lunar eclipses

A solar eclipse happens when the moon passes between us and the sun. It is always at the precise moment of the new moon. It happens about once every six months, but it is usually only visible from a very narrow strip on the surface of the earth. Everyone who has experienced a total solar eclipse can remember the event. It is awe inspiring. Some people travel around the world viewing solar eclipses. For those who stay at home, they are quite rare; about once in a thousand years, a solar eclipse will find you. The last solar eclipse which was visible in England was in August 1999, and the next will be in August 2026. [2]

A lunar eclipse is when the earth passes between the sun and the moon. It is always at the precise moment of the full moon. It happens about once every six months, and it is visible from about half of the earth. It is most spectacular when it happens well after sunset, as you can see the moon gradually disappear and then reappear. It takes about 3 hours, so you have plenty of time to observe its progress. Usually the moon is still visible, but the colour is a dull red.

Lunar and solar eclipses come in pairs, separated in time by about 14 days. Two weeks ago, there was a total solar eclipse which was visible in the South Pacific Ocean. No doubt, there would have been some people who went to Chile or Argentina to see it. For most of us, we can settle for a lunar eclipse. It is free and will be visible in your garden this evening about 10.30. The weather forecast is favourable.

Questions about the timing of this eclipse

1) Is it a coincidence that the eclipse is on the night of the full moon?
A No. A lunar eclipse can only happen at the time of the full moon.

2) Is it a coincidence that the eclipse is starting at the time of sunset?
A Yes. If you were observing the moon from the Greek islands (to the east of England), the local time of the eclipse would be about two hours later.

3) Is it a coincidence that the moon rises about the time of the start of the eclipse?
A Yes. Again, if you were observing from somewhere else, the local time would be different.

I have a little puzzle which I call seeing the moon from a hotel room. You are travelling, and you arrive in a hotel room in a strange place. You are rather disorientated. You do not know which way is north, south, east or west. You look out of the window and you see that the moon is rising. It is full, and it is just above the horizon. There are two simple questions:

1) What time is it?
A. About 8pm in the evening. Depending on the time of year, and the state of the moon, it could be as early as 6pm, and it could be as late as 10pm, but it is the always evening.

2) What is the direction of view?
A. East. Again, depending on the time of year, it could be a bit to the north of East, or to the south of East, but it is towards the East.

Try this puzzle on your family. Some will know; most will not.

There is a variation of the puzzle. You are travelling, and you spend the night in a strange room. You get up early and you see that the moon is full and close to the horizon. We have two questions:

1) Is the moon rising, or setting?
A. Setting. It is morning. The full moon never rises in the morning.

2) What time is it?
A About 4am. Depending on the time of year, and the state of the moon, it could be as early as 2am, and it could be as late as 8am, but it is morning.

Another variation of the puzzle is geographic. Does it matter where you are in the world? The answer is no. A rising full moon, is always the evening wherever you are, even in the southern hemisphere. A setting full moon is always in the morning.


Is that all there is to know about eclipses?

No, there is much more, but if you have made it to the end of this article, then there are many articles about the moon and the sun on the Internet.




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