Hopes of a clear night for lunar eclipse

KIRAN CHUG
Last updated 05:00 21/12/2010

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Astronomers are hoping for clear skies tonight so they can get the best view of a blood red moon during a full lunar eclipse.

Carter Observatory astronomer Claire Bretherton said viewers would have a "spectacular" sight, as long as it was not too cloudy.

Lunar eclipses happen when the Earth, sun and moon all line up together, and the Earth "bends" some of the sun's light, which illuminates the moon.

"The whole moon will appear as a blood red colour."

Dr Bretherton said that as the moon was very bright and usually visible even when there was some cloud, the eclipse would be seen by the naked eye unless it was very cloudy.

The eclipse would already have begun when the moon rose above the eastern horizon at 8.50pm tonight, she said.

It would become completely eclipsed shortly after that and remain as a "reddish orb" until the shadow of the Earth was seen moving off it about 10pm.

By about 11.25pm, the moon would resume its full brightness.

The eclipse would be the first total lunar eclipse visible in New Zealand since August 2007, Dr Bretherton said.

There would be two eclipses next year – the first would be on June 15, but the moon would set before its end, and the second would be on December 10.

However, for those hoping for a clear night tonight, MetService spokesman Bob McDavitt said northerly gales were expected in Wellington today and heavy rain was expected in western areas from Mt Taranaki to the central North Island high country.

He was more optimistic about the Christmas Day forecast, and said it was now likely that more settled weather would arrive in time for the weekend, with fine conditions in the east and clearing weather in the west.

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- The Dominion Post

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