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The moon has a face like the clock in the hall; She shines on thieves on the garden wall,
On streets and fields and harbour quays, And birdies asleep in the forks of the trees.
– Robert Louis Stevenson
These lines from a poem written by Robert Louis Stevenson beautifully describe an image of the surroundings illuminated by the moon. But, it doesn’t come anywhere closer to mentioning another natural phenomenon related to the moon, a lunar eclipse. They have been the roots of several worries and fears in ancient times, too, when we did not know much about them. With the progress made in astronomical studies, our understanding of lunar eclipses has increased. If you’d love to pass on some great information about this natural phenomenon to your kids, read on.
What Is a Lunar Eclipse?
A lunar eclipse occurs when the sun, the earth, and the moon are aligned, with the earth in the centre. The three astronomical bodies could be in a straight line or closely aligned in a way that the earth’s placement casts a shadow on the moon, making the moon appear reddish-brown in colour.
Types of Lunar Eclipse
As the alignment of the three astronomical bodies cannot always be in a straight line; we get to see three types of lunar eclipses.
1. Total Lunar Eclipse
A total lunar eclipse occurs when the earth is right in the middle between the sun and the moon and casts a complete shadow on the moon. However, because the sun is 109 times bigger than our planet, it’s light still reaches the moon, making it appear reddish-brown when seen from our planet. Why does it appear so? We’ll answer that soon below.
2. Partial Lunar Eclipse
When the alignment is such that the earth casts a shadow on a portion of the moon, we get a partial lunar eclipse. Many identify a partial lunar eclipse easily as it looks like someone has taken a bite out of the moon.
3. Penumbral Lunar Eclipse
During a penumbral lunar eclipse, the outer shadow of the earth (penumbra) falls on the moon giving it a faintly darker appearance, which can only be seen when you observe the moon closely through the eclipse.
How Many Times Can a Lunar Eclipse Occur?
A lunar eclipse can occur two to five times a year. The most commonly occurring eclipses are either partial or penumbral; a total lunar eclipse is less common compared to these two types.
What Is a Blood Moon Lunar Eclipse?
A blood moon is a non-scientific name used to refer to a total lunar eclipse when the moon appears reddish or reddish-brown. It happens because the earth’s atmosphere filters the light emitted by the sun causing the green to violet wavelengths (on the visible spectrum) to scatter more compared to the red wavelength, which reaches the moon and makes it appear red.
So, is there a chance we could see a blood moon in 2020? Let’s find out!
Lunar Eclipse 2020 Schedule
In 2020, four penumbral lunar eclipses have been predicted. Unfortunately, there won’t be a blood moon this year.
This is what the schedule looks like though –
- 10th of January 2020: Penumbral Lunar Eclipse
- 5th of June 2020: Penumbral Lunar Eclipse
- 5th of July 2020: Penumbral Lunar Eclipse
- 30th of November 2020: Penumbral Lunar Eclipse
If you missed the lunar eclipse of January 2020, you can witness the next lunar eclipse that is predicted to occur on the 5th of June.
How to Watch a Lunar Eclipse?
During a lunar eclipse, the moon does not emit harmful rays as is the case with a solar eclipse. Therefore, you can witness this natural phenomenon with your naked eye from a safe location. In case you wish to take a closer look at the moon, you could use a pair of binoculars or a telescope if you have one.
Other Interesting Facts About Lunar Eclipse
Humans have witnessed, loved, feared, and studied natural occurrences on the planet for ages, which resulted in the numerous facts and myth irresistible to many. Here are some interesting lunar eclipse facts kids are sure to enjoy reading –
- The alignment of the sun, the earth, and the moon during a lunar eclipse is called syzygy (pronounced si-zuh-jee) which is defined as a straight-line alignment (or a rough straight-line alignment) of three or more astronomical bodies in a gravitational system.
- Christopher Columbus correctly predicted a total lunar eclipse in the early 16th century (1st of March 1504) and cleverly used it to intimidate the natives of Jamaica into providing for him and his crew while they were stranded on the island. He said God would make the moon appear inflamed with wrath to display his displeasure towards the people of the island if they wouldn’t help those stranded. When the Jamaicans witnessed the event, they ran to the ships with provisions and asked Columbus to convince God to save them from the “wrath”. People also call this incident as the Columbus lunar eclipse or the Columbus eclipse.
- The English word “eclipse” comes from the Greek word “ékleipsis” which means abandonment or downfall. Sounds scary, we know, but the term came into existence ages ago, and mainly signified the darkening of the moon’s face and its association with a certain belief system. The term continued being in use, but the meaning and its logical explanation have changed completely over the years.
- The level of darkness on the moon’s face during a total lunar eclipse can be measured using a 5-point scale called the Danjon Scale.
- Other than being safe to watch, lunar eclipses are longer compared to solar eclipses. Some lunar eclipses can last over three hours. So, you can plan a campout the next time a lunar eclipse is scheduled to happen.
A lunar eclipse is sure to get kids and adults equally inquisitive as the moon has been the centre of several thoughts and beliefs for ages. A professor of philosophy and former dean at Rutgers University, Emmanuel George Mesthene, once quoted, “A decade ago, the moon was an inspiration to poets. A decade later, it will be just another airport.”