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Understanding Eclipses - Phases of the Moon

Updated on August 21, 2016
Austinstar profile image

Lela earned a B.A. degree in Journalism from Sam Houston University in Huntsville, TX. She has been writing for the online world for years.

Phases of the Moon

Lunar Cycles explained
Lunar Cycles explained | Source

What are Lunar Eclipses.

The Earth has a rather large shadow. When the sun is on one side of the Earth and the Moon is in Earth's shadow, we call it a lunar eclipse. Partial eclipses are seen when the Earth's shadow does not completely cover the moon.

Even though the moon may be totally enveloped by the Earth's shadow, or umbra, it is still visible because the moon has a highly reflective surface and the Earth is not large enough to totally block out all of the light in our solar system. The moon often appears reddish or copper colored during a total lunar eclipse. Dust and clouds can also affect the colors seen during an eclipse.

Lunar eclipses are also visible to everyone on the dark side of the Earth at the time of an eclipse. This is because it is the Earth causing the eclipse. When the moon causes an eclipse, it is too small to cast more than a small shadow on the Earth, therefore the moon's umbra only falls on part of the bright side of Earth. Only parts of the Earth underneath that small umbra will be able to "see" a total solar eclipse.

Total Lunar Eclipse

Red and copper coloring of a total lunar eclipse.
Red and copper coloring of a total lunar eclipse. | Source

Lunar Cycles

Lunar cycles and phases of the moon are the same things. The moon orbits the Earth making one full cycle around approximately every 29.5 days from new moon to new moon. During that time, the moon does not follow a true circular orbit, but rather an elliptical one. This makes the duration from new moon to new moon vary.

Astronomers have been able to predict total lunar eclipses for some time now. The orbits of the moon and the Earth are relatively stable. An automated moon phase calculator can tell you what phase the moon is in for any part of the globe.

Moon phases are generally measured in quarters: new moon, first quarter, full moon, third quarter and back to new. Some cultures have a different name for every single night of the moon cycles resulting in over 30 named nights. Some cultures also base their calendars on the lunar cycles rather than the solar cycles.

Take a photo of the moon!

You need a large lens to get a good photo of a full moon.
You need a large lens to get a good photo of a full moon. | Source

How to View a Lunar Eclipse

Lunar eclipses are quite easy to observe since everyone on the dark side of Earth can view the event at the same time. That being said, several factors can affect the view:

  • the weather - it is hard to see through clouds and rain
  • the time of night when the moon is full - Who wants to stay up to see an eclipse at three in the morning?
  • tall trees or buildings will obstruct the view

Tips for viewing a lunar eclipse:

  • wear proper clothing - it may get quite cool at night
  • get permission to view an eclipse if doing so from private property
  • telescopes should be on a sturdy tripod - especially motorized ones
  • make sure all cameras, video recorders, telescopes, etc. are all charged and ready to go before dark
  • simply laying on a mat and using binoculars is one of the best ways to view a lunar eclipse
  • a pen light is useful for finding things in the dark
  • a midnight lunar eclipse party is easy to organize and fun

Total Lunar Eclipse

Have you ever seen a lunar eclipse?

See results

Lunatics

Once upon a time, people thought the moon brought on mental illness, violence, demons, dark things and all manner of craziness. That's why people who loved moonlight were thought to be "lunatics".

The term lunatic comes from the Latin word "lunaticus" which originally referred to epilepsy and "madness" as diseases caused by the Moon.

The incoming and outgoing ocean tides are related to the moon's gravitational pull. People also seemed to have personality traits that ebbed and flowed to correlate with the moon phases.

It's been shown in studies that the moon doesn't physically influence humans. It's just a myth that more murders and mayhem occur during the full moon!

Are you a "Lunatic"?

Do you feel connected to the moon and its phases?

See results

© 2012 Lela

Comments - Do you have any other tips for watching a lunar eclipse?

Submit a Comment

  • profile image

    IntegrityYes 

    6 years ago

    You are very welcome. You rock!

  • Austinstar profile imageAUTHOR

    Lela 

    6 years ago from Somewhere in the universe

    Thank you Integrity! I will be checking out your hubs - welcome to HubPages!

  • profile image

    IntegrityYes 

    6 years ago

    That is fantastic,Austin Star! I definitely voted up.

  • Austinstar profile imageAUTHOR

    Lela 

    6 years ago from Somewhere in the universe

    It's a great story. It has always stuck in my head.

  • Cow Flipper profile image

    Sean Jankowski 

    6 years ago from Southern Oregon

    I've heard of Nightfall but never read it. Three Suns sounds like the movie Pitch Black. I've always been more a Clarke fan.

  • Austinstar profile imageAUTHOR

    Lela 

    6 years ago from Somewhere in the universe

    Thanks, Cow Flipper. Have you ever read Isaac Asimov's Nightfall? It's a cool story about a planet with three suns. Pretty tense.

  • Cow Flipper profile image

    Sean Jankowski 

    6 years ago from Southern Oregon

    Not only that but the tidal gravitational influences would reek havoc on life down here, changing the seasons, creating more earthquakes and other geological instabilities.

    Awesome hub Austinstar. :)

  • Austinstar profile imageAUTHOR

    Lela 

    6 years ago from Somewhere in the universe

    It would be nice to have two or three moons wouldn't it? It would certainly complicate the calculations required for predicting eclipses!

  • christopheranton profile image

    Christopher Antony Meade 

    6 years ago from Gillingham Kent. United Kingdom

    Very good hub. I have always found the Moon to be very interesting, probably because it is so near. It's a pity that we don't have a few more of them, like Jupiter.

  • josh3418 profile image

    Joshua Zerbini 

    6 years ago from Pennsylvania

    Austinstar,

    Very informative hub my friend! I haven't taken a Science course in quite some time, so this was a good refresher. I also learned some things as well! Thanks for sharing Austin!

  • Austinstar profile imageAUTHOR

    Lela 

    6 years ago from Somewhere in the universe

    Thanks for the tip! I have actually done that before. I am such a dunce.

  • drbj profile image

    drbj and sherry 

    6 years ago from south Florida

    Additional tip, Lela: Use your pen light or flashlight to ensure you are not placing the mat on which you will lie to bserve the lunar eclipse on top of an active angry anthill. Just sayin'.

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