- Education and Science»
- Astronomy & Space Exploration
Understanding Eclipses - Phases of the Moon
Phases of the Moon
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
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!
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?
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?
© 2012 Austinstar