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Wednesday, August 29, 2007

It was big, it was red, it was beautiful Only once in a Red Moon

HUNDREDS of stargazers flocked to a rooftop car park in Richmond last night hoping to catch a glimpse of a red moon.

Unfortunately clouds made it almost impossible to see the rare lunar eclipse, but it didn't seem to bother the astronomy enthusiasts.

Astronomical Society of Victoria vice-president Terry Vlahos remained upbeat about the event despite the moon's virtual no-show.

"It's better than nothing," he said, as a sliver of the moon disappeared.

"I'm happy with the turnout and people seem to be having a good time. We can see Jupiter and some of the other constellations."

For almost an hour the moon teased the attentive crowd as it poked through the clouds before clear sky revealed the moon in all its red glory.
Christian Vasquez travelled from Deer Park for the lunar viewing.

"It's a bit unfortunate," he said. "But the turnout and the atmosphere has more than made up for it.

"It's great to see everyone having a good time, especially the kids."

Curator of Astronomy at Sydney's observatory, Nick Lomb, said most people in NSW had been able to see the eclipse.

"It's rare, but not as rare as a blue moon," he said.

While lunar eclipses occur at least twice a year somewhere in the world, the last time a total eclipse was visible from Australia's eastern states was in 2000.

Its really !!!

IT was big, it was red, it was beautiful and everyone across Australia had a view of last night's total eclipse of themoon.

Surprisingly, the moon didn't vanish as the sun does during a total solar eclipse, thanks to the geometry of Earth, the sun and the moon in relation to one another.

It glowed a warm red because of the dust particles in the atmosphere.

"Ash in the atmosphere from bushfires and volcanoes contributed to the depth of colour," said stargazer Dave Reneke, news editor of Sky and Space magazine.

"If we have another Mt St Helens eruption, it will turn the moon purple," he said, referring to the 1980 eruption of the US volcano in Washington State.

He suggested the blazing fires in Greece contributed to the depth of the colour displayed last night.

Astronomers such as Nick Lomb at Sydney's Powerhouse Museum are fascinated by the depth of red produced by a total lunar eclipse, as it is an indication of atmospheric conditions.

He agreed that pollution contributed to lunar eclipses, and said the particles in the atmosphere scattered the blue light.

"(But) the red remains," explained DrLomb, who watched last night's show from Sydney Observatory, along with hundreds of excited adults and children.

"There was lots of noise. People brought picnics and set up telescopes. It was very exciting."

The last total eclipse of the moon that was visible from beginning to end was July 16, 2000. The next lunar eclipse visible from Australia will be a partial one, on the morning of August 17 next year.

"The next time we'll see a total eclipse from beginning to end doesn't start until a quarter to midnight on 10 to 11 December, 2011," said Dr Lomb.

"That's why last night's was perfect. It was a time that even children are up."

A total lunar eclipse occurs when the moon moves into the shadow of Earth. The moon passes through Earth's main dark, circular shadow, the "umbra". It then moves through a lighter region of shadow, the "penumbra", surrounding the umbra.

Unless the moon's edge is very close to the umbra, it's difficult to notice any changes or dimming of the moon's disc because it still receives some direct sunlight.

One of the most spectacular views to be had in Australia was along the west coast, where the reddened orb was totally eclipsed at moonrise.

Speaking for space watchers across the nation, Mr Reneke summed up last night's light show: "It was a beautiful view."

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