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Wednesday, August 29, 2007

THE show really was out of this world,

THE show really was out of this world, and the star performer truly heavenly. It was the first total lunar eclipse to be seen from start to finish over Sydney since July 2000.

Hundreds of people crowded into the grounds of Sydney Observatory to watch through telescopes, paying up to $15 a head for the pleasure. Many brought rugs and hampers, turning the occasion into a picnic beneath starry skies.

But with the celestial show visible from the western US to Western Australia, countless others watched free of charge from home.

The curtain went up at 6.51pm sharp, exactly as the laws of celestial mechanics had predicted long ago. At that moment the Earth's shadow began to sweep across the moon, taking a bite out of its yellowish orb. At 7.52pm the shadow completely swallowed the moon - and "totality", as astronomers call it, began.

The lunar surface suddenly took on a dull reddish hue. The eerie glow was the result of light passing through the Earth's atmosphere. Most of the light was scattered in all directions but the red light was largely able to pass through, bouncing off the lunar surface and turning it red.

The spectacular view of the eclipse was made possible by a cloudless sky on another unseasonally warm evening.

This month the minimum overnight temperature in the city has averaged 11.2 degrees, almost 2 degrees above average, said the Bureau of Meteorology's climate technical officer, Mike De Salis. Top daytime temperatures during the month have averaged 19.4, also well above normal.

The mercury soared to 27 yesterday afternoon after almost reaching 28 on Monday - 10 degrees above normal.More fine weather is predicted for the rest of the week.

"It is starting to get unusual,"

Lunar magic stirs cosmic thoughts

IN THE early years of the 16th century, Christopher Columbus used his ability to forecast a total eclipse of the moon to intimidate the natives of Jamaica after he was shipwrecked on the island.

The stakes were not so high at the rooftop car park at Victoria Gardens Shopping Centre in Richmond last night, but the natives, like their counterparts several centuries ago, were mightily impressed to see the moon disappear into the earth's shadow.

Patchy cloud did not keep the hundreds of amateur astronomers away, and when the moon's last sliver disappeared at 7.53pm exactly loud cheers rang out. "I think we have an innate need to find out a little more about where we fit in the cosmic scheme of things," said Perry Vlahos, vice-president of the Astronomical Society of Victoria.

Dust in the earth's atmosphere gave the moon a pinkish tinge during the hour in which it was only faintly visible due to the earth's shadow.

During that hour the 20 telescopes assembled in the car park were trained on the planet Jupiter. A bit of a cosmological two for one, if you like.

The last total lunar eclipse was in July 2000. The next one visible in Victoria will be in 2011

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