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NASA Releases New Lunar Eclipse Video

In anticipation of the upcoming lunar eclipse later this month, NASA has released a new video that shows how lunar eclipses work.

The video was produced by Chris Smith at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md.
› Download high resolution versions

The Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO) team will release another video next week focusing on the role of LRO during the eclipse. LRO has been providing the most detailed imagery of the moon since it launched in 2009.

On June 15 2011, viewers outside of North America will be able to see the lunar eclipse. From beginning to end, the eclipse will last from 17:24 UTC (1:24 p.m. EDT) to 23:00 UTC (7:00 p.m. EDT). Totality, the time when Earth's shadow completely covers the moon, will last about an hour and 41 minutes.

A lunar eclipse occurs when Earth lines up directly between the sun and the moon, blocking the sun's rays and casting a shadow on the moon. As the moon moves deeper and deeper into Earth's shadow, the moon changes color before your very eyes, turning from gray to an orange or deep shade of red.

The moon takes on this new color because indirect sunlight is still able to pass through Earth's atmosphere and cast a glow on the moon. Our atmosphere filters out most of the blue colored light, leaving the red and orange hues that we see during a lunar eclipse. Extra particles in the atmosphere, from say a recent volcanic eruption, will cause the moon to appear a darker shade of red.

Unlike solar eclipses, lunar eclipses are perfectly safe to view without any special glasses or equipment. All you need is your own two eyes. And while we won't be able to catch this particular eclipse in the continental U.S., we will get our next opportunity on April 15, 2014, so mark your calendars!
Chris Smith and Nancy Neal Jones
NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, Md.

Why does the moon look red during a total lunar eclipse?


During a total lunar eclipse – like the lunar eclipse on the night of June 15, 2011 – Earth’s shadow on the moon often looks red. Why?

During a lunar eclipse, you’ll see the Earth’s shadow creeping across the moon’s face. The shadow will appear dark, like a bite taken out of the moon’s face, until the shadow completely covers the moon. Then, during the breathtaking moments of totality, the shadow on the moon’s face often often suddenly changes. Instead of dark, it appears red. Why?

Lunar eclipse of March 3, 2007. Image by Joshua Valcarcel. (Wikimedia Commons)

The reason stems from the very air we breathe. If the Earth had no air, then Earth’s shadow on the moon during a lunar eclipse would appear black. The presence of Earth’s air means that, during a lunar eclipse, sunlight can filter through Earth’s atmosphere onto the shadow on the moon. This filtered sunlight makes the moon appear red during a total eclipse.

But red isn’t the only color of a totally eclipsed moon. An eclipsed moon can appear brown, red, orange or yellow. The color depends on the presence of dust and clouds in Earth’s atmosphere. If there has been a major volcanic eruption, for example, the shadow on the moon will appear dark throughout an eclipse. In December 1992, not long after the eruption of Mount Pinatubo in the Philippines, there was so much dust in Earth’s atmosphere that the totally eclipsed moon could barely be seen.

Can anyone know in advance how red the moon will appear during a total lunar eclipse? Not precisely. Before an eclipse takes place, you’ll often hear people speculating about it. Still, no one knows for certain how red the moon will appear when eclipse time comes. That uncertainty is part of the fun of eclipses, so enjoy! And watch for the red moon during a lunar eclipse.


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