The Red Moon of August

August 24, 2007

The full moon for the month of August will be a special one: it will be red for part of the world.

Yes, you read correctly. Red. That’s because there is a Total Eclipse of the Moon on Tuesday August 28th. This will be a morning event for those of us in the United States, and for us in Michigan, the moon will set in the west during totality.

An eclipse of the Moon can only take place at Full Moon, and only if the Moon passes through some portion of Earth’s shadow. The shadow is actually composed of two parts, the penumbra and the umbra. The outer shadow or penumbra is a zone where Earth blocks some (but not all) of the Sun’s rays. In contrast, the inner shadow or umbra is a region where Earth blocks all direct sunlight from reaching the Moon.

Lunar Eclipse
The Moon during totality (image © Kevin Jung)

The full moon will be at 6.35am EDT and sets at 7.07am. The moon will be “totally eclipsed” starting at 5.53am, and sets during mid-eclipse. If you are farther west, you will get to see more of the total portion of the event.

There are several factors that will come into play that will decide just how bright or dark the totally eclipsed moon will be. A big part is just how close to the center of the earth’s shadow the moon travels through.

The other factor is strictly environmental. Depending on the levels of dust, dirt, and pollution in the atmosphere, the moon could be very dark indeed. While some eclipses have a coppery red color, some – during times of volcanic activity, large forest fires, etc., – will have an extremely dark hue to them, and almost impossible to pick out amongst the background stars. However, due to the time of the year, the position in the shadow, and the lack of major atmospheric pollutants, this one could be quite bright.

If you miss this evening eclipse due to clouds or whatnot, there will be another total eclipse in February 2008, and then not again until December of 2010. And you know how common clear skies are during those months.

So make your plans now to enjoy one of the best astronomical highlights of 2007. Put the date on your calendars, and get ready for a wonderful experience. Those of us who have observed lunar eclipses before can attest to the splendor.