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If you live anywhere in the America's, Europe, Africa or Western Asia, get ready for a treat of a lifetime on Wednesday, February 20th - A full eclipse of the moon (a lunar eclipse). While this is the third lunar eclipse in the past year, it is the last one until December 2010. Also it comes with an added bonus.
The planet Saturn and the bright bluish star, Regulus will also be seen, forming a triangle with the reddish disk of the moon in the middle. While one or the other has been seen during previous Lunar Eclipses, a double treat like this will not occur again until the next millennium! Another additional bonus in the America's is the fact that this eclipse will occur at a normal time when people are still and out and about.
As you probably know, the Moon makes no light of its own - it simply reflects the Sun's light. When the Earth gets in the middle, the Earth's shadow falls on the moon resulting in a Lunar Eclipse.
A Lunar Eclipse can only occur during a full moon and then too only when the Sun, Earth and Moon all align in the certain way.
Wednesday is going to be one of those perfect alignments. The moon will enter the Earth's shadow at about 8.43pm Eastern, 6.43pm Central and 5.43pm Pacific Time for people living in the America's. For other parts of the world the Greewich Mean Time is 1.43am on February 21st.
It will take slightly more than two hours for the moon to be totally eclipsed. The eclipse will last for about one hour. However, during the hour, the moon will not be completely dark, but a beautiful shade of orange or red. This light comes from all the sunrises and sunsets that are occurring around the Earth at the same time. Our atmosphere scatters and bends (refracts) this sunlight to the rim of the globe, sending some of it to the Earth's shadow, which then gets reflected on the surface of the moon. The color of the moon will change as the position of the Sun shifts.
So whatever else you do, don't forget to at least glance at the sky this Wednesday evening - and the best part is, unlike the Solar Eclipse you don't need any special viewing glasses, as Lunar Eclipses pose no danger to human eyes. And one last thing - let's all hope for clear skies!
The video below is of another Lunar Eclipse, witnessed from Hawaii in August 2007. Notice the different colors of the moon over the five-hour time frame. Simply fascinating isn't it?