On Aug. 28, 2007, Champaign-Urbana only had an opportunity to see half of a lunar eclipse. Since the eclipse began in the early morning hours, the sun came up before the eclipse was over. This Wednesday evening, however, we’ll get another chance. A total lunar eclipse will happen at 7:30 p.m. and the members of the Champaign-Urbana Astronomical Society, with help from the William M. Staerkel Planetarium staff, are offering up their own personal telescopes for a free viewing of the rare event.
If you miss this eclipse, you’ll have to wait approximately three years for the next one. All are welcome to view the lunar eclipse and there will be at least a half dozen telescopes set up outside of the planetarium’s theater for an up close viewing. Unfortunately, if clouds are hovering, the event will be canceled.
If you can’t make the drive out to Parkland College for this momentous event, or if the clouds are moving over, David Leake, planetarium coordinator at the William M. Staerkel Planetarium, suggests you take precaution.
“Dress warm! That’s about it. You’ll be able to see the eclipse from about anywhere around here,” Leake says.
He also mentions that those viewing from home may observe something else interesting.
“Try to notice the curve of the Earth’s shadow on the moon. This is another bit of evidence that the Earth is actually round. People noticed this back in ancient times. Also, see if the moon turns a shade of red after it is fully in the Earth’s shadow. If it does, this is due to sunlight that is bending through the Earth’s atmosphere. The atmosphere scatters out some of the blue light (which is the reason our skies are blue), leaving some of the red to reflect off the moon. It’s the same reason that sunsets appear reddish. If we have a lunar eclipse after a large volcanic eruption, when the atmosphere is loaded with dust and aerosols, the moon can take on a particularly blood-red color. You can understand why some ancient cultures were afraid of these things.”
The event starts at 7:30 p.m. (though the actual lunar eclipse begins at 7:43 p.m.) with the moon completely in the Earth’s shadow at about 9 p.m. Just before 10 p.m., it will begin to come out of the shadow and we’ll have a full moon again shortly after 11 p.m. Unlike their solar counterparts, lunar eclipses are very safe to observe as, in essence, you’re merely observing a full moon.
The William M. Staerkel Planetarium is located at 2400 W Bradley Ave. in Champaign.