Rare lunar eclipse emerges tonight
February 19, 2008
As the full moon rises tonight, it will be accompanied by a lunar eclipse, an event that will not return again until 2010.
According to Patrick Wiggins, astronomer and NASA’s designated Solar System Ambassador to Utah, the best time to observe the event will be between 8:20 and 8:30 p.m. when the Earth casts its longest and darkest shadow. During the 10-minute period it might be possible to watch the planet disappear entirely, but it’s not likely. Usually what happens is the Earth’s atmosphere refracts light onto the lunar surface, turning it a new color, he says.
"If the earth’s atmosphere happens to be relatively clear at the time of totality, you might have a yellow moon, but I like it when the earth has a little more dust in the atmosphere because then you get copper or a blood-red moon," he says.
Wiggins frequently fields bizarre questions about the night’s sky. He explains the lofty designation of ambassador is voluntary, and is intended to help educate the public about international space agencies and the latest discoveries in astronomy. "I like to say that when the aliens arrive, they’re going to send me out to negotiate," he jokes. "But it’s not true."
The eclipse today will last an hour beginning at 8:01 p.m., he says, followed by the return of the entirety of the moon’s pale face. In the next few days, Wiggins says the moon will take longer to emerge each day, rising 45 minutes later on average, but will still maintain the same brightness before dimming next week.
Taking advantage of the natural nightlight, two local organizations will host snowshoe hikes this Saturday. At 5:30 p.m., a hike will follow a chili supper at the McPolin Farm. At the Jordanelle State Park, a hike will begin at the Hailstone Marina at 7:30 p.m
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The moonlit snowshoe at McPolin Farm is $15 with a chili supper catered by Sidetrack Café, featuring folk music by Switzerland musician Elsbeth Gugi. Tickets are available at White Pine Nordic center. Call (435) 649-1213.
There is no charge for the moonlit snowshoe at Hailstone Marina in Jordanelle State Park, but donations are welcome. In addition to Saturday, the park has also planned a snowshoe for March 7. Call (435) 649-9540 to reserve a spot.