A pre-dawn total eclipse of the moon offers early risers an opportunity for celestial sky-gazing.
A little lunacy can be a good thing if it gets you out of bed early in the morning ' real early, like 5 a.m. That's what time you'll have to get up to catch the total lunar eclipse on Tuesday, Aug. 28. If the atmosphere is clear, it'll be a beauty.
The moon will hang in the western sky, about 30 degrees above the horizon when the eclipse begins to become noticeable, at about 4:06 a.m. As the earth passes between the moon and the sun, it will cast a shadow across the shining white orb. The moon will blush ' peach to orange to red as the shadow of the earth increases. That warm wash of red is due to sunlight bending like a fiery corona around and through earth's atmosphere, illuminating the moon. "So the reddish-orange color people will see is a combination of all the colors of all the sunrises and sunsets on earth at that particular moment," says Lafayette Planetarium Director Dave Hostetter. "It is kind of a wow thing." By 6:30 a.m. the eclipse will end, the moon will set and the sun rise on a new, ordinary looking day, with no residue of a red moon.
The best places to look at the eclipse are spots with a clear view of the western horizon. Cypremort Point is one obvious choice, but any place with a western vista not blocked by trees or buildings is a good bet. Hostetter likes Moore Park in north Lafayette, off of La. Hwy. 182. A pair of binoculars will enhance the experience; the seas and mountain ranges of the moon should be visible though good lenses. Watch the weather and hope for a clear night and cloudless morning. If you miss this turn in the celestial dance, the next total eclipse of the moon will occur on Feb. 20, 2008.