Lunar Eclipse: Facts, Myths and Superstitions

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June 15, 2011 12:00
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On 15th June will be the first lunar eclipse of 2011. It is a total lunar eclipse which is pretty rare. It occurs when the Earth casts its shadow over the Moon but instead of getting dark, the Moon is still illuminated, thanks to the indirect sunlight which gives it a dramatic shade of red. The 100-minute duration of the eclipse will be the longest since July 2000. According to National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), “The entire event will be seen from the eastern half of Africa, the Middle East, Central Asia and western Australia.”

Lunar eclipses can only occur at full moon, that time when the moon is directly opposite Earth in relation to the sun. Now you maybe wondering why don’t lunar eclipse occur on every full moon. It is because eclipses are relatively rare. The plane in which the moon orbits around Earth is tilted 5 degrees compared to the plane of Earth that travels around the sun, a plane that astronomers call the ecliptic. When the moon gets into the ecliptic during its full phase, then a lunar eclipse occurs.

The following diagram illustrates a lunar eclipse and its types:

Photo - Addison Wesley

The myths and significance of lunar eclipse vary. According to science, it is just a coincidence of cycles. “It’s quite rare, but there’s no profound significance. It’s luck of the draw; you got dealt four aces,” believes Robert Dick, an astronomy instructor at Carleton. However, for many, it is an unusual time.

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