About the 2011 Lunar Eclipse

The total lunar eclipse that occurred on June 15, 2011 wasn’t visible from North America, but the Internet blasted the footage around the world. The first total eclipse of the Moon this year lasted an unusually long time, making it visible in a greater part of the globe. In fact, it was darker and lasted for longer than any lunar eclipse in almost 11 years. It began at 1:24 p.m. EDT, but the 100 minute long period where the Earth’s shadow completely covered the Moon didn’t happen until 3:22 p.m.

The whole event lasted over five and a half hours, which spread the event over a wider breadth of continents than past lunar eclipses. Europe was not able to see the beginning, as it happened before the moon rose there. Eastern Asia and Eastern Australia missed the final part because the moon had already set. In South America, observers were able to see the Moon entirely covered. A live feed showed the entire process worldwide, but the eclipse was only visible over parts of South America, Western Africa, Europe, Asia, Australia, and the Philippines.

A lunar eclipse occurs when the Earth lines up directly in between the Sun and Moon. The Earth blocks the Sun’s rays from reaching the Moon, which casts a shadow on it. As it becomes more and more enveloped by the shadow, the Moon changes color from gray to orange to a deep shade of red. The reason behind this color change is that some indirect sunlight is still able to reach the Moon. The Earth’s atmosphere scatters blue light, so only red light is able to pass through and reach the Moon. The exact color differs depending on the amount of interfering matter like dust and clouds in the atmosphere.

Eclipses are actually more common than generally believed. Every year there are at least four eclipses, two of which are solar and two are lunar, but they are not visible everywhere on Earth. This could contribute to the general belief that they are rare occurrences, since a given area may very rarely experience one. It is also possible to get 5, 6, or 7 eclipses in a year, but these increasing numbers are less common. Total eclipses are even more rare yet. On average, there are about two total solar eclipses every three years. Total lunar eclipses can happen more frequently, often more than once in a year.

The June 15th total lunar eclipse in particular achieved much media attention around the world because of its classification as a relatively rare central lunar eclipse. In these cases, the moon passes through the center of the Earth’s shadow. This type is the darkest of lunar eclipses and is much less common. In the fifty years spanning 2001-2050, there are forecasted to be only 10 central lunar eclipses. The central lunar eclipse from August 28, 2007 as well as the recent June 15, 2011 one are both included in this total. The next total central lunar eclipse will be on July 27, 2018. It will be visible over Western Africa, Central Asia, South America, Eastern Africa, Europe, and Australia.

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