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Mon, 06 Feb 2017

Lunar eclipse this Friday

 Last year's penumbral eclipse, on 16 September. Photo: Robin Scagell

There’s a penumbral eclipse of the Moon coming up this Friday–Saturday, 10–11 February. This is not the same as a full-blown total eclipse, and in fact at a casual glance the Moon will not appear very different from usual, but for Moon fans it is a good event to watch. On this occasion, watchers in the British Isles and indeed the whole of Europe will get to see the whole event from start to finish. Weather permitting, of course!

A penumbral eclipse means that the Moon doesn’t go through the central part of Earth’s shadow, but through its outer parts. As a result, none of the Moon will go very dark, but it will take on a curious dusky appearance, with shading increasing from one side to the other.

Because mid eclipse occurs very close to midnight, the full Moon will be high in the sky, and should appear its usual silvery colour rather than reddish as happens when the Moon enters the deep part of Earth’s shadow.

When to look

The event starts at 22:32 GMT on Friday 10 February, wherever you are located. Within a minute or so of this time you will start to see the Moon’s eastern edge becoming slightly darker. As time goes on the dark area increases and moves around the Moon until its northern edge is darkest, at mid eclipse at 00:43 on Saturday morning, 11 February. Then the dark area starts to decrease and eventually the Moon is its normal self again by 02:55.

Where to be

Anywhere in the UK will do! No need to seek out a particularly dark area, as the Moon is bright enough to cut through even city lights, though the most attractive views will be in dark surroundings. The event will be visible from wherever the Moon is visible during the times of the eclipse, so it will be visible, either in whole or in part, across Europe, Africa and parts of Asia, and America.

The next penumbral lunar eclipse will be on 7 August, but the Moon will be low in the sky and only the last stages of the eclipse will be visible from the UK. After that, there is a total lunar eclipse on 27 July 2018, when the Moon rises almost fully eclipsed – a really great spectacle.

Taking photos

It will be a good event to photograph, given clear conditions. A camera with a telephoto lens setting will be adequate, but you’ll need to take it off autoexposure. Unless the Moon is very large in the field of view, the camera will see a largely black scene with the bright Moon in the centre, and will overexpose the Moon itself. You’ll need to reduce the exposure time considerably so that the lunar detail is visible. Actually, an ordinary daytime exposure of around 1/125 second at f/8 at a slow ISO will be a good starting point. Switch off the flash unless you want to use it to illuminate a foreground object such as a tree or building.

The movement of the Moon through the sky during the whole eclipse is considerable – nearly 90º of sky – so there’s little point in trying to fix the camera in one position and allowing the Moon to drift across the field of view.


Added by: Robin Scagell