Spectacular Eclipse of the Moon Enthralls Thousands
Zimbabwe had one of its best views ever of a total lunar eclipse on Wednesday night with clear skies giving good visibility and entrancing hundreds of thousands as the vast number of text messages flowing across the country showed.
The eclipse was a fairly rare central total lunar eclipse, when the centre of the Earth's shadow passes over the moon.
The last total lunar eclipse was in December last year, but was only seen from the western hemisphere.
The last total lunar eclipse potentially visible from Zimbabwe was in February 2008, but few saw it because it was in the early hours of the morning with cloudy skies.
A lunar eclipse is seen when the Earth passes directly between the Sun and the Moon.
Unlike solar eclipses, which are short and where the total eclipse is only seen from a tiny band of the Earth, a lunar eclipse is visible right across the night hemisphere of the Earth. All lunar eclipses occur when the moon is full, hence visibility only from the dark half of the globe.
The moon does not disappear totally from sight as it passes through the shadow because the Earth has an atmosphere and sunlight is refracted through this, as if the Earth was ringed by a lens.
The reddish tinge is a result of the scattering of the shorter wavelengths of light as they pass through the atmosphere, leaving the longer "red" wavelengths to carry on to illuminate the shadowed moon.
For those who missed Wednesday night, there is a bit of a wait if you want to see one from Zimbabwe.
There is a total eclipse on December 10 this year, but only visible from eastern Asia, Australasia and the Pacific.
Partial eclipses and total eclipses visible from the other part of the globe then dominate the list until September 28 2015, when Zimbabweans willing to get up at 1am and stay up to dawn will be able to see another total lunar eclipse.
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