Written by Naina Mahajan, a grade 6 student.
There’s a lunar eclipse today, the 19th of November! But what’s so special about it anyway?
What’s a lunar eclipse?
A lunar eclipse happens when the Earth comes between the Moon and the Sun, so the Earth’s shadow falls on the Moon. It can only occur during a full moon. You might be wondering why we don’t have lunar eclipses every time there’s a full moon. The Moon’s orbit isn’t in the exact same plane as the Earth’s is. It’s tilted at about 5 degrees in comparison to Earth’s orbit. The plane is important because Earth’s shadows also lie in the exact same plane as Earth does. When a Full Moon occurs, the Moon is normally positioned either above or below the shadow. When a lunar eclipse occurs though, the Moon lies where the Earth’s shadow falls. In a partial eclipse, the Moon is in line with the penumbra (the lighter part of a shadow). In the extremely rare case of a total lunar eclipse, the Moon lies within the umbra (the part of a shadow that receives absolutely no light).
What’s special about this one?
This lunar eclipse happens to be the last one of this year. Besides that, it’s also the longest lunar eclipse in 580 years, lasting six entire hours. The last time a lunar eclipse this long occurred was on February 18, 1440 (581 years ago). The next time a similarly lengthy one will occur will be on February 8, 2669 (648 years from now).
Unfortunately, most of India won’t be able to view the eclipse. However, the partial eclipse (where the Moon gets a reddish tinge) will be visible in a small part of northeastern states like Arunachal Pradesh and Assam, if the weather is fine. People in Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, and Jharkhand will be able to see the end of the eclipse. If you coincidentally happen to be in the northeastern part of India, you won’t need special equipment, binoculars, or telescopes to see the eclipse; your naked eye will be fine.
The partial eclipse will be seen from places in North America, South America, Eastern Asia, Australia, and areas in the Pacific. The timings of the lunar eclipse are:
Start: 12:48 IST
End: 16:17 IST
If you’re really interested in watching the eclipse, you can watch it being live-streamed on the YouTube channel of the Lowell Observatory and on timeanddate.com.
The next total lunar eclipse will occur on May 16, 2022, but, again, it won’t be visible from India. India will witness a total lunar eclipse on November 8, 2022.