There’s a double astronomical delight in store for stargazers on Friday, as the lunar eclipse coincides with a cameo appearance from Mars.
Not only will the moon turn a dusky shade of red this evening, but the red planet will be the closest it has been to Earth for almost 15 years. Our neighbour has an elliptical orbit, which means its distance from us frequently changes.
Clear skies are forecast for the majority of South Africa, which means most of us have a great chance of catching this celestial two-for-one spectacle.
As the moon rises over the eastern horizon, Mars is likely to follow its path – trailing Earth’s satellite by approximately 30 minutes. The planet will be in sight during the early evening and then intermittently throughout the period of the eclipse.
If you’re taking in the lunar event – scheduled to last from 20:19 – 00:24 – the chances are you’ll see a smaller red dot there, too.
Mars won’t appear as large as the moon, due to it being millions and millions of miles further away. It will, however, shine brighter. You also won’t need binoculars or a telescope to see this cosmic ballet, as it is visible to the naked eye.
As The Guardian report, Mars and the moon will be in close proximity – separated by just five degrees, which is roughly the width of three fingers held at arm’s length.
We are in for a treat tonight- #bloodmoon lunar eclipse. ????
Some interesting facts about tonight’s eclipse:
– The last one was in 2011 and the next one is predicted in the next 100 years.
– South African’s will have the greatest view of the moon. pic.twitter.com/7K5CDQvAft
— Big Bay Managed by BBMPOA (@BigBaympoa) July 27, 2018
A Blood Moon can only occur during a lunar eclipse. The moon makes its way past the shadow that Earth casts from the sun’s light. This goes on to shroud the moon in darkness, changing its appearance from a bright white glow to a gloomy shade of red.
The gas molecules of Earth’s atmosphere scatter blue wavelengths of light from the sun, while the red-shaded wavelengths pass straight through it. Thus, we get a Blood Moon!