Physics Photo of the Week

March 9, 2007

Lunar Eclipse
March 3, 2007 brought the first total lunar eclipse that was successfully viewed (no clouds) since May 2003.  An eclipse viewing party took place at the Warren Wilson Garden with about 30 people of all ages attending to view through telescopes and binoculars and to enjoy the sight!  Many thanks to WWC Garden Manager Karen Joslin for allowing the viewing and for providing the electrical connections to drive the telescope and digital camera monitor.

This eclipse was unusual in that the Moon rose at dusk fully eclipsed - it was a challenge to see the Moon in the bright twilight sky when the Moon first appeard.  Gwen Van Ark, one of the guests was the first to spot the Moon through the trees in the distant horizon at about 6:15 pm.  At that time the sky was still very bright (the Sun had just set) and the eclipsed Moon was very faint.  The photo here was taken 9 minutes later (6:24 pm) when the sky was noticeably darker, yet still bright enough to show as a blue border around the Moon.

Notice also the star very close to the Moon.  That star is a "minor" star in the constellation of Leo.

Lunar eclipses are red and not totally dark.  The Moon is in the Earth's shadow during the eclipse.   A small amount of red light "leaks" into the Earth's shadow by atmospheric scattering from the Earth's atmosphere.  Sunsets on Earth are red because red light penetrates the haze and dust of the atmosphere.   If we were on the Moon watching the Earth, the Earth would appear to be a red ring - red twilight all the way around the Earth.  See the Astronomy Picture of the Day for March 2, 2007.  The drawing below shows the relative position of the Sun, Earth, and Moon during a total lunar eclipse.  The Moon enters the Earth's shadow.

Physics Photo of the Week is published weekly during the academic year on Fridays by the Warren Wilson College Physics Department.  These photos feature an interesting phenomena in the world around us.  Students, faculty, and others are invited to submit digital (or film) photographs for publication and explanation.  Atmospheric phenomena are especially welcome.  Please send any photos to

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