For those under a cloud last night, this was the lunar eclipse you missed

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The Independent Online

It was supposed to be one of the most spectacular lunar eclipses in recent times, although for many people last night the event was marred by cloudy skies.

It was supposed to be one of the most spectacular lunar eclipses in recent times, although for many people last night the event was marred by cloudy skies.

The total eclipse of the Moon happened on cue yesterday evening, with totality beginning at 7.50pm and ending at 8.52pm. But just like the total eclipse of the Sun in 1999, the event went largely unnoticed for many Britons in the south whose view was yet again hampered by cloud cover. The best views were enjoyed in Northern Ireland, western Scotland and Cumbria. For those lucky enough to see totality, the full moon turned into an orange-red disc as the shadow of the Earth caused scattered red light to fall over the lunar surface.

Lunar eclipses occur when the orbits of the Moon, Earth and Sun align precisely so that the Earth's shadow completely covers our planet's sole natural satellite. The Moon does not emit light but reflects sunlight, making it appear as a brilliant silver disc at full moon. When it is covered by the Earth's shadow only red light scattered by the Earth's atmosphere gets through to the lunar landscape. The colour and brightness of the Moon during totality varies from one eclipse to the next, depending on the conditions of the Earth's upper atmosphere, which determine how much scattering of light occurs. On some occasions the Moon is a dusty red, or brick red. At other times, it has glowed a bright orange-red. There will be another total lunar eclipse in 2003.

The astronomer Sir Patrick Moore, speaking from his home in Selsey, West Sussex, said: "It's not been very good conditions here but it's still been lovely to look up at and I've been able to take pictures. It's definitely a red eclipse. It's not that bright, what is called a semi-bright eclipse."

Robin Scagell, the vicepresident of the Society for Popular Astronomy, said he was surprised by how dark the eclipse had been, as almost a decade had passed since a big volcanic eruption threw dust into the upper atmosphere, making the Moon less clear.

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