Early risers set to bathe in Earthshine

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The Independent Online
THE SMALL hours of tomorrow will see one of the most visually exciting of astronomical events, a total eclipse of the Moon, writes Susan Watts.

Cloudy skies may obscure the view, but, if the weather is fine, those who can bear to leave their beds early should be rewarded with a colourful sight low in the western sky. The Sun, Earth and Moon will line up so that the Earth's shadow falls directly across the full Moon. No direct sunlight will reach the Moon's surface, only light bent through the Earth's atmosphere. This is known as 'Gegenschein', or Earthshine. More blue light than red will be absorbed by the atmosphere, so the Moon will appear reddish.

The last total eclipse of the Moon that was visible from Britain was on 9 December 1992; the next is due on 4 April 1996. Gerry Gilmore, an astronomer at Cambridge University, said: 'What you see is the complete set of the phases of the Moon happening before your eyes in the space of just a few hours.'

The eclipse begins at 4.40am (GMT) and by 6.02am it will be total. It will remain so for the next 46 minutes, with mid-eclipse at 6.25am. The whole show will be over by just after 8am, although by this time the Moon will have set in the north-western sky.