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Moon to cast red glow; could it be an omen?

The total lunar eclipse will be most visible from about 9:14 tonight until 12:54 Thursday morning.

Published October 27, 2004

Mother Nature will offer a special treat this evening: a blood-red moon, just in time for Halloween.

A total lunar eclipse, the last visible in North America until 2007, will begin tonight at 8:06 and continue until about 2 a.m. Thursday.

Sky watchers won't start seeing the eclipse until about 9:14 p.m., astronomers say, noting that the most visually interesting time should fall between 10:23 p.m. and 11:45 p.m., when the moon slides completely into the Earth's shadow.

"It should turn a coppery, blood-red color," said Craig Joseph, astronomy professor and planetarium director at St. Petersburg College. "It's one of Mother Nature's spectacles, neat to look at."

The precise color of the moon and its visibility will depend largely on weather conditions and how much dust is in the atmosphere, astronomers say.

But so far, they are pleased with Mother Nature's timing of the eclipse, not requiring anyone to rise early, and with the positioning of the Earth, sun and moon.

"The moon is passing almost dead center through the Earth's shadow," Joseph said, "and that produces a particularly long eclipse."

The visible portion of the eclipse will last about three hours and 40 minutes.

A lunar eclipse occurs when the sun, Earth and moon are perfectly aligned. At the start, the cold, rocky moon enters the penumbra, or the lighter, outer part of the Earth's shadow.

At about 9:14 p.m., the moon will start to cross into the umbra, the darker, inner part of the planet's shadow. "That's when you will really start seeing something," said John Oliver, astronomy professor at the University of Florida.

The total eclipse will begin at about 10:23 p.m. and last about 82 minutes. The moon will exit the Earth's darker shadow at about 12:54 a.m. Thursday.

"You don't want to be out there the whole time - it's like watching grass grow," Joseph said. "Check in every 15 to 20 minutes to see the process."

In folklore, October's full moon was called the "Hunter's Moon," or sometimes the "Blood Moon," because hunters tracked and killed their prey by autumn moonlight, stockpiling food for the winter, according to NASA.

Cultures across the globe had stories to explain the mysterious lunar eclipses.

In ancient China, for example, people believed that a dragon was swallowing the moon and beat on mirrors to make the dragon return it to the sky, according to NASA.

This year, superstitious baseball fans are wondering whether the eclipse will be a dark omen for the supposedly cursed Boston Red Sox or bad luck for the St. Louis Cardinals. The teams are scheduled to meet in Game 4 of the World Series tonight.

The last total lunar eclipse, visible from Europe, Africa and central Asia, took place on May 4. The last such event visible from the entire continental United States occurred on Nov. 9.

[Last modified October 27, 2004, 00:18:19]

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