Eastern Canada to have best view of lunar eclipse

Saturday's total lunar eclipse, the first in two and a half years, can best be viewed along the east coast of Canada and the United States, as well as South Africa, Europe and much of Asia, experts say.

When the Earth's shadow gradually swallows the moon on Saturday, Dave Lane will have one of the best spots on the planet to watch the spectacle unfold.

The total lunar eclipse, the first in2½ years, can best be viewed along the east coast of Canada and the United States, as well as South Africa, Europe and much of Asia.

The moon's disappearing act is expected to begin Saturday at 5:30 p.m. AT. The eclipse will be in progress as the moon rises and the sky begins to darken over New England, Atlantic Canada and portions of Quebec. In Ontario and points west, the moon won't rise until the eclipse is well underway, making it impossible for some to see the event.

'We don't know what to expect'

Lane, an astronomy technician at Saint Mary's University in Halifax, will watch the eclipse— weather permitting— from the school's observatoryperched atop a 22-storey building.

"It's one of the top events of the year for those interested in astronomy," he said. "We don't know what to expect.… We don't know what colour it's going to have, how bright it's going to be."

Lunar eclipses occur when a full moon, on its usual orbit around the Earth, slips into Earth's shadow.The eclipsed moon may appear washed in a copper or brown colour as sunlight leaks through the Earth's atmosphere.

"If the moon is really a copper colour, and if the sky isn't dark in the background, it isn't the same," Lane said.

In Atlantic Canada and eastern Quebec, the moon is expected to disappear for about 74 minutes, a phenomenon known as totality, starting at 6:44 p.m. AT.The entire moon will reappear by 9:11 p.m. AT.

Sky-watchers eye weather forecast

Though people on the East Coast will be in the right place to watch the eclipse, cloud cover could make that difficult.

The president of the Royal Astronomical Society's Newfoundland branch is hopeful the province will be spared from the snow that is forecast.

"I'm hoping they're wrong about the storm," said Garry Dymond, who has his own observatory at his home in St. John's. "It's a nice, early [eclipse], so everyone can get out and see it.

"We spend so much time in front of computers and stuff like that, we lose contact with nature.… It's a nice chance to sit back and watch nature in action."

Forecasts from both the Weather Network and call for snow in St. John's and Newfoundland, but the conditions look better in other parts of Atlantic Canada.

As of Friday morning, is predicting partly cloudy conditions in Moncton, Charlottetown and Halifax when the eclipse is scheduled to begin, while the Weather Network forecasts sunny skies for all three cities.

Unlike a solar eclipse, which happens when the moon blocks the sun's powerful rays, watching a lunar eclipse does not require any special gear or protective equipment.

Next total lunar eclipse in August

"You don't need to be in all that special a place," said Lane, who developed an interest in astronomy after he took a physics course in high school. "You don't need a telescope to see it, you can basically just look at the moon."

According to NASA, the most recent total lunar eclipse was on Oct. 28, 2004, though there have been several partial eclipses since then. Astronomers, who can predict these celestial events with precision, say the next total eclipse will occur in August.

But Lane cautions stargazers along the East Coast not to wait for the summer eclipse as it won't offer much of a show.

"The centre of that one is dead in the middle of the Pacific," says Lane. "It'll be visible for those in the western side of the country, but not quite as nicely as this one."

With files from CBC News Online