Technology & Science

Shortest lunar eclipse in a century shows 'blood moon'

If you set your alarm early Saturday morning and grab your best binoculars you could catch what NASA calls the shortest total lunar eclipse in a century, lasting only a few minutes in most places.

B.C. should have best view, but watchers will have to rise by 3 a.m.

The 'blood moon' sets over Toronto Pearson International Airport early Saturday. (Tony Smyth/CBC)

Set your alarm early Saturday morning and grab your best binoculars to catch what NASA calls the shortest total lunar eclipse in a century, lasting only a few minutes in most places.

Parts of the eclipse will be visible throughout Canada, but some areas will only be able to catch a quick glimpse of a partial eclipse, according to Randy Attwood, executive director of the Royal Astronomical Society.

A total lunar eclipse happens when the Earth, sun and moon are perfectly aligned in space and the moon passes through the Earth's darkest shadow. A partial lunar eclipse is when only part of the moon is covered by that shadow.

The appearance of a total lunar eclipse has led to its nickname — blood moon — as "when the moon is fully in the shadow, it could take on an orange-ish or red colour," says Attwood.

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      According to Attwood, the best place in Canada to watch the eclipse will be in B.C., where the moon will be above the horizon for the entire event. 

      Viewers there will be able to see the moon move into the shadow and then out of the shadow, making it a three and a half hour event.

      However, even viewers in B.C. will have a short period to view the actual eclipse itself.

      "This one is just barely going 100 per cent into the Earth's shadow, [and it's] only totally immersed in Earth's shadow for four minutes," Attwood said.

      In Ontario, viewers will only be able to see a partial eclipse and it will only be about a 45 minute event in all. For Manitoba and the West, the event will be slightly longer, according to Attwood.

      A total lunar eclipse, also known as a 'blood moon,' takes on a coppery, reddish colour as it passes into Earth's shadow. Many Canadians were able to see at least a partial lunar eclipse on Saturday, with the best place to view the celestial event in B.C. (Jason Reed/Reuters)

      Eastern Quebec and the Atlantic provinces will essentially only see the earliest stages of the eclipse, meaning that they will see the moon begin to move into the Earth's shadow, but the moon will set while that occurs.

      Here are the best local times to start observing the lunar eclipse across the country: 

      • St. John's, 5:31 a.m.
      • Halifax: 6:01a.m.
      • Montreal, Ottawa: 6:15 a.m.
      • Winnipeg: 5:15
      • Edmonton: 4:15 a.m.
      • Regina: 4:15 a.m.
      • Vancouver: 3:15 a.m.

      The best views will be in Australia, New Zealand and eastern Asia.

      Saturday's eclipse is the third in the lunar tetrad — a series of four total eclipses in a row. The fourth and final eclipse of the tetrad happens on Sept. 28 and will give Canadians a better view.

      That eclipse "will be much better positioned for Canada … it will be an early evening eclipse for Canada and entire country will be able to see it," Attwood said.

      Those that want to observe Saturday's eclipse, but don't have the best view from their part of the country can stream it live on Slooh.com.

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