The University of Alabama

UA Hosts Late-Night Lunar Eclipse Sky Viewing Dec. 20

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — Although it will heighten the experience, a telescope will not be required to view an upcoming total lunar eclipse, but an alarm clock might be.

This Oct. 27, 2004 image shows an initial partial phase of a total lunar eclipse (William Keel).

The University of Alabama will host a public sky viewing beginning at 11 p.m. Dec. 20, and continuing into the pre-dawn hours, where visitors can peer through UA’s 16-inch, research grade telescope at the atypical occurrence. 

“During a lunar eclipse, we see the moon illuminated by the light passing through the whole world’s sunrises and sunsets,” said Dr. William Keel, professor in the department of physics and astronomy. “It may be orange, red or dark gray, depending on where clouds lie and how much volcanic activity there has been. 

“Many people also find that the eclipsed moon looks much more three-dimensional, hanging in front of the background stars, than the dazzling full moon does.” 

The moon will begin passing through the Earth’s shadow at 12:33 a.m. Central Time on Dec. 21. The total eclipse period begins about one hour later at 1:41 a.m. and lasts until 2:53 a.m., according to information posted at MrEclipse.com

The free UA event will continue as long as viewers remain, up to 3 a.m.  

Unlike a total solar eclipse, which gives the sun a blackened appearance, the moon will not appear to be blackened, Keel said. While the Earth does block the sun’s light from directly shining on the moon during a total eclipse, indirect sunlight still reaches and illuminates the moon, albeit with significantly different results. 

The sunlight that reaches the moon during a total eclipse is filtered through the Earth’s atmosphere, resulting in a distinct, dimmer light and one that can give the moon an orange or red appearance, he said. As the moon will be full at the time, the site should prove striking. 

Providing added interest, the moon will pass in front of the star cluster NGC 2129 and an asteroid, known as 348 May, during the eclipse.    

This UA telescope is located in a dome atop Gallalee Hall on the UA campus. Gallalee is located at the northeast corner of University Boulevard and Hackberry Drive, less than a block from Denny Chimes. 

Sky viewings are contingent upon the weather. Cloudy skies are not conducive to viewing. For more information about scheduled events, phone 205/348-5050, or go online to http://astronomy.ua.edu/Public.html

UA’s department of physics and astronomy is part of the University’s College of Arts and Sciences, UA’s largest division and the largest liberal arts college in the state. Students from the College have won numerous national awards including Rhodes Scholarships, Goldwater Scholarships and memberships on the USA Today Academic All American Team.

The University of Alabama, a student-centered research university, is experiencing significant growth in both enrollment and academic quality. This growth, which is positively impacting the campus and the state's economy, is in keeping with UA's vision to be the university of choice for the best and brightest students. UA, the state's flagship university, is an academic community united in its commitment to enhancing the quality of life for all Alabamians.