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The Moon

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Posted: Wed Oct 27, 2004 3:24 pm    Post subject: The Moon Reply with quote

Lunar Eclipse Expected Tonight
Cloud Cover Could Obscure Viewing in the Washington Area

By Mark Stencel
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, October 27, 2004; 3:01 PM

Forecasts for mostly cloudy skies in the Washington area this evening could thwart hopes of seeing tonight's lunar eclipse.

But Elizabeth Warner, director of the University of Maryland Observatory, said forecasts indicated that the cloud cover could diminish in time to see the eclipse's most dramatic moments, so she remained hopeful.

"It looks like it will probably break up a little tonight," Warner said.

In lunar eclipses, the moon passes through the shadow of the Earth, blocking the sunlight that gives moonshine its shine. The period of totality -- when the moon will be completely within the Earth's shadow -- will begin at 10:23 p.m. Eastern time and end at 11:45 p.m., according to a Web site maintained by Fred Espenak of NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center. The eclipse will reach totality about 11 p.m.

Tonight's eclipse will be visible around much of the world, appearing in European skies early Thursday morning. In the western United States, the eclipse should be visible as the sun sets tonight.

The University of Maryland's astronomy department planned to host an eclipse viewing beginning at 9 p.m. near the sundial on the McKeldin Mall at the school's College Park campus. Warner said several hundred turned out for a similar public viewing last November, when the last lunar eclipse was visible from this area (Warner said any change in plans would be posted on the observatory's Web site). Other public viewings in the Washington area were planned at the Montgomery College planetarium on Fenton Street in Takoma Park, following a program on lunar and solar eclipses scheduled to begin at 7 p.m. (information can be found here), and at Howard Community College, on a patio at the Science/Technology Building on the school's Columbia campus. (Information on the Howard Community College viewing will be available after 6 p.m. at 410-772-4891.)

In Virginia, the Analemma Society planned to provide telescopes and binoculars for a viewing at Observatory Park in Great Falls, east of Springvale Road near Georgetown Pike (Route 193). The park was scheduled to be open from 8:30 p.m. to 12:30 a.m. for the viewing, weather permitting. (More information was available here .) In Loudoun County, a viewing was scheduled at Sky Meadows State Park on Edmonds Lane in Delaplane (information at 540-592-3556).

The forecast for cloudy skies tonight could mean sky watchers will have a hit or miss chance of actually seeing the eclipse -- "more of a miss than a hit," predicted Calvin Meadows, a meteorological technician with the National Weather Service in Sterling, Va.

But Meadows said the cloud cover was expected to decrease into the night -- possibly in time to see the eclipse.

If not, Russ Poch, a professor of physical sciences at Howard Community College, said the next lunar eclipse visible in the area is a ways off: March 3, 2007.

"That's a little bit of a wait," Poch said.
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