On the night of May 26, the lunar eclipse dazzled stargazers in Oceania, Hawaii, eastern Asia, and Antarctica that coincided with the moon’s closest approach to Earth. People called it the “supermoon” eclipse that showed a reddish moon, also called a blood moon. Lunar eclipses basically occur when the moon is facing the opposite side of the Earth. Usually, when this happens we observe a full moon, but at some times like this, the moon enters the Earth’s shadow and we see an eclipse. As the plane of the moon’s orbit is titled around 5 degrees when looking from the plane of Earth’s orbit, so the moon at most of the other times misses the Earth’s shadow. Hence eclipses don’t happen every full moon. A lunar eclipse is visible from the complete night side of our planet unlike the solar eclipses, which are only visible along a narrow period.
The duration of the entire eclipse is approximately 5 hours, although it depends a lot on what time zone you are situated in with respect to the universal hour in Greenwich, England. For instance, the lunar eclipse occurred in Asia near the moonrise in the late evening, while on the western coast of America, the eclipse shows itself in the early morning hours or near moonset. It can be viewed best between the extremes, that is, Australia, Hawaii, New Zealand, the islands of the South Pacific, and southwestern Alaska. The legend of the eclipses dates back a long time ago. Mark Twain in his story “A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court” portrays a time-traveling protagonist who fascinates King Arthur by his knowledge and admiration of the solar eclipse.
But by that time many people like Ptolemy had already worked out how to predict solar as well as lunar eclipses centuries before King Arthur was even born. Babylonian and Chinese astronomers also established advanced tables and calculations of eclipse timing following the steps of the ancient Maya. As a matter of fact, lunar eclipses proved to be easier to predict than solar eclipses because they can be seen from anywhere on the night side of Earth. But in those times, eclipses were considered astrological agents of calamity. The Mesopotamians thought the eclipse means the arrival of demons, and some cultures such as the Hupa of northern California conceived the lunar eclipse as an act of injury because of its blood-red color.
On May 26, the lunar eclipse appeared slightly larger than normal because of the moon reaching the closest point to Earth from its orbit, called perigee. This will happen at 0121 May 26 GMT, that is, roughly 14 hours after the moon is officially at full phase. When the full moon and perigee are close, the moon becomes a supermoon, though it is not an astronomical term. At normal nights, the moon is an average of 240,000 miles away from Earth, but it does not rotate in a perfectly circular orbit. But when it reached the perigee it was around 222,022 miles in its orbit from Earth which is the closest it can ever get. When closer, the moon appears larger too, but only slightly so only experienced skywatchers can catch the difference. A lunar eclipse has mainly six stages, the start of which are called contacts.
The first contact means the moon touching the penumbra of the Earth. The penumbra is the initial part of the shadow and its job is to only lighten and discolor the moon somewhat tea-stained or brownish-gray. Then comes the second contact, which is commonly called U1. This is the stage where the moon touches the Earth’s umbra. An umbra is defined as the darker part of the Earth’s shadow, and that is the point where we would see a piece of the moon taken out of itself. This is also known as the partial phase of the eclipse because the moon remains darkened partially. After that, the third contact, or U2, appears when the lingering edge of the moon encounters the edge of the umbra. This is regarded as a totality or the total phase of the eclipse by the astronomers, and the moon resides at the Earth’s darkest shadow and appears in a dark blood red color.
Following this, a moment of the greatest eclipse comes forth, and that is when the moon is closest to the center of the umbra. The fourth contact or stage is U3. It means that the leading side of the moon attains the umbra, and here the eclipse’s total phase comes to an end. The last significant stage left is U4 when the moon rises from the Earth’s umbra. Then finally, at the sixth stage, that is, P4, the moon rises from the penumbra. This complete journey of the moon lasts up to several hours, depending on how profoundly the moon pierces the Earth’s shadow. The super flower blood moon lunar eclipse started at 4:47:39 a.m. EDT, that is, 08:47:39 GMT, as reported by NASA’s eclipse page. At this instant, the moon touches the penumbra and the partial phase of the eclipse begins after 57 minutes. At 7:11:25 EDT, that is, 11:11:25 GMT, the moon starts the total phase of the eclipse and exits the umbra at 10:52:22 EDT, or at 12:52:22 GMT.
In Asia, the westernmost locations watched this lunar eclipse including India, western China, Sri Lanka, Mongolia, etc. But these countries only observed the penumbral phase. As you move east, the eclipse was more visible there. For instance, Bangkok saw the eclipse rising at about 6:38 pm, already appearing reddish deep in Earth’s shadow. The moon there emerged from the umbra at 7:52 p.m. local time, and the penumbral eclipse ended at 8:49 p.m. local time. You can see the entire umbral phase of the supermoon eclipse in Tokyo just after the moonrise at 6:37 pm. There, the moon appeared slightly darker as the penumbral phase had already begun, as it touched the umbra at 6:44 p.m. local time. At this time, the moon turned nearly red and peeked on the horizon. At around 8:11 pm local time, the moon entered the total phase of the eclipse and turned dark red which continued till 8:25 pm after then the moon left the umbra at 9:52 pm and the eclipse came to an end at 10:49 pm sharp.
The entire eclipse was observed by the. eastern two-thirds of Australia. They were lucky enough to witness this rare celestial event called the super flower blood moon lunar eclipse. It started from Melbourne where the penumbral phase began at 6:47 pm local time. It is quite interesting that the Australian Eastern Standard Time and the moon were then about 18 degrees above the horizon. At 7:44 pm the partial phase started and at 9:11 pm the total phase commenced. The moon was then around 45 degrees above the horizon and was visible very clearly. The lunar eclipse came to an end at 9:25 pm and the umbral phase dies at 10:52 pm while the penumbral phase continued till almost midnight. For the people of the United States, the super flower blood moon eclipse was only visible in Alaska and Hawaii.
The reason behind the red color of the moon during the eclipse was the Earth’s atmosphere. The atmosphere tends to scatter blue light, which is also the reason why the sky looks blue when seen from the ground. Anyway, as the Earth comes between the sun and moon, the sunlight entering the atmosphere of the Earth is absorbed and the blue light is scattered. Moreover, it acts as a giant lens as the sunlight is also refracted and bent and eventually focused on the moon. So when this light hits the moon, it gets reflected to Earth as blood-red color. So that’s why the blood-red lunar eclipse. What a lunar observer saw was that the Earth eclipsed around the sun all the while besieged by a red ring of refracted sunlight.