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Naysayer’s Guide To The Total Lunar Eclipse

This may be subjective, and I don’t mean to whine, but… Why was the total lunar eclipse of the Moon of November 8, 2022, less spectacular, and far less beautiful, than others I have seen?

The most striking feature of a lunar eclipse is not that the Earth’s shadow crosses the face of the Moon (cool though that is to see), but that the Moon turns what can be a deep, dark, red color. It’s gorgeous, and so rich that it is called a “blood moon.” This is what lunar eclipse watchers most want to see. To understand how it happens, think of holding a prism up to sunlight, so that a rainbow of colors is split. The reds all shift to one side. That is what the Earth’s atmosphere does to sunlight. Only red light bends around the Earth and reaches the Moon, coloring it red.

Because the Earth is significantly larger than the Moon, the more perfectly centered the Earth’s shadow is as it crosses the Moon, the longer the eclipse will last. Longer eclipses get more press; one feels pressured to see this rarer occurrence. But, the Sun, Earth, and Moon so perfectly align only when the eclipse occurs close to sunrise. The Moon is then low in the West, obscured by the Earth’s atmosphere and more likely buried in clouds, even as the light from the rising sun bathes the eclipse with stray colors other than red. The effect is to wash what might have been a glorious blood moon with stray light the color of mud. Yeah; the red cast remains visible, somewhat, but the color is disappointing in relation to the hype.

A long, total eclipse of the Moon is worth seeing, but not worth beating yourself up over if you missed it. The best lunar eclipses I have ever seen were briefer, but that allowed them to occur in the full darkness well before sunrise. I have seen spectacular partial eclipses that began before midnight. The resulting red color was softer, yet richer, especially when contrasted against the inky blackness of the sky. To my eyes, beauty matters more than length, so eclipse watchers should be less eager for the long, muddy, total eclipses that the press heralds, than for the shorter eclipses that truly wow with spectacular color.

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