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The total lunar eclipse of July 27th 2018

A total eclipse of the Moon was visible across the UK last night – or rather, it wasn’t. After a good four, maybe five weeks of giving us clear or mostly clear skies the weather gods decided that the day of the long-awaited eclipse would be the perfect day to bring our summer heatwave to a crashing end, and by the time the eclipse had begun yesterday evening the whole of the UK was under a blanket of sludgy cloud thicker than a Love Island contestant, which every forecast predicted would remain in place right through the evening.

Not fair, just not fair. We’d been looking forward to this eclipse for a long, long time. Not just because the eclipse itself would be a striking sight in its own right but because the fully eclipsed Moon would have company as it rose up into the sky: the planet Mars, shining like a red spark close to it, at its closest to us, and its brightest in our sky, for 15 years. So we were all really looking forward to this eclipse, and to have the clouds roll in literally a couple of hours before it began was… well, heartbreaking, gutting, infuriating, you choose.

****** weather.

But the bad forecast didn’t stop eternally-optimistic astronomers and sky-watchers across the UK from heading out in the hope of seeing it anyway, trying in vain to find a ragged gap in the cloud cover to see the Moon through. Three of us from Kendal – myself, Stella and our great observing friend Carol – raced out of the Auld Grey Town just after 7pm in search of a glimpse of the eclipse, and with very few possibilities we headed up… and up… and up to the Tan Hill Inn, the highest pub in England, which stands alone on the high Yorkshire moors surrounded by miles and miles of nothing – a perfect eclipse-watching site!

Below: the view to the south-east… the Moon would rise over there…

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We arrived to find the place heaving with people – as usual – and after ordering drinks and some food in the packed-to-the-walls bar we grabbed chairs outside and glowered at the cloud, which was completely covering the sky, checking-in on the progress of the eclipse via a live video stream on NASA TV.

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There was a great atmosphere at the pub, with a few other people there to watch the eclipse, but the cloud had other ideas…

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Above: Carol pointing towards the Moon…

Below: what we should have seen…!

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When the drizzle started our prospects looked bleak, but we kept our seats and hoped for a gap in the clouds. Then the first rumbles of thunder began to roll across the moors, the first flashes of lightning started to pop, and as the sky suddenly went from a dull grey to a charcoal black the rain got heavier and we retreated inside. Soon we were in the centre of a serious storm, with driving rain lashing the pub, flowing in under the door as it sluiced off the roof and spread across the ground outside. Inside we were warm and dry, but every few seconds the outside world exploded with a flash of white as a lightning strike lit up the countryside. It was as if nukes were falling around us and detonating every few seconds – very impressive but not exactly conducive to eclipse-watching! But we enjoyed our meals, and enjoyed chatting to people, and by the time the storm subsided there was a very soft, very squidgy sofa available inside the main – warm! – part of the pub so we went and sagged into that, checking the sky regularly but in vain. As totality ebbed away the Moon stayed hidden from view…

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By 11pm we knew we were beaten, so we headed back to the car and set off for home – and you know what’s coming next don’t you? Yes, with barely a couple of minutes of the eclipse remaining the clouds parted and the Moon shine through…

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We found a corner to park up at and scrambled to set up cameras in the hope of catching at least ONE photo of the eclipse, but I don’t think I managed to get the last trace of the Earth’s shadow before it slipped off the Moon’s face.

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Sigh…

Before we headed home Stella made a rather macabre discovery – the limp, rain-soaked bodies of half a dozen moles impaled on spikes on the fence next to where we had parked. WTF????? Why? WHY? It was all very Blair Witch I can tell you…

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So, a frustrating night but still a very enjoyable one! Ok, we didn’t get to see the eclipse, which was very frustrating, but we *missed* it in style, at a great place, and it was just nice to all be together on an adventure!

Looking at Facebook and Twitter this morning it’s clear that almost the whole of the UK was clouded-out last night. If you look at this weather plot you can see just how bad it was – no need to know any technical details, basically every black dot represents somewhere people hoping to watch the eclipse were pummelled by rain and half-blinded by lightning instead… Essentially a black river of disappointment and despair flowed relentlessly from south to north up the UK last night, and no-one under it had a chance of seeing anything…

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There’s another eclipse in January, an early-morning one, so no doubt we’ll try again then. Before then we have the Perseid meteor shower to look forward to in a couple of weeks, and Mars will still be big and bright and beautiful in the sky when the cloud clears.

But still… ***** weather..!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Total Lunar Eclipse on July 27th 2018…

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Above: the lunar eclipse of September 2015 photographed from just outside Kendal

Ok everyone, please cross your fingers, toes and everything else for a clear sky this coming Friday evening so we can all enjoy watching a fascinating and beautiful astronomical event – a total eclipse of the Moon. It’s not scientifically important, it’s not a thing anyone will be studying as such, it’s just something cool to see in the sky. Best of all you won’t need a telescope or any other optical equipment to see it, your eyes will do just fine. So, please, cast your clackety runes, chant at the heavens, hug a tree or a crystal, do whatever you think might help to bring us good luck and good weather on Friday evening so we can enjoy one of the most eerie and beautiful sights in Nature – the Moon turning a strange shade of orange-red.

Why is it doing this? Because during the course of that evening the Moon will be slowly moving into, through and then back out of Earth’s shadow. When it is fully in the shadow the Moon will appear an orangey-red colour, which we call “totality”. Before and after totality we’ll see part of the Moon darkened by a more blue-grey shadow.

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(Note to any Flat Earthers reading this: look at the Earth’s shadow being cast on the Moon during the September 2015 eclipse – it’s curved, see? Just like the Earth. Here’s a chance for you to do some real “research”… Go out on Friday night and see it for yourself, then stop going on about stupid ice walls, projected Suns and a quarantined Antarctica and grow up, you plonkers…)

The last such eclipse we saw from our part of the world was in September 2015. Read about that here

Now, if you read certain newspapers, mentioning no names (cough) Daily Express (cough) youll have seen that all sorts of nutters are making all sorts of apocalyptic predictions about this eclipse, as they do with every astronomical event now. Apparently this “Blood Moon eclipse” is going to do everything from triggering earthquakes and landslides to opening up a Hellmouth from which demons will pour, thisrty for our blood and hungry for our souls. Utter, utter rubbish. These idiots, lunatics and liars predict the end of ther world before every eclipse, every meteor shower, every close approach by a comet…

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It’s quite pathetic, as are they. No. The only bad things that the eclipse might possibly cause to happen are to leave skywatchers with stiff necks after looking up at the sky for so long, or leaving them with deptression and anxiety if they miss the eclipse because of cloud. The eclipse is perfectly safe to watch, and won’t cause the world to fall apart around us.

That’s what Brexit is for…

Although this eclipse will be visible across the UK, unfortunately it is going to be quite challenging for us up here in Cumbria (and further north) for a number of reasons. Firstly, because we’re so far north, the eclipse will have begun long before the Moon rises (which is also true for our friends Dahn Sarf too I should make clear, but they will see more of the eclipse than we will). In fact, the eclipse will be more than halfway through at Moonrise for Cumbrian skywatchers – we will see Moonrise more than 20 minutes after people in London because of our higher latitude – hey, don’t blame me, I didn’t build Earth..! – so totality will have begun almost an hour before the Moon clears our horizon at around 9.15, when we will see the Moon rising totally eclipsed, looking like a tangerine. BUT, the time of YOUR Moonrise will depend on where *you* are and what *your* local horizon is like. If you live somewhere quite high up, with a low, clear south-eastern horizon Moonrise will be approximately 9.15, giving you a good hour of totality to enjoy. However, if you live somewhere in a dip in the landscape, like Kendal, or somewhere surrounded by fells, like Grasmere, you might miss the total phase of the eclipse altogether because the Moon mighty only clear your local horizon after totality has ended. So, what should you do? All I’d suggest is that if you’re really wanting to watch the eclipse this coming Friday evening you need to make an effort and put some work into it. Make some plans. Between now and Friday, if you don’t know of such a place already, find somewhere out of town, with a clear view to the south-east, and watch the eclipse from there. You’ll want to be there by absolutely no later than 9pm.

So, what will happen, and when? As I said, the eclipse will begin long before we even catch sight of the Moon. The Moon will begin to move into Earth’s shadow at around 7.25pm, long before it rises for any part of the UK, no matter how far south it is. By 8.05 the Moon will be half-covered by Earth’s shadow, but again it will still be out of sight for everyone in the UK. Totality begins at 8.34, when the Moon is fully covered by the Earth’s shadow, but it will still not be visible from the UK – so frustrating!!!

Down in London the Moon will rise at around 8.50, but we’ll have to wait up here in t’north until around 9.15 to see the Moon climbing up from behind the horizon – and even then we might not see it right away. With the sky still bright behind it you might struggle to see it the Moon at first, but just keep looking for it, even using binoculars if you have them (they’re not essential though, so don’t worry if you don’t have any, ok?). Eventually the Moon will pop into view, glowing an orange-red colour. It should look really pretty as it climbs up from the horizon, bloated and orange, almosty like a huge hiot air balloon. This is when you might like to try taking photyos of iot – but if they don’t turn out don’t worry, the important thing is to actually see it.

Going back to binoculars… you don’t NEED a pair to watch the eclipse, it will be clearly visible to the naked eye, but if you have or can borrow a pair they will definitely add to your viewing experience. WIth the Moon magnified through them the subtle colours and hues of the eclipse will be enhanced, and the Moon will look much more beautiful than it will to just the naked eye…

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But seriously, don’t worry if you can’t get any.

When totality ends at around 10.15 the Moon will start to brighten from the left side. By then the Moon will still be quite low in the sky though, which is why it is so important to find somewhere with a low, flat south-eastern horizon to watch it from.

By 10.45 the Moon will be only half eclipsed, but will still look very striking in the sky. It will all be over at 11.20, as the Moon emerges from the last traces of Earth’s shadow.

And that’s what will be happening on Friday night. One last thing – between 10.00pm and 10.15, look out for a bright red star shining to the lower right of the fully eclipsed Moon. This “star” will actually be the planet Mars, at its closest to us, iand at its brightest in the sky, for 15 years!

I hope you get the chance to watch this eclipse. As I said, it’s not scientifically important, or significant, it’s just a lovely thing to watch in the sky.

Good luck!