West Australians urged to watch rare blood moon

Pictures by Andrew Ritchie of Perth's previous lunar eclipse. The eclipse on July 28 will be the longest this century.
Pictures by Andrew Ritchie of Perth's previous lunar eclipse. The eclipse on July 28 will be the longest this century.

The long lunar eclipse predicted for early Saturday may produce an extra red blood moon, scientists say.

Early Saturday morning risers are set for a celestial feast as scientists predict the moon to glow blood red thanks to the longest lunar eclipse this century.

Starting from 4am on the east coast of Australia, and from 2am in the west, as the moon moves into the Earth’s shadow it will gradually become darker and glow progressively redder over the next hour and a half.

East coast viewers will see the blood moon at its fullest at about 5.30am, with the Earth, moon and sun in perfect alignment.

The colour of the moon is affected by the light from the sun’s movements skimming through the Earth’s atmosphere and continuing up to space about 350,000 kilometres away.

“What we’re seeing is essentially all the sunrises and sunsets on the Earth, dramatically projected onto the surface of the moon,” Australian National University astronomer Brad Tucker told AAP.

This marks the second total lunar eclipse this year visible from Australia, with the next one predicted for 2021.

Given the moon will be at its furthest distance from Earth, Professor David Coward from the University of Western Australia is forecasting a particularly dramatic lunar eclipse for those in the east.

“The red colour depends on the atmosphere at the time, but my suspicions are it will be redder than normal in Sydney because you’ll be looking through a thick layer of atmosphere,” Prof Coward told AAP.

The best vantage point to watch the blood moon will be anywhere with an unobstructed view to the west. Unlike a solar eclipse which is only visible from a particular spot at the right time, a lunar eclipse can be seen from everywhere in Australia and without special instruments – weather permitting.

Bureau of Meteorology senior forecaster Jenny Sturrock is confident most of Australia will be able to view the moon, but some parts of Western Australia, New South Wales and Victoria may be affected by cloud coverage during the prime viewing period between 5am and 6am.

In NSW, the view from the northwest plains, central western slopes and central tablelands may be obscured by clouds, while the southeast coastal district of Western Australia may be affected by a cold front moving through.

“It’s safe to say the viewing across Australia will generally be pretty good; most of the capital cities will be able to see something,” Ms Sturrock told AAP.

Professor Coward is urging Australians across the nation to set their alarms to catch the viewing, or even to continue revelling into the wee hours of the morning.

“Watching that interaction, watching our atmosphere play a role in this visual and very beautiful spectacle, there’s also science in there, the same science which took hundreds of years to work out why the sky is blue,” Prof Coward said.

“This moon is related to the same thing.”