There are a lot of astronomical events that we are lucky enough to witness from Earth. From shooting stars to meteor showers, something always seems to be occurring in space that captures our attention below. One of the most common occurrences is moon shadows. Moon shadows appear several times a year, with the most eventful ones happening every couple of years.
If you’ve never heard of a moon shadow, you’ve come to the right place to find out what it is. In this article, we’ll explain when they occur and walk you through how to witness one yourself.
What Is Moon Shadow?
Let’s start by answering the main question: what is a moon shadow?
A moon shadow, also known as a lunar eclipse, is an astronomical event that happens when the moon moves into the Earth’s shadow, which is called an umbra. This is why it is sometimes called a moon shadow.
This phenomenon causes the moon to darken. As a result, the sun, moon, and Earth become aligned at least in a partial way, and when the moon is in the umbra, it turns into a reddish hue.
A phenomenon called Rayleigh scattering causes the moon to turn red during a lunar eclipse. This phenomenon also makes our skies blue and causes sunsets to be red. Light travels in waves, and different colors of light have different physical properties. Red light travels more directly through the atmosphere than other colors of light.
When the sun sets, sunlight passes through more atmosphere and travels farther to reach our eyes. The blue light scatters, and the longer-wavelength red passes through.
As a result, the moon appears to be a red color during a lunar eclipse because only sunlight reaching the Moon passes through Earth’s atmosphere. Depending on the amount of dust passing through the Earth’s atmosphere during the eclipse, there may also be a variation of reds or oranges.
There are two types of lunar eclipses: partial lunar eclipse and total lunar eclipse. As mentioned, a partial lunar eclipse is when the Earth’s umbra partly covers the moon.
A penumbral lunar eclipse occurs if only the outer part of Earth’s shadow covers the moon. One step up from both a partial and a penumbral lunar eclipse is a total lunar eclipse, the most interesting type to witness and the one that astronomy enthusiasts wait years to see.
What Is a Total Lunar Eclipse?
A total lunar eclipse is when the Earth comes between a full moon and the sun in a straight line, blocking the moon from the sun’s rays. The moon turns red when the eclipse reaches totality.
A total lunar eclipse only happens when a full moon and the Earth, moon, and sun align simultaneously. It’s not often that all of these circumstances occur at the same time, which makes total lunar eclipses relatively scarce and far between (more on this later).
Now that you know what a moon shadow is, you may want to see how you can witness one. Round up the kids and get the family together because seeing this moment in time is easier than you might think.
How Can You View a Moon Shadow?
If you’ve been wondering if you can even see a moon shadow, the answer is absolutely.
Observing a moon shadow is possible, and you don’t necessarily need any special equipment. Unlike solar eclipses, which may cause extreme damage to the naked eye, lunar eclipses are safe enough for your eyes to look at directly. Everyone on the night-time side of the planet should be able to see a lunar eclipse.
Therefore, total lunar eclipses occur at different times of the year for other areas of the planet. You typically just have to go outside, ensure you have a good view of the moon, and look up.
That said, binoculars and a telescope may enhance your view, however. This will also make the signature reddish hue of the moon more intense. It’s best to view a lunar eclipse in a dark environment away from bright lights.
As a pro tip, rural areas with as little light as possible will provide the best sight of a lunar eclipse. At the same time, if you’re looking to take interesting photos of the moon shadow, a city backdrop may provide you with more dynamic images.
Now that you know how to view a moon shadow, one question remains: when exactly do moon shadows occur? The good news is that they may happen more often than you think.
When Does a Moon Shadow Occur?
There are an average of two lunar eclipses per year; however, there can be as many as three or five moon shadows.
A total lunar eclipse occurs much less often than other types of lunar eclipses, occurring on average every 2.5 years. The last total lunar eclipse occurred on November 8, 2022, and the next one is set to appear in 2025.
So even if you missed the last one, if you’re looking to catch the next total lunar eclipse, look up your location for exact dates and mark your calendar for 2025! For additional information, check out this post to see the lunar eclipses happening in 2023.
The Takeaway: How to See the Moon Shadow
To wrap up, a moon shadow is essentially a lunar eclipse. A lunar eclipse is a fascinating phenomenon that happens several times a year, with total lunar eclipses happening every couple of years and drawing the attention of people around the world at each occurrence.
It’s easy to view a lunar eclipse as there’s no danger; it’s safe for your eyes to view. You have plenty of chances in your life to catch a lunar eclipse. However, if you want to ensure that you don’t miss the next one, check when the next lunar occurs in your area and find the perfect spot to watch it.