Stargazers watching Friday’s spectacular lunar eclipse, when the Moon could turn a deep burgundy red, may also catch a glimpse of the International Space Station, Mars and Jupiter all in one evening.
The eclipse will be the longest of the 21st century, lasting from 8.49pm to 10.13pm in London on Friday evening, and the Moon will stay close to the horizon, giving the illusion that it is far larger than usual.
The ‘blood moon’ is caused by sunlight being filtered through the Earth’s atmosphere so that red colours predominate when it reaches the lunar surface.
But to make the phenomenon even more spectacular, Mars will be at its closest point to Earth since 2003, meaning the Red Planet is close to maximum brightness.
As if that was not enough, sky-watchers should be able to see Jupiter in the south-west and have a chance of catching the International Space Station (ISS) sailing overhead.
Robin Scagell, vice-president of the Society for Popular Astronomy, said: “A total lunar eclipse, Mars, Jupiter and the International Space Station. What more could you want?”
He pointed out that the moon’s appearance greatly depended on atmospheric conditions around the Earth at the time of the eclipse.
But dust thrown into the atmosphere by recent volcanic eruptions in Hawaii and Guatemala was likely to paint the moon a deeper red.
“You may see this very eerie-looking deep-red moon rising,” said Mr Scagell. “We’ve all caught on to this lovely word ‘blood-moon’. It certainly will look very strange.
“In early days experiencing a total lunar eclipse would have felt like the end of the world. It’s not surprising people were terrified by it.”
You will have to stay up later to catch a glimpse of the ISS as it moves quickly across the sky from west to east.
Looking like a bright star, it will appear just after 11pm before fading from sight a few minutes later.
“It’s the brightest thing in the sky apart from aircraft,” said Mr Scagell. “It’s a bright white star-like object but it doesn’t twinkle and it’s really unmistakable.”
Unlike a solar eclipse, both the eclipsed moon and Mars can be viewed safely without eye protection.
Dr Emily Brunsden, Director of the University of York’s Astrocampus, said although the Moon will appear larger than usual, it is officially a ‘micro Moon’ because it is at its furtherst point fron Earth:
“We will get the chance to see a micro blood moon.
Blood moon, lunar eclipse explainer
“This is a total eclipse of the Moon at a time in its orbit when it is close to being the farthest from earth, or at apogee.
“Hence the Moon is fractionally smaller than usual, a micro moon.
“There is something mystically beautiful and dramatic about being able to see the motion of the Moon in real time.”
Video: Why Upcoming Eclipse Will Be the Longest of the Century
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