Eclipses of the sun and moon usually come in pairs. A solar eclipse is almost always accompanied by a lunar eclipse two weeks before or after it, since in two weeks the moon travels halfway around its orbit and is likely to form another almost-straight line with the Earth and sun.
This month will be no exception. Just over two weeks after casting its shadow across the Arctic, Russia, Mongolia and China, the moon will swing around to slide deep through the northern edge of the Earth's own shadow on the night of Aug. 16-17.
This partial lunar eclipse will favor much of Europe, Africa and Asia. The moon will pass through the northern part of the Earth's dark umbral shadow between 3:36 p.m. and 6:44 p.m. EDT (19:36 and 22:44 GMT) on Aug. 16.
At greatest eclipse (5:11 p.m. EDT or 21:11 GMT), 80.8 percent of the moon's diameter will be inside the shadow, leaving only the moon's upper portion still in view.
Times and visibility
Except for a brief glimpse just after moonrise from eastern Newfoundland, this partial eclipse will not be visible from anywhere else in North America.
The eclipse officially will begin with the moon's entry into the Earth's faint penumbral shadow. The penumbra does not begin to make itself evident on the moon's disk until about 70 percent of its diameter is immersed within it.
Not until about 3:10 p.m. EDT (19:10 GMT) is the first faint diffuse shading likely to be seen on the moon's eastern (left) side. This is before dawn on Aug. 17 in west-central Russia and western sections of Mongolia and China; early risers in these locations may glimpse the delicate penumbral effect just prior to when the moon sets and the sun rises. By the time the moon begins to enter the much darker/sharper umbra, the sun has risen over central China, most of Southeast Asia and central Indonesia.
The Earth's umbra will be seen to touch the moon at 7:36 p.m. British Summer Time on Aug. 16 in London; 10:36 p.m. local daylight time for Moscow; 12:06 a.m. local time on Aug. 17 for Kabul, and will continue to creep down over its face for more than an hour and a half.
The rest of Europe and the countries of central and western Africa see the same thing but earlier in their night and with the umbra creeping up, as it is coming from the south. Some hues of dull brownish-red may become evident on the eclipsed portion of the moon's disk around the time of greatest eclipse, but after going just over four-fifths of the way across the moon's face, the umbra retreats, and just over an hour and half later it's gone. And by 5:10 p.m. EDT (23:10 GMT), the last evidence of any faint penumbral shading also disappears.
And at each successive full moon for the balance of the year it manages to sail clear over to the north of the Earth's shadow, so there are no other lunar eclipses in 2008.
The next lunar eclipse will be strictly a penumbral event and will occur on Feb. 9 of next year and will favor Alaska, Hawaii, eastern and central Asia, Australia and New Zealand.
But the next total lunar eclipse will not come until Dec. 21, 2010.
- Gallery: Lunar Eclipse in 2004
- Top 10 Lunar Eclipse Facts
- Astrophotography 101
Joe Rao serves as an instructor and guest lecturer at New York's Hayden Planetarium. He writes about astronomy for The New York Times and other publications, and he is also an on-camera meteorologist for News 12 Westchester, New York.