Later tonight people living on half of the planet (Thailand included) will have the opportunity to observe a “perfect” lunar eclipse which at three hours and thirty-nine minutes is the longest in four years; totality will span one hour and forty minutes. Not only that but the total eclipse is a relatively rare central eclipse which means the moon will pass in front of the center of the earth’s shadow. The last time this occurred was on 16 July 2000 and the next won’t happen until 27 July 2018. This will also be the first of two total lunar eclipses in 2011, the next will occur on 10 December (which will also be visible in this part of the world).
Here in Phuket, the eclipse will begin to be visiible amongst observers when it crosses into the earth’s umbral shadow at 1:22 a.m. local time (the preceding hour in the penumbral shadow not being easily seen without telescopes). Totality at 2:22 a.m. At this point the moon will glow a vibrant orange or red color as the shadow of all of the earth’s sunsets and sunrises occuring at once will be reflected off of it’s surface. The color may be even more spectactular than other 21st century occurances due to ash in the atmosphere from the recent volcanic eruptions. This type of eclipse is what gave rise to the term “Blood Moon” or “Hunter’s Moon” as early hunters who tracked their prey using moonlight to stalk their prey observed this phenomenon.
If all of this wasn’t special enough, the Milky Way will be visible throughout the event and beyond plus the moon will pass in front of a star called 51 Ophiuchi which from the earth will appear as if it is travelling behind the moon in glowing red. Despite the late hour, the National Astronomical Research Institute of Thailand has public observations scheduled in Chiang Mai, Chachoengsao, and Songkhla.
Personally, I’ve had pretty back luck with eclipses in Thailand. There’s been several solar eclipses (none total) that I’d gone out to watch but everytime the clouds preventing seeing anything except for a gradual dimming of the sky. We’ve had a lot of overcast days lately (and more than our fair share of rain — it is, afterall, June which is the beginning of our rainy season) and right now there’s no sign of clear sky at all. I’ve arranged for a ride down to the Chalong Pier for later tonight as I believe that would be a great place to watch the moon without obstruction or residual light. We’ll check later to see if the clouds have rolled out or not…