Moon will turn blood red on Friday in longest lunar eclipse of the century

The moon will spend 103 minutes in the Earth’s shadow on Friday, making it the longest total lunar eclipse in a century • Mars will be the closest to earth in 15 years

Blood red moon captured by in Malta in 2011 by Leonard Ellul Mercer
Blood red moon captured by in Malta in 2011 by Leonard Ellul Mercer

Malta can feast its eyes on the longest total lunar eclipse of the century on Friday when the silvery moon will turn a blood red.

The moon is expected to spend a whopping 103 minutes in the Earth’s shadow, according to astronomers.

On the same night, the planet Mars will also be visible with the naked eye as it comes the closest it has ever been to Earth in 15 years.

To mark this spectacle the Institute for Space Science & Astronomy (ISSA) has teamed up with the Astronomical Society of Malta, the Department of Physics, Esplora Interactive Science Centre, and Heritage Malta to organise a special event at Valletta’s Fort St Elmo this Friday.

“Contrary to solar eclipses this phenomenon is completely safe to see through the naked eye… plus you have plenty of time to savour the majestic dance of heavenly bodies since it will last one hour and 43 minutes,” ISSA founder Kristian Zarb Adami said.

Images of the different phases of a total lunar eclipse captured in Malta in 2011 by Leonard Ellul Mercer
Images of the different phases of a total lunar eclipse captured in Malta in 2011 by Leonard Ellul Mercer

Zarb Adami, an astrophysicist, explained that the reason this lunar eclipse was the longest of the 21st century was because it passed through the centre of Earth's shadow. This increases the time in which the moon is blocked from the sun.

Astronomical Society president Josef Borg added that the partial phase of the eclipse would start at 8.24pm, with its totality — when the moon is fully covered by the umbra — being reached at 9.30pm.

“Since the moon will be rising as it goes through its partial phase and approaches totality, it is best to view the eclipse facing east. However, the total phase itself will be visible from practically anywhere, as the moon will be high enough to be seen from most locations with unobstructed views towards the southeast,” Borg said.

Stargazers may be looking up at the skies in awe, but years ago the moon’s ochre orange colour was considered to be a bad omen that instilled fear and panic until the scientific explanation of how lunar eclipses occurred was finally understood.

Those attending Friday’s event, which is being endorsed by the Valletta 2018 Foundation, can zoom in on this phenomenon through the telescopes on site and witness other planets such as Mars, Jupiter and Saturn. 

Scientists from ISSA and amateur astronomers from the Astronomical Society will be on hand to help and share their knowledge, while a number of experts in the different fields of recycling, plastics, trees and the environment will give short talks.

“Our talks this year put a heavy accent on our environment to help make people aware that while looking up at the heavens it is still vital to ensure we preserve our planet,” Zarb Adami said.

With the support of Vodafone Malta, the astronomers plan to transmit a YouTube live feed of the eclipse through the telescope, to make this celestial wonder accessible to all local, as well as foreign, news outlets and enable them to cover the event accordingly. 

Friday’s event, which starts at 8pm and runs until 12.30am, is free.