[PHOTO AT LEFT: Saturday night's lunar eclipse turns the moon red, as seen from the Cincinnati Observatory. Hundreds lined up to peer through the observatory's telescope and others that were brought by amateurs.]

MSNBC NEWS, NOVEMBER 11, 2003 (MSNBC STAFF & WIRE REPORTS) Moon passes through Earth’s shadow: ‘It’s a good one’

Sky watchers in every continent but Australia reveled in the relative rarity of a total lunar eclipse Saturday night — but as stargazers have noted for centuries, it was a matter of celestial perspective. “From the moon, they’re having a solar eclipse,” said Dean Regas, an astronomer at the Cincinnati Observatory Center.

A LUNAR ECLIPSE occurs when the moon, Earth and sun are in alignment and the moon passes through the planet’s shadow. In a solar eclipse, an area of Earth is in the moon’s shadow.

The Cincinnati Observatory, which claims to be the oldest in the United States, was founded in 1842 and has been in its current location on the city’s east side since 1871.

It had one of its biggest nights ever Saturday, as officials estimated about 800 people stood in line for a chance to peer through the observatory’s telescope.

Outside, amateur astronomers set up telescopes on one of the city’s highest promontories. Bill Lewis, a 53-year old computer programmer from suburban Montgomery, declared the viewing a success.

“It’s a good one, because the sky is so clear,” he said, adjusting the focus on his new $500 rig. “I thought there would be about 10 of us crazies out here, but look at the crowd.”

Earth’s shadow started creeping over the lunar disk at about 5:15 p.m. ET, and the event reached its peak a few minutes after 8 p.m. when the shadow engulfed the moon.

Total lunar eclipses can range in color — from dark brown and red to bright orange, yellow and even gray — depending on how much dust and clouds are in Earth’s atmosphere. Saturday night’s eclipse appeared light red to many people and brownish or gray to others.

Residents of the eastern United States could view the eclipse from beginning to end, but it was already under way when the moon rose around sunset in the West. The total phase ended a few minutes after 8:30 p.m. ET, and by 10:30 p.m. the show was over.

Saturday night’s event was an encore of sorts: A total lunar eclipse in May was also visible from North America.

Lunar eclipses are expected on May 4 and Oct. 28 next year. North America will be totally shut out from seeing May’s eclipse, but October’s total phase can be seen from parts of North America as well as Europe and all of South America.

Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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