LONDON, FEBRUARY 22, 2008 (REUTER) <> (Reporting by Peter Apps) Thousands of hopeful astronomers around the world tried to catch a glimpse of the year's only total lunar eclipse -- but those watching from Britain saw little more than cloud.

Watchers from the eastern United States saw it easily Wednesday night and had posted dozens of successful pictures on the Internet -- but by mid-morning none had been posted from Britain, where it should have been most visible between 3 a.m. and 4 a.m. British time Thursday (10 p.m. and 11 p.m. EST Wednesday).

"It's been pretty grim," said John Mason, spokesman for the British Astronomical Association. "There were a couple of gaps in the cloud for a couple of seconds from where I was but nothing else."

During the eclipse, the Earth lined up directly between the Sun and Moon, covering the latter with the Earth's shadow. Depending on atmospheric conditions on Earth, the moon should have appeared blood red, rusty or grey.

The Royal Astronomical Society had promised a "spectacular sight," saying that unlike a solar eclipse it could be viewed without any special equipment.

But in the event, special equipment would have been unnecessary anyway. The next lunar eclipse will not be seen until December 2010.

"It's bad luck," said Royal Astronomical Society spokesman Robert Massey. "But it's always one of these things when you're watching from the UK."

[PHOTO AT LEFT Courtesy of NASA- TOTAL ECLIPSE OF THE MOON: Path of the Moon through Earth's umbral and penumbral shadows during the Total Lunar Eclipse of February 20, 2008. (Eastern Standard Time)]

A total eclipse of the Moon occurs during the night of Wednesday, February 20/21, 2008. The entire event is visible from South America and most of North America (on Feb. 20) as well as Western Europe, Africa, and western Asia (on Feb. 21). During a total lunar eclipse, the Moon's disk can take on a dramatically colorful appearance from bright orange to blood red to dark brown and (rarely) very dark gray.

An eclipse of the Moon can only take place at Full Moon, and only if the Moon passes through some portion of Earth's shadow. The shadow is actually composed of two cone-shaped parts, one nested inside the other. The outer shadow or penumbra is a zone where Earth blocks some (but not all) of the Sun's rays. In contrast, the inner shadow or umbra is a region where Earth blocks all direct sunlight from reaching the Moon.

If only part of the Moon passes through the umbra, a partial eclipse is seen. However, if the entire Moon passes through the umbral shadow, then a total eclipse of the Moon occurs. For more information on how, what, why, where and when of lunar eclipses, see the special web page lunar eclipses for beginners. Lunar Eclipse Diagrams

The following diagrams show the Moon's path through Earth's shadows. EASTERN STANDARD TIME.

US missile hits toxic spy satellite by Jim Mannion

HONOLULU, Hawaii (AFP) - A US missile shot down a rogue US spy satellite in space carrying dangerous toxic fuel, demonstrating the effectiveness of America's missile defense system, officials said Thursday. ADVERTISEMENT

However, the operation raised Chinese concerns that the United States was trying to test an anti-satellite weapon, amid rising global tensions about the militarization of space.

"I think the question over whether this capability works has been settled," Defense Secretary Robert Gates told reporters after touring one of the warships that supported the operation Wednesday evening in the Pacific ocean.

"The question is what kind of threat, how large a threat, how sophisticated a threat (the United States faces)."

A network of radars and satellites designed for the US missile defense system confirmed that the successful interception occurred some 250 kilometers (150 miles) over the Pacific Ocean, US officials said Wednesday.

The missile that struck the satellite reduced it to football-sized chunks, and the Pentagon said it had a "high degree of confidence" its fuel tank was destroyed.

General James Cartwright told reporters at the Pentagon it would be 24-48 hours before a full confirmation would be available on the fuel tank.

A senior Pentagon official earlier had said the missile appeared to have struck the fuel tank containing hydrazine, which could have leaked toxic gas over a wide area if it had survived re-entry into the Earth's atmosphere.

"The intent here was to preserve human life ... it was the hydrazine we were after," said Cartwright, who is vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, rejecting Moscow's suggestion it was an anti-missile test.

"This is a modified system, this isn't a missile defense system," he said, adding that so far the United States has not seen debris touch the Earth's surface.

China called on Washington to provide more information and warned of potential international consequences.

"China is continuing to closely follow the possible harm caused by the US action to outer space security and relevant countries," foreign ministry spokesman Liu Jianchao said.

China caused an international outcry when it shot down one of its own weather satellites on January 11, 2007 in what was widely seen as an anti-satellite test.

Asked about China's request that Washington provide information about the satellite strike, Gates said: "We're prepared to share whatever, appropriately, we can."

Gates approved the missile strike as he flew from Washington to Honolulu, a base for the three Aegis warships involved in the intercept attempt.

The USS Lake Erie, a guided missile cruiser, fired a single modified tactical SM-3 missile that hit the schoolbus-sized satellite as it traveled at more than 7,000 miles (11,265 kilometers) per hour, the Pentagon said.

The objective was to hit a tank containing 1,000 pounds of hydrazine fuel.

Satellite debris will re-enter the Earth's atmosphere immediately because of the relatively low altitude at which the satellite was intercepted, and most will burn up on re-entry within two days, the Pentagon said. But it could take up to 40 days for all the debris to re-enter.

Russia's defense ministry said on Sunday that the US plans looked like a veiled weapons test and an "attempt to move the arms race into space."

US officials have insisted that the aim was to prevent potential risk to humans from the de-orbiting satellite, and not to test an anti-satellite weapon or keep its secrets from falling into the wrong hands.

"I guess it is good politics to try to keep people alive and safe. But other than that, I don't see much of a political angle to it," US State Department spokesman Tom Casey said Wednesday.

Admiral Timothy Keating, the head of the US Pacific command, acknowledged similarities with the Chinese shoot down but said this one was significantly different because the United States gave public notice first.

The Lake Erie was carrying two missiles in case the first attempt failed. The USS Decatur, an Aegis destroyer, was armed with a third missile, while the USS Russell tracked the event from Pearl Harbor.

The warships are equipped with powerful radars capable of tracking a medium range missile warhead in space, and are armed with SM-3 interceptor missiles.

Software changes were made to the missile used in the shoot down so that it could recognize a satellite as its target rather than a ballistic missile

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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