Photograph: Ted S Warren/AP
On Tuesday evening, people across Australia and New Zealand will be treated to a total lunar eclipse, weather permitting. This is an opportunity not to be missed, as the next one will not be visible from the region until 2025.
A lunar eclipse occurs when the moon passes through Earth’s shadow. If the moon only partially enters the umbra, it is a partial eclipse. During a total eclipse, the moon becomes completely submerged and takes on a reddish/orange glow.
During Tuesday’s eclipse, the period of totality – when the moon is completely immersed in umbra – will quietly last 85 minutes.
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The only light reaching the moon’s surface will first pass through the earth’s atmosphere, which is why the moon will take on a red hue. How red it will appear will depend on the dust in Earth’s atmosphere.
It will be a wonderful experience to share with your family and friends, especially since you won’t need any equipment to see it. It’s also safe to watch – unlike solar eclipses, when special care must be taken when viewing the sun.
A twilight moon or a midnight moon?
Everyone on the night side of Earth will experience the lunar eclipse simultaneously. But the time that suits you will depend on your time zone.
In New Zealand, the eclipse will occur late in the evening and the maximum eclipse will be just before midnight. The moon will be high in the northern sky.
Throughout Australia, the eclipse will occur at moonrise. Thus, the moon will be much lower in the sky and will fight against the twilight glow during the early stages of the eclipse.
Eastern Australia will see the eclipse shortly after the full moon rises. The further north you are, the longer you will have to wait before the eclipse begins. For Brisbane, this will start more than an hour after moonrise, so the moon will be higher in the sky. In Hobart, the eclipse begins just 15 minutes after moonrise.
For the rest of Australia, the eclipse will begin before the moon is rising. Across central Australia it will only start a few minutes before moonrise, while in Western Australia it will indeed start at moonrise.
Those in the north will see part of the partial eclipse before totality sets in, but Perth can expect to see a fully eclipsed moon in umbra at moonrise.
big moon rising
If you see the eclipse shortly after moonrise, expect it to be amazing. This is because something called the “moon illusion” will kick in. This is where your brain is tricked and the moon looks much larger when it is low on the horizon, compared to when she is high in the sky.
The moon will rise in the east-northeast for all of Australia, so an elevated location or a clear view of the horizon will help to see the early parts of the eclipse. As the moon rises and the sky darkens, the final part of the eclipse should be easy for everyone to see.
Joined in opposition
But it’s not just the moon you should be looking for. On the night of the eclipse, the ice giant Uranus will appear near the moon as seen from Earth. So if you have a pair of binoculars, you can try to spot Uranus during totality, when the moonlight won’t interfere.
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Uranus will hit opposition the day after the eclipse, Wednesday, which means it will – like the full moon – be in the part of the sky opposite the sun. This is when the planet is closest and brightest.
But at a distance of 2.8 billion km, Uranus is so far away that even through binoculars it will appear as a star. Only a large telescope will reveal it as a small blue-green dot.
One among the planets
But even without binoculars, there are beautiful stars and planets to see. Bright Jupiter and Saturn will be easy to spot overhead, above the eclipsed moon.
Later in the evening, all viewers will be able to spot the constellation Taurus rising in the northeast – along with the beautiful star cluster Pleiades and the red giant star Aldebaran – as well as Orion and its red supergiant Betelgeuse.
The red planet Mars will also make an appearance. People in New Zealand and Queensland will be well placed to see four red objects in the sky together: the eclipsed moon, Aldebaran, Betelgeuse and Mars low on the horizon.
Lunar eclipses remind us that we live on a planet moving through space. When I look at the moon in shadow, I like to imagine what it would be like to stand on it and see the sun blocked by Earth.
Maybe you’ll have your own moment of wonder and awe – of how astronomy can sometimes leave us feeling a bit small, but also connected to something much bigger.
• This article first appeared in Conversation. Tanya Hill is Honorary Fellow and Senior Curator (Astronomy) at the University of Melbourne