Total lunar eclipse for SA

Cape Town - The South African Astronomical Observatory (SAAO) has announced that a rare eclipse will be visible in SA during June.

"A total lunar eclipse will be visible from South Africa on the 15th of June 2011. The last total lunar eclipse visible from this region was in February 2008 and the next one will only be in September 2015," the SAAO told News24 in a statement.

Despite the regular nature of eclipses, astronomer Dr Enrico Olivier said that this was quite special.

"It's special in the sense that it's a total eclipse which is somewhat more rare than a normal lunar eclipse which is usually a partial or penumbral eclipse," he told News24.

The moon will enter the earth's shadow at 21:22 and at 23:03, will start to leave the earth's umbral shadow. The next total eclipse will be visible from SA in September 2015.


"There are at least two a year, at currently they tend occur toward the middle and end of the year.

"There's another one at the end of the year and that one will be a total eclipse if I remember correctly from certain parts of the world, but from Southern Africa it will only appear as a partial eclipse and that will only happen in the early morning," said Olivier.

The difference for observers between the solar and lunar eclipse was that there was no danger to the eyes when one looked at a lunar eclipse as opposed to a solar eclipse.

Olivier said that no special precautions were necessary when viewing the eclipse.

"A solar eclipse the moon actually casts a shadow on the surface of the earth, and in the case of a lunar eclipse it's the other way round: The earth is actually casting its shadow on the moon," he said.

Observers in the urban areas would not get the same view of the night sky during an eclipse as those who are in rural areas, said Olivier.

"It would appear similar to when there's no full moon around. In the case of the city it won't make that much difference because of the light pollution, but if you go to a dark site, you notice the difference to when there's no moon around and when there's a full moon."


There is no real scientific significance of a lunar eclipse though Olivier acknowledged that there were several cultural myths around celestial events.

"There is not much astronomical interest, from large ground based observatories anyways. Except maybe it provides astronomers at these observatories an extra few hours of dark sky time on that specific night."

Volunteers from the SAAO will be going on a hike up Lion's Head to witness the eclipse if the weather permits and the public is invited to join them just before the moon rises at about 17:30.

- Follow Duncan on Twitter


An earlier version of this story incorrectly attributed a statement to Dr Olivier. News24 regrets the error.

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