Anatomy of a lunar eclipse; red moon rises
A lunar eclipse happens when the earth’s shadow completely covers the moon but the entire event happens in phases. First the moon enters the penumbral shadow of the earth when the Earth blocks part but not all the sun’s rays from reaching the moon.
In contrast, the inner or umbral shadow is a region where the Earth blocks all direct sunlight from reaching the Moon. The event can only take place when the moon is full.
So, if the moon orbits Earth every 29.5 days and lunar eclipses only occur at full moon, then why isn’t there an eclipse once a month during full moon?
According to the Web site mreclipse.com, the answer lies with the moon’s orbit around the Earth. The moon's orbit around Earth is actually tipped about 5 degrees to Earth's orbit around the sun. This means the moon spends most of the time either above or below the plane of Earth's orbit. And the plane of Earth's orbit around the sun is important because Earth's shadows lie exactly in the same plane.
During full moon, our natural satellite usually passes above or below Earth's shadows and misses them entirely. No eclipse takes place. But two to four times each year, the moon passes through some portion of the Earth's penumbral or umbral shadows and one of three types of eclipses occurs.
About 35 percent of all eclipses are of the penumbral type, which are very difficult to detect, even with a telescope. Another 30 percent are partial eclipses, which are easy to see with the unaided eye. The final 35 percent or so are total eclipses, and these are quite extraordinary events to behold, said the Web site.
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