The total eclipse is expected to last a record-breaking one hour and 43 minutes, seen in Italy from 21:30, when the moon enters the shadow of the Earth and turns red, until 23:13, when it will start to emerge and regain its normal appearance.
The red moon phenomenon, also called a Blood Moon or Luna Rossa, is possible because, while the moon is in total shadow, some light from the sun passes through the Earth’s atmosphere and is bent toward the moon.
While other colours in the spectrum are blocked and scattered by the Earth’s atmosphere, red light tends to make it through easier.
What are the stages of a lunar eclipse?
The spectacular sightings of a Blood Moon come in stages, with the total eclipse being the much anticipated peak stage.
The event kicks off with the penumbral eclipse, when the outside of the Earth’s shadow is visible as it starts tracking across the Moon.
After this, the partial eclipse takes place, when the inner part of the Earth’s shadow starts to creep in.
Total eclipse comes in when the Earth is standing fully between the Moon and Sun, projecting the eery red glow onto the Moon’s surface.
Following total eclipse is maximum eclipse, which is the mid-point of total eclipse, halfway through the one hour and 43 minutes for Blood Moon.
After the Earth has fully eclipsed the Moon, the eclipse ends and the cycle progresses again through partial and penumbral eclipse until the earth has fully moved out of the Sun’s shadow.
A Blood Moon like today’s will not be visible again for another 100 years.
For many ancient civilisations, the “blood moon” came with evil intent. The ancient Inca people interpreted the deep red colouring as a jaguar attacking and eating the moon. They believed that the jaguar might then turn its attention to Earth, so the people would shout, shake their spears and make their dogs bark and howl, hoping to make enough noise to drive the jaguar away.
In ancient Mesopotamia, a lunar eclipse was considered a direct assault on the king. Given their ability to predict an eclipse with reasonable accuracy, they would put in place a proxy king for its duration. Someone considered to be expendable (it was not a popular job), would pose as the monarch, while the real king would go into hiding and wait for the eclipse to pass. The proxy king would then conveniently disappear, and the old king be reinstated
Some Hindu folktales interpret lunar eclipses as the result of the demon Rahu drinking the elixir of immortality. Twin deities the sun and moon promptly decapitate Rahu, but having consumed the elixir, Rahu’s head remains immortal. Seeking revenge, Rahu’s head chases the sun and moon to devour them. If he catches them we have an eclipse – Rahu swallows the moon, which reappears out of his severed neck.
For many people in India, a lunar eclipse bears ill fortune. Food and water are covered and cleansing rituals performed. Pregnant women especially should not eat or carry out household work, in order to protect their unborn child.