Merrillville Community Planetarium
Bringing the Universe to the Merrillville Schools and Northwest Indiana

Total Lunar Eclipse of May 15, 2003


Weather permitting, observers in Northwest Indiana will be able to observe a total lunar eclipse on the evening of Thursday, May 15. This is the first of two lunar eclipses visible from Northwest Indiana in 2003. The second lunar eclipse will be on November 8. There will also be two solar eclipses in 2003, although neither of them will be visible from Northwest Indiana.

Around 7:47 p.m., the full moon will rise in the east. About 14 minutes later, the sun will set in the west. As the sky darkens, the planets Jupiter and Saturn will be visible in the western sky. At 9:03 p.m., the moon will begin to enter the shadow of Earth and the partial eclipse begins. By 10:14 p.m., all of the moon will be in Earth's shadow. The total eclipse continues until 11:06 p.m. when the moon begins to emerge from shadow. The partial eclipse ends at 12:17 a.m.

No special preparations are required to observe the lunar eclipse. A lunar eclipse is safe and easy to observe with the unaided eye. If the sky is mostly clear, the eclipse will be easily visible. Even if the sky is partly or mostly cloudy at the beginning of the evening, glimpses of the moon may be visible during latter portions of the eclipse.

Viewing of the eclipse can be greatly enhanced by using binoculars. Observers should try to watch the moon at the beginning of the partial eclipse and then follow the dark shadow of Earth as it moves across the craters and features of the moon. By using a tripod and 35mm camera with adjustable shutter speed and long telephoto lens, it is possible to photograph the eclipse. Set the camera on the tripod and aim it at the moon. Use a fast film (like ASA 400), a wide aperture (such as f4.5) and an exposure of ten to twenty seconds. Try varying the exposure by leaving the shutter open for longer and shorter periods of time.

Lunar eclipses are different from solar eclipses in several important ways. First, lunar eclipses occur at night, while solar eclipses occur during the day. Second, lunar eclipses occur when the moon is full; solar eclipses occur when the moon phase is new. Third, lunar eclipses are visible from a wide portion of Earth, while solar eclipses can be observed only along very narrow paths. Finally, lunar eclipses can be observed safely with the naked eye; solar eclipses require precautions to avoid injury to the eye.

As the moon orbits Earth, the moon sometimes passes through the shadow of our planet. When this occurs, the surface of the moon gradually becomes dark. The lunar eclipse may be partial or total depending upon the position of the sun, Earth, and moon.

For more information on the eclipse, contact the planetarium at (219) 650-5486 or visit our website at www.mcpstars.org. The Merrillville Community Planetarium is located in Clifford Pierce Middle School at 199 East 70th Avenue in Merrillville, Indiana.