By Reyhana Mahomed
This morning between 3:43am and 5:51am, Southern Africa experienced a lunar eclipse. The last time it occurred was on March 4, 2007 and it is due to occur again on June 20, 2011. Auke Slotegraaf, an astronomer at the Centre of the Astronomical Society of Southern Africa, explained, “A lunar eclipse occurs when the earth’s shadow falls on the moon.” It is when the earth’s shadow appears directly between the sun and the moon. The lunar eclipse has no effect on the environment; it is part of the natural order and is one of nature’s most beautiful spectacles. However, Slotegraaf warns that viewing the lunar eclipse can also be dangerous as the bright sunlight may cause damage to the viewer’s eyes. It is encouraged to use binoculars or telescopes. “The red colour of the moon during a total eclipse is caused by our planet’s atmosphere,” explained Slotegraaf. White light shines from the sun, passes through the atmosphere and filters out the blue light. Hence, the sky is blue, he added. Some of the remaining orange and red light is bent by the atmosphere and falls onto the moon during an eclipse. Slotegraaf also said that the colour of the moon depends on how much of dust and clouds are in the atmosphere at the time of the eclipse. The moon can appear dark brown, red, bright orange and even yellow.