Although forecasters had warned that clouds might keep Washington area residents from catching a glimpse of tonight's lunar eclipse, by early this evening the sky was clear and local sky watchers were hopeful for a good show.
In lunar eclipses, the moon passes through the shadow of the Earth, blocking the sunlight that gives moonshine its shine. The period of totality -- when the moon will be completely within the Earth's shadow -- will begin at 10:23 p.m. Eastern time and end at 11:45 p.m., according to a Web site maintained by Fred Espenak of NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center. The eclipse will reach totality about 11 p.m.
Tonight's eclipse will be visible around much of the world, appearing in European skies early Thursday morning. In the western United States, the eclipse should be visible as the sun sets tonight.
The University of Maryland's astronomy department planned to host an eclipse viewing beginning at 9 p.m. near the sundial on the McKeldin Mall at the school's College Park campus. Elizabeth Warner, director of the University of Maryland Observatory, said several hundred turned out for a similar public viewing last November, when the last lunar eclipse was visible from this area. (Warner said any change in plans would be posted on the observatory's Web site|http://www.astro.umd.edu/openhouse/).
Other public viewings in the Washington area were planned at the Montgomery College planetarium on Fenton Street in Takoma Park, following a program on lunar and solar eclipses scheduled to begin at 7 p.m. (information can be found on the planetarium's Web site|http://www.montgomerycollege.edu/Departments/planet/ or at 301-650-1463), and at Howard Community College, on a patio at the Science/Technology Building on the school's Columbia campus. (Information on the Howard Community College viewing will be available after 6 p.m. at 410-772-4891.)
In Virginia, the Analemma Society planned to provide telescopes and binoculars for a viewing at Observatory Park in Great Falls, east of Springvale Road near Georgetown Pike (Route 193). The park was scheduled to be open from 8:30 p.m. to 12:30 a.m. for the viewing, weather permitting. (Additional information is available on the Fairfax County Park Authority Web site|http://www.co.fairfax.va.us/parks/lunareclipse.htm.) In Loudoun County, a viewing was scheduled at Sky Meadows State Park on Edmonds Lane in Delaplane (information at 540-592-3556).
Russ Poch, a professor of physical sciences at Howard Community College, said tonight is a good opportunity to check out an eclipse since the next lunar eclipse visible in the area is a ways off: March 3, 2007.
"That's a little bit of a wait," Poch said.