Red Moon Day

Today marks 50 years since three astronauts blasted off for the Moon on a Saturn V rocket. As if to mark the occasion, tonight’s skies are offering us the red-daubed Moon of a partial lunar eclipse. Perfect opportunity for some spectacular Moon-watching in your own back-garden.

NASA image: Abu Dubai Astronomy Group

During a full lunar eclipse, the earth’s shadow turns the moon a reddish colour. In the UK, the eclipse will be underway even as the Moon rises tonight. That means anytime from 9pm onwards BST. Although the full event lasts 5 hours, by about 10.30, the fullest portion of the umbra or orange-red shadow will be visible. It does depend on clear skies or a break in the cloud cover. And it helps to get into an open area away from streetlights. You can watch a lunar eclipse with the naked eye, though binoculars will help you see more detail. Or failing all that, you can catch it in all its glory on-line. The Royal Museum Greenwich website are streaming it live tonight:  

Some years ago in 2010, I watched a full lunar eclipse during the winter solstice in my local park. Hopping up and down to keep warm, I was nonetheless spellbound. In celebration of tonight’s eclipse and those moon-struck astronauts, here’s the poem that event inspired:

Blood Moon

a solstice spider

rolls paralysed prey

in plasma cocoon

a nicotine thumb

intrudes, penumbral blot

on spinster light

old master daubing

rose-gold flesh with umber


earth’s basilisk breath

 scorching elliptical slices

for amber teeth

till a raw knuckle

exposed, blood-smeared

knocks at our sky