Skygazers across the globe are in for a treat when Friday when the longest “blood moon” eclipse this century coincides with Mars’ closest approach to earth in 15 years.
The celestial spectacle is a little unlike a solar eclipse as viewers will need no protective eye gear to observe the rare display.
“All you have to do is… go outside!”, the Royal Astronomical Society (RAS) in London said, adding that binoculars will be useful to observe the phenomenon up close.
For about half the world, the moon will be partly or fully in Earth’s shadow from 17:14 to 23:28 GMT — six hours and 14 minutes in all.
The period of complete eclipse – known as “totality”, when the moon appears darkest – will last from 19:30 to 21:13 GMT.
“Totality will last for 103 minutes, making it the longest eclipse of the 21st century,” the RAS said.
Simultaneously, Mars will hover near the moon in the night sky, easily visible with the naked eye.
Our neighbouring planet will appear unusually large and bright, a mere 57.7 million kilometres (35.9 million miles) from Earth on its elliptical orbit around the sun.
“We have a rare and interesting conjunction of phenomena,” Pascal Descamps, an astronomer with the Paris Observatory, told AFP.
“We should have a coppery red tint on the moon with Mars the ‘Red Planet’ just next to it, very bright and with a slight orange hue itself.”
Amateur astronomers in the southern hemisphere will be best-placed to enjoy the spectacle, especially those in southern Africa, Australia, India and Madagascar, though it will also be partly visible in Europe and South America.
The exact locations and timing of the eclipse as it moves from Friday into Saturday can be followed on website www.timeanddate.com.