This month offers a treat for even the most casual of stargazers: a total lunar eclipse, visible from start to end across Australia and New Zealand! This is a potentially great eclipse for outreach enthusiasts since the entire eclipse will run its course by midnight.

There are two types of lunar eclipses: partial and total. I am happy to say that the event on May 26 is the best type of one. Total lunar eclipses only occur at Full Moon.

Following the eclipse, the entire event repeats in reverse as the moon moves out of Earth’s shadow. (Photo: Getty)

Total lunar eclipses last for hours, and totality, the most impressive segment, will last for about 15 minutes so if you want only to see the coolest bit you need only pop outside for about 30 minutes from around 9pm. Unlike solar eclipses, you can safely view lunar eclipses without any special protectionsince a lunar eclipse is totally safe to look at. You can view the bright full Moon safely with your naked eye and have probably done so many times in the past. A lunar eclipse only makes the Moon slightly darker, since it’s caused by Earth’s shadow covering on the Moon and blocking the Sun’s light.Totality in a lunar eclipse occurs when the Moon is completely enveloped by the darkest part of Earth’s shadow, known as the umbra. This is also when the Moon’s colour dramatically changes to a bright orange or red (commonly, and unofficially, called a “Blood Moon”), thanks to the effectof the sunlight refracting through our Earth’s atmosphere, comparable to why we have colourful sunrises and sunsets.

The event begins when the Moon enters Earth’s outer shadow-penumbra and slowly moves into Earth’s Umbra (inner shadow) and begins to turn red, a state of the partial lunar eclipse. As the moon goes inside the umbra, a total lunar eclipse occurs. The Total Lunar Eclipse will stay for 14 minutes 30 seconds on May 26. Following the eclipse, the entire event repeats in reverse as the moon moves out of Earth’s shadow.

The moon travels from west-to-east across the Earth’s shadow. Because the moon doesn’t cross the Earth’s shadow dead center, the northern part of the moon will appear brighter than the southern part, which is more deeply submerged in shadow.

Eclipse times in AEST (May 26, 2021):

Partial umbral eclipse begins: 19:45 AEST
Total eclipse begins: 21:11 AEST
Greatest eclipse: 21:19 AEST
Total eclipse ends: 21:26 AEST
Partial umbral eclipse ends: 22:52 AEST