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Star-gazers prepare for lunar eclipse

The total eclipse of the sun visible in Switzerland in August 1999 will have been more spectacular than Tuesday's lunar eclipse


Star-gazers will be hoping for a clear sky on Tuesday when the earth, sun and moon align themselves to produce a total eclipse of the moon.

Weather permitting, the rare spectacle will see the full moon turn ochre and copper-coloured for just over an hour, before returning to its full brilliance.

The phenomenon has not created the same sort of excitement as the total eclipse of the sun visible in parts of Europe in August 1999, partly because it is a more frequent event and because it will be more widely visible.

Tuesday's eclipse of the moon can be viewed clearly in Europe, Africa and Asia. Only the Americas will be largely unable to witness the phenomenon.

The event begins at 18h44, when the earth's shadow begins to cross the moon, although there will be little to see until an hour later. The eclipse will be total from 20h49 until 21h51.

Although the event ends just before the stroke of midnight, in practice, there will be nothing to see by 22h59. The full moon visible before and after the phenomenon will be unusually bright.

Jean-Michel Hirschi, president of the Astronomy Association, has recommended watching the eclipse with the naked eye in order to get the best view.

"You will be able to see, without any risk, the earth's shadow crossing the moon at a speed of 3,000 km/h," Hirschi said.

The last such eclipse happened on 30 December 1982 although similar events occur nearly every year. The year 2001 will see no less than five eclipses: three of the moon, and two of the sun.

swissinfo with agencies

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