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Look to the skies – it's the longest lunar eclipse of the 21st century!

If you happen to look up at the sky tonight and see the moon going blood red, don't worry, the zombies aren't taking over... yet, its the longest "blood moon" lunar eclipse of the 21st century.

The lunar eclipse is taking place tonight, Friday, July 27th, 2018, and will last a full hour and 43 minutes. The moon will be covered with the earth's shadow and the eclipse will be visible from every continent on earth except North America and won't happen again until 2029. NASA says the ideal viewing locations will be Eastern Africa, India, or Southeast Asia.

The full lunar eclipse will be visible from 21:00 in Johannesburg but the moon will appear smaller than usual as it will be at almost it's farthest point in its orbit from Earth – Mars will also be at its brightest, filling the night sky with two red lights.

An eclipse occurs when the moon passes through the darkest section of the earth's shadow, or umbra. Partial lunar eclipses, when part of the moon (but not all of it) passes through the umbra, are more common than total eclipses. The moon will transform from its usual milky tint to a striking red-orange blush, a phenomenon often referred to as a blood moon.

But the striking colour actually comes from Earth. When the moon is immersed in the earth's shadow, the only light that illuminates it is scattered light from the Earth’s atmosphere, which is a reddish colour. “Blood moon” is actually a nickname rather than an established astronomical term, says Paige Godfrey, a physicist at Slooh, with the same applying for “blue moon” and “supermoon”.

In recent years, certain religious figures and doomsday prophets have twisted the blood moon into a more sinister meaning, taking up the phrase “blood moon” to warn people about the imminent apocalypse. John Hagee, a televangelist and pastor of a Texas megachurch, started this idea in his 2013 book Four Blood Moons that the coinciding of two Jewish holidays, Passover and Sukkot, and total lunar eclipses in April and October in both 2014 and 2015 was actually a message from the higher power. Although Hagee hasn't started any conspiracies over this blood moon, many similar doomsday prophets have started spreading the word.

Due to the extended time of the eclipse, NASA will be temporarily shutting down its Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter, the solar-powered satellite which has been studying the moon for almost a decade. It will be the longest it’s ever gone without sunlight, so NASA will be carefully monitoring the spacecraft to make sure it doesn’t run out of battery.

Watch the lunar eclipse as the night sky unfolds above you and enjoy it with your friends and family. The term “blood moon” may not be able to do justice to the wonder of what you’re watching.


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