The night sky will darken even more for an hour tomorrow evening, as the Earth, the Sun and the Moon become perfectly aligned and Santa Barbara experiences its last total lunar eclipse until 2010.
With the moon scheduled to rise at 6 p.m. tomorrow, the eclipse is expected to maintain its totality between 7:01 p.m. and 7:51 p.m. In celebration, the Santa Barbara Astronomical Unit will have several large telescopes stationed at Shoreline Park available for use by anyone yearning to get a closer look at the astronomical event.
Santa Barbara Astronomical Unit Outreach Coordinator Chuck McPartlin said that Wednesday night is a rare opportunity for Santa Barbara residents to observe a total eclipse.
“It doesn’t happen every time there is a full moon because the moon’s orbit is tilted,” McPartlin said. “Roughly three times a year, there’s a lunar eclipse. The next total one won’t be visible until 2010.”
The recent stint of good weather will allow stargazers to get an unobscured view of the lunar shadowing. According to McPartlin, if the skies remain clear, Santa Barbara is the perfect place to watch the event. McPartlin also said that, under the best conditions, telescopes are not necessary to view the spectacle.
“It’s actually perfect from here,” McPartlin said. “A telescope doesn’t enhance that much; binoculars or naked eye is best.”
A lunar eclipse is observed when the shadow of the Earth envelops the visible surface of the moon. When the moon is full and the shadow obscures the moon’s light completely, it is categorized as a total eclipse. A lunar eclipse usually only happens in the early morning hours due to the number of conditions that must occur at the same time.
McPartlin said that tomorrow’s event’s reasonable timing is accommodating enough for anyone with a vague astronomical interest.
“The last one in August  was at 3 a.m.,” McPartlin said. “You had to be a little more of a nutcase to go out for that.”