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Wednesday, January 19, 2000

Red moon to
result from lunar
eclipse tomorrow

Crowds are expected at
Oahu's eastern beaches,
Haleakala crater and the
summit of Mauna Kea

By Lori Tighe


A blood-red moon reflecting sunsets around the world will rise into the night sky tomorrow as the first lunar eclipse of the millennium.

The full red moon will lure people to Oahu's eastern beaches, Maui's Haleakala crater and the Big Island's Mauna Kea summit, provided the weather is clear.

Like bookends marking the end of one millennium and the beginning of another, this moon follows the "millennium moon" on Dec. 22, one of the century's brightest.

But tomorrow's lunar eclipse hasn't captured the public's fascination to the degree of the millennium moon, said Mike Shanahan, planetarium producer at the Bishop Museum, even though this moon will be even brighter. Tomorrow's eclipse can be watched safely with the naked eye.

"It should be a very beautiful sight," Shanahan said, "if the weather cooperates."

The last total lunar eclipse Hawaii saw occurred in 1993. There will be another one in July, and after that not until August of 2007.

To create the eclipse, the earth will move directly before the sun, blocking the light to the moon. But because of the earth's atmosphere, the red light of the sun will bend around it and shine onto the moon, giving it an "eerie" copper glow, Shanahan said.

In a two-for-one deal on the same night, the moon will return to its pearl-white color by 9:22 p.m. -- brighter than the millennium moon, Shanahan said.

Brighter than last full moon

The lineup of the sun, earth and moon will be straighter than last month's, so more sunlight will reflect on the moon, making it 7 percent brighter than the millennium moon, Shanahan said. This full moon will be smaller, however.

The Bishop Museum isn't having a special viewing of the moon because of surrounding skyscrapers and mountains blocking the view.

The best place to see the lunar eclipse is a wide, flat area, such as a beach or a mountaintop with an eastern sky view, he said.

A group of moon-gazers, including Barry Peckham of Litebox Telescopes, will gather at the Blowhole, just east of Hanauma Bay, at 6 p.m.

"By 6:30 p.m. we should see it," Peckham said. "It may be a deep reddish color, very dramatic, or it could be subtle. It depends on the amount of sunset color that projects onto the moon."

The moon's reddish color comes from the reflection of sunsets around the world, Peckham said.

'Otherworldly' view

A group of 20 people paying about $125 each will take a tour with Star Party Inc. to the top of Haleakala Crater on Maui to witness the red moon.

"It's going to be beautiful up there on top of a volcano, two miles high," said Eddie Hrncir, an astronomy guide. "There's not a better place in the world."

Except maybe for Mauna Kea on the Big Island, the highest summit in Hawaii at three miles high.

"At Mauna Kea's summit, you feel like you're on top of a pyramid gazing down at the flat ocean. You see the glow in the water from the moon, and you have the feeling you're looking down at the moon," said Buck Pelkey, a naturalist guide with Paradise Safaris.

He'll take up to 25 people at $135 each, plus tax, for an eight-hour tour that includes parkas and gloves for the summit's below-freezing temperatures. Children under 13, pregnant women and people with health problems won't be allowed to go because of the high altitude, Pelkey said.

It will be frigid up there, he said, but he expects a crowd of about 100.

"The scenery is otherworldly, like you're on another planet between the (observatory) domes and the stark, cinder cone environment."

Prime-time viewing of the red moon, this year's first lunar eclipse, will be between 6:30 and 8 p.m. in the eastern sky.

Watch out for a
big hog in the sky

According to Joseph Ciotti, professor of astronomy and physics at Windward College:

Bullet The ancient Egyptians thought the red color of lunar eclipses came from the blood shed by the moon after a hog in the sky swallowed it.

Bullet Explorer Christopher Columbus, stranded on Jamaica in 1503, tricked the islanders into giving his crew food and supplies after he produced a lunar eclipse. Unknown to the native people, he consulted his almanac.

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