Total lunar eclipse is Saturday

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Watch the sky Saturday evening as the moon rises. A total lunar eclipse will have begun already. It will be the second total lunar eclipse in 2003.

"Not in recent memory have we had two lunar eclipses visible from the same location," said Colorado Mountain College astronomy professor Jimmy Westlake. "It is not unusual to have two eclipses, but they are usually visible from (different locations)."

The last pair of total lunar eclipses visible from Steamboat in one calendar year happened Feb. 20 and Aug. 17, 1989. It isn't expected to happen again until March 3 and Aug. 28, 2007.

Eclipses are the natural result of objects in space, orbiting each other and occasionally casting shadows on each other. A total lunar eclipse occurs when the Earth comes between the sun and the moon, completely covering the moon with its shadow.

There can be a potential maximum of seven eclipses in one year -- including solar and lunar. There will be one total eclipse of the sun this year, but you have to be in Antarctica to see it, Westlake said.

The smoke in the air from California wildfires probably will not have an effect on the color of the penumbra -- the ring of light that circles the moon at totality.

"The color is the result of sunlight going through the Earth's atmosphere," Westlake said. "It can be affected by smoke, clouds or volcanic ash, but on a global scale, the (California wildfires) are not that big a phenomenon."

The eclipse begins at 6:06 p.m., which means it already will be in progress as the moon rises, Westlake said. Shortly after it gets above the horizon, it will reach totality.

"It will last for 25 minutes, which is a short one, as far as eclipses go. The moon will take about one and a half hours to come out of the shadow."

Sky watchers will need to find a place with a clear view of the eastern horizon right after sunset.

"The farther east you go, the better it will be for this eclipse," Westlake said. "We are straddling that line. We will be seeing it, but it will be low in our sky."

Another total lunar eclipse will not occur until Oct. 27.

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