Utah's eclipse fans should be doubly ecstatic: They have the rare opportunity of witnessing two eclipses during the same month.
On May 10, an annular solar eclipse was visible from the Beehive state as a partial eclipse that covered a large portion of the sun. Exactly two weeks later, next Tuesday, a partial lunar eclipse should hide about a quarter of the moon.A solar eclipse is a rare event, with only about three per year anywhere on Earth, whether total, partial or annular. Such an eclipse can happen only during the new moon, when the moon comes between the Earth and the sun.
A lunar eclipse is more easily seen because it can be watched from anywhere on the side of our planet facing the moon. It happens when Earth's shadow sweeps across our satellite and can occur only during a full moon.
This month, both the new moon and the full moon are part of eclipses.
"Observing a lunar eclipse is safe and simple, unlike this month's earlier solar eclipse which required special safety filters to protect the eyes," said Patrick Wiggins, education specialist with Hansen Planetarium.
"For an eclipse of the moon, just go outside and watch it!"
The eclipse starts at 8:30 p.m., when the umbral shadow of the earth - the darker part of the shadow - touches the moon.
Doug Lowe, the planetarium's media relations expert, said the maximum darkening of the moon will occur at 9:30 p.m. on Tuesday, when about 25 percent of the surface will be in shadow. At 10:30 p.m., the moon will leave the last trace of the shadow and the eclipse will be over.
The last eclipse of the moon visible from Utah was a full lunar eclipse in November 1993; however, much of the state was clouded over at that time. The next lunar eclipse is predicted for April 15, 1995.
Members of the Salt Lake Astronomical Society and Hansen Planetarium plan to watch the eclipse from the Stansbury Park Observatory Complex, and the public is invited to join them and look through their telescopes.
The observatory - which some amateur astronomers like to call SPOC - can be reached by driving 26 miles west of Salt Lake City on I-15, taking Exit 99 (the Stansbury exit), then following the signs to the observatory. The drive takes about 35 minutes from Salt Lake City.
Anyone who has not been to SPOC before is advised to arrive before nightfall "because locating the observatory can be hard after dark because no lights are allowed in the area, in order to create optimum conditions for viewing the moon and the stars," Lowe said.
For information call the Hansen Planetarium at 531-4943, or phone the planetarium's free celestial events information service called STARLINE, at 532-STAR.