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Total lunar eclipse woos sky watchers

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WASHINGTON An unusual set of celestial circumstances came together over Sunday night and the wee hours of Monday for sky watchers in Europe, Africa and the Americas, where the moon was fully obscured before lighting up again with a red glow.

In Mexico City, Los Angeles and Paris and in the Moroccan desert, moon gazers turned to the sky to observe the phenomenon, around midnight in the Americas, and shortly before dawn in Europe and Africa.

The eclipse lasted about three hours: During the first hour, the full moon was gradually swallowed up by the shadow of the Earth, then an hour of total eclipse where it was not invisible but instead appeared tinted in hues of red, orange and pink, followed finally by its full shining re-emergence.

The full Moon appeared bigger than normal because it was closer to the Earth - about 358,000 km away - earning it the nickname "Super Moon."

Other monikers include a "Wolf Moon," a traditional way of coining an eclipse in the month of January, and a "Blood Moon" because of its rusty, red colour.

Hence the name for this year's event: a "Super Blood Wolf Moon".

At its peak, where night skies were clear of clouds, Venus and Jupiter shone brightly in the night sky.

During a lunar eclipse, the Moon appears red because the light of the Sun no longer directly illuminates it, since Earth is passing in between the Moon and Sun.

"The colour is due to Rayleigh scattering - where the Sun's blue light is scattered off molecules in Earth's atmosphere - which also happens at sunsets," explained the Royal Astronomical Society of Britain.

"The Sun's red light is scattered much less by air, and is bent by Earth's atmosphere in a process called refraction, traveling all the way through it to light up the Moon's surface." - AFP