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Press Release

Total Lunar Eclipse: May 15-16, 2003

Fred Espenak, NASA/GSFC

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--- Live Webcast of Eclipse! ---


The first eclipse of 2003 occurs on the evening of Thursday, May 15 (in Europe, the eclipse occurs during the early morning hours of Friday, May 16). This event is a total eclipse of the Moon which will be visible from North and South America as well as Europe, Africa and Antarctica. During such an eclipse, the Moon's disk can take on a dramatically colorful appearance from bright orange to blood red to dark brown and (rarely) very dark gray.

An eclipse of the Moon can only take place at Full Moon, and only if the Moon passes through some portion of Earth's shadow. The shadow is actually composed of two cone-shaped parts, one nested inside the other. The outer shadow or penumbra is a zone where Earth blocks some (but not all) of the Sun's rays. In contrast, the inner shadow or umbra is a region where Earth blocks all direct sunlight from reaching the Moon.

If the Moon passes through only part on the umbra, a partial eclipse is seen. However, if the entire Moon passes through the umbral shadow, then a total eclipse of the Moon occurs. For more information on what, why, how, when and where of lunar eclipses, see the special web page lunar eclipses for beginners.

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Visibility of the Total Lunar Eclipse of May 15-16, 2003

May's lunar eclipse is well-placed for North and South America as well as western Europe and Africa. From the United States, the eastern half of the country will see the entire eclipse (weather permitting). From the western half of the USA, the partial phases begin before moonrise. From the Pacific Northwest (Oregon and Washington), the Moon will rise already in total eclipse. Unfortunately, strong evening twilight will interfere with eclipse watching until the sky grows dark enough, by which time the total phase will be over. The southern panhandle of Alaska will miss totality entirely but will catch the last stages of the partial eclipse as the Moon rises. The rest of Alaska will see none of the eclipse since it ends before the Moon has risen.

The eastern half of Canada also witnesses the entire eclipse while the western sections miss the early stages. From western Europe, the eclipse occurs during the early morning hours of Friday, May 16. The Moon sets before totality begins from most of Scandinavian and eastern Europe. From Germany, Switzerland and Italy, the Moon sets during the total phase of the eclipse. England, Ireland and France will catch all of totality since the Moon sets during the final partial phases. Finally, western Spain and Portugal will see the entire eclipse which ends shortly before moonset.

Eclipse Map

Map showing the global visibility of the Total Lunar Eclipse of May 15-16, 2003.
(Click here to see larger version of this map)

Key to Eclipse Visibility Map
P1 Penumbral eclipse begins (not visible to the eye)
U1 Partial eclipse begins
U2 Total eclipse begins
U3 Total eclipse ends
U4 Partial eclipse ends
P4 Penumbral eclipse ends (not visible to the eye)

The map above shows the exact geographic regions of visibility for each phase of the eclipse. The entire eclipse is visible from start to finish in the white (unshaded) portion of the map, while none of the eclipse can be seen from the dark gray areas.

For anyone located in the blue shaded region labeled Eclipse at Moonrise, this means that the Moon will rise while some phase of the eclipse is already in progress. The contact curves labeled P1, U1, U2, U3, U4, and P4 represent each phase of the eclipse (see the key above). If you are west (left) of a particular curve, that phase occurs before moonrise and you will not see it. However, if you are east (right) of a curve, that phase occurs after moonrise and you will see it (weather permitting!).

Let's use southern California as an example. On the above map, southern California lies west (left) of the U1 curve (partial eclipse begins) and east (right) of the curve U2 (total eclipse begins). This means that the partial eclipse begins before moonrise from southern California. In fact, the Moon will rise while the partial eclipse is in progress.

For observers located within the second blue shaded region labeled Eclipse at Moonset, the situation is reversed. Here the Moon sets while some phase of the eclipse is still in progress. If you are east (right) of a particular curve (P1, U1, U2, U3, U4, or P4), that phase occurs after moonset and you will not see it. However, if you are west (left) of a contact curve, that phase occurs before moonset and you will see it (weather permitting!).

All total eclipses start with a penumbral followed by a partial eclipse, and end with a partial followed by a penumbral eclipse (the total eclipse is sandwiched in the middle). Since the penumbral phases of the eclipse are so difficult to see, we will ignore them.

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Times and Phases of the Total Lunar Eclipse of May 15-16, 2003

From start to finish, May's lunar eclipse lasts about three hours and fifteen minutes (not including the penumbral phases which are very difficult to see). The partial eclipse begins as the Moon's eastern edge slowly moves into the Earth's umbral shadow. During the partial phases, it takes just over an hour for the Moon's orbital motion to carry it entirely within the Earth's dark umbra. Since no major volcanic eruptions have taken place recently, the Moon will probably take on a vivid red or orange color during the total phase. After the total phase ends, it is once again followed by a partial eclipse as the Moon gradually leaves the umbral shadow.

The total phase of a lunar eclipse is called totality. At this time, the Moon is completely immersed within the Earth's dark umbral shadow. During the May 15-16 eclipse totality will last about 53 minutes. This is considerably shorter that the maximum duration possible of 1 hour and 47 minutes (see: Total Lunar Eclipse of July 16, 2000).

The major phases of the eclipse occur as follows (all times are GMT or Greenwich Mean Time). The partial eclipse commences with first umbral contact at 02:03 GMT. Totality begins at 03:14 GMT and lasts until 04:07 GMT. The partial phases end at 05:18 GMT. Eclipse times for time zones in the United States and Canada are shown in the following table.

Total Lunar Eclipse of May 15, 2003
Americas Europe, Africa & Middle East
Event Time
Partial Eclipse Begins: 22:03 21:03 20:03 19:03 02:03* 03:03* 04:03* 05:03*
Total Eclipse Begins: 23:14 22:14 21:14 20:14 03:14* 04:14* 05:14* 06:14*
Mid-Eclipse: 23:40 22:40 21:40 20:40 03:40* 04:40* 05:40* 06:40*
Total Eclipse Ends: 00:07* 23:07 22:07 21:07 04:07* 05:07* 06:07* 07:07*
Partial Eclipse Ends: 01:18* 00:18* 23:18 22:18 05:18* 06:18* 07:18* 08:18*

* Event occurs on morning of May 16, 2003

Key to Time Zones
Zone Description
EDT Eastern Daylight Time (= GMT - 4 hours)
CDT Central Daylight Time (= GMT - 5 hours)
MDT Mountain Daylight Time (= GMT - 6 hours)
PDT Pacific Daylight Time (= GMT - 7 hours)
GMT Greenwich Mean Time
GMT+1 Greenwich Mean Time + 1 Hour (= GMT + 1 hour)
GMT+2 Greenwich Mean Time + 2 Hours (= GMT + 2 hours)
GMT+3 Greenwich Mean Time + 3 Hours (= GMT + 3 hours)

The table above provides times of the major eclipse phases for North American time zones, Greenwich Mean Time and several European time zones. Eclipse times for other time zones can be calculated by taking the difference between local time and Greenwich and adding it to the tabulated GMT times. If you live somewhere that does not use "Daylight Time" in the summer months, you can convert the above times for your Time Zone from "Daylight Time" to "Standard Time" simply by subtracting 1 hour. For more information, see Time Zones.

Note that military style time (0-24 hours) is used instead of civilian time (am & pm). Times greater than 12:00 can be converted to civilian time by subtracting 12 hours. For example, the time 22:03 is equivalent to 10:03 pm (23:03 - 12:00 = 10:03 pm).

To calculate the Moon's altitude from your city at each stage of the eclipse, visit the U. S. Naval Observatory's Lunar Eclipse Computer.

Eclipse Diagram

Path of the Moon through Earth's umbral and penumbral shadows
during the Total Lunar Eclipse of May 15, 2003.
(Eastern Daylight Time)

Lunar Eclipse Diagrams

The following diagrams show the Moon's path through Earth's shadows (higher resolution versions of the above figure). The times of major stages of the eclipse are given for a number of time zones. Please choose the diagram for your own time zone. Each diagram is a GIF file with a size of 36k.

Some people may be puzzled that the Moon's motion is from west to east (right to left) in these diagrams, instead of its daily east to west (left to right) motion in the sky. However, the Moon actually moves WEST to EAST (right to left) with respect to the Earth's shadow and the stars.

Permission is freely granted to reproduce these eclipse diagrams when accompanied by an acknowledgment:

"Courtesy of Fred Espenak, NASA/GSFC ("

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Wonderful Totality

At the instant of mid-totality (03:40 GMT), the Moon will lie in the zenith for observers in southern Brazil near its western border with Bolivia and Paraguay. At this time, the umbral eclipse magnitude peaks at 1.134. From the diagram above, it is clear that the southern (bottom) edge of the Moon will dip much deeper into the Earth's shadow than will the northern (top) edge. Since the Earth's umbral shadow is darker in the center than at the edge, the Moon's appearance will likely change dramatically with time. A large variation in shadow brightness can be expected and observers are encouraged to estimate the Danjon value at different times during totality ( Danjon Brightness Scale). Note that it may also be necessary to assign different Danjon values to different portions of the Moon at different times.

This could be an excellent opportunity for budding astronomers and students to test their observing skills. Try recording your estimates of the Moon's brightness every ten minutes during totality using the Danjon Scale. Compare your results with your companions and classmates and discover how the Moon's appearance changes during the total eclipse. The brightness of the totally eclipsed Moon is very sensitive to the presence of volcanic dust in Earth's atmosphere. As part of a continuing research project, Dr. Richard Keen has been using reports of lunar eclipse brightnesses to calculate a history of optical thicknesses of volcanic dust layers (see: What Will 2003's Lunar Eclipses Look Like?). If you'd like to help Dr. Keen by making eclipse observations, you can contact him at Richard.Keen@Colorado.EDU.

The amount of dust in Earth's atmosphere also has an effect on the diameter of the umbral shadow. Amateur astronomers with telescopes can make careful times of when some of the Moon's major craters enter or exit the umbra. Such observations are valuable in determining the enlargement of Earth's shadow. A table of crater predictions identifies twenty well-defined craters useful for this purpose. For more information, see: Crater Timings During Lunar Eclipses.

An eclipse of the Moon also presents a tempting target to photograph. Since the Moon appears quite small in the sky, you'll need a fairly powerful telephoto lens (400 mm or more) or even a small telescope to attach your camera to. A typical 400 speed color film (either slides or negatives) is a good choice. For more information on equipment, film, recommended exposures and additional tips, see lunar eclipse photography.

Unlike solar eclipses, lunar eclipses are completely safe to watch. You don't need any kind of protective filters. It isn't even necessary to use a telescope. You can watch the lunar eclipse with nothing more than your own two eyes. If you have a pair of binoculars, they will help magnify the view and will make the red coloration brighter and easier to see. A standard pair of 7x35 or 7x50 binoculars work fine.

During totality, the spring constellations will be well placed for viewing. Spica (mv = +0.98) lies 32° west of the eclipsed Moon, while Arcturus (mv = -0.05) is 43° to the northwest. Jupiter will appear low in the west in Cancer.

Although total eclipses of the Moon are only of minor scientific value, they are remarkably beautiful events which can be seen without expensive equipment. They help to cultivate interest in science and astronomy in our children and to provide a unique learning opportunity for families, students and teachers. To the nature lover and naturalist, the lunar eclipse can be appreciated and celebrated as an event which vividly illustrates our connection and place among the planets in the solar system. The three dimensional reality of our universe comes alive in a graceful celestial ballet as the Moon dances with the Earth's shadow. May your skies be clear, dress warmly and enjoy the spectacle!

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Eclipse Frequency and Future Eclipses

During the five millennium period from 2000 BC through AD 3000, there are 7,718 eclipses1 of the Moon (including both partial and total eclipses). There are anywhere from 0 to 3 lunar eclipses (partial or total) each year. The last time that three total lunar eclipses occurred in one calendar year was in 1982. Partial eclipses slightly outnumber total eclipses by 7 to 6.

1 Only eclipses where the Moon passes through Earth's umbral shadow are included in these values. A minor type of eclipse is the penumbral eclipse which occurs when the Moon passes through the Earth's faint penumbral shadow. Penumbral eclipses are rarely discernible to the naked eye and are of lesser importance than umbral eclipses.

The last total lunar eclipse visible from all of the United States occurred on Jan. 20, 2000. The last total lunar eclipse occurred on Jan. 09, 2001 and was visible from Europe, Africa and Asia. North Americans won't have another opportunity to see a total lunar eclipse until Nov. 8-9, 2003.

The table below lists every lunar eclipse from 2003 through 2007. Click on the eclipse Date to see a map and diagram of an eclipse. Although penumbral lunar eclipses are included in this list, they are usually quite difficult to observe because of their subtlety. The penumbra is a partial shadow which still permits some direct sunlight to reach the Moon.

The Umbral Magnitude is the fraction on the Moon's diameter immersed in the umbra at maximum eclipse. For values greater than 1.0, it is a total eclipse. For negative values, it is a penumbral eclipse. The Total Duration is the duration of the total phase (total eclipses only).

Lunar Eclipses: 2003 - 2007
Geographic Region of
Eclipse Visibility
2003 May 16 Total 1.134 00h53m c Pacific, Americas, Europe, Africa
2003 Nov 09 Total 1.022 00h24m Americas, Europe, Africa, c Asia
2004 May 04 Total 1.309 01h16m S. America, Europe, Africa, Asia, Aus.
2004 Oct 28 Total 1.313 01h21m Americas, Europe, Africa, c Asia
2005 Apr 24 Penumbral -0.139 - e Asia, Aus., Pacific, Americas
2005 Oct 17 Partial 0.068 - Asia, Aus., Pacific, North America
2006 Mar 14 Penumbral -0.055 - Americas, Europe, Africa, Asia
2006 Sep 07 Partial 0.189 - Europe, Africa, Asia, Aus.
2007 Mar 03 Total 1.238 01h14m Americas, Europe, Africa, Asia
2007 Aug 28 Total 1.481 01h31m e Asia, Aus., Pacific, Americas

Geographic abbreviations (used above): n = north, s = south, e = east, w = west, c = central

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Live Web Coverage of the Eclipse

We will list links for live web coverage of the eclipse as they become available.

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Web Resources

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Solar Eclipse on May 31

Two weeks after the May 15-16 total lunar eclipse, a solar eclipse will occur on May 31. The annular phase of the solar eclipse will be visible from northern Scotland, Iceland and southern Greenland. Most of Europe (except Spain and Portugal), the Middle East and western Asia will see a partial eclipse. For complete details and maps, see 2003 Annular Solar Eclipse Web Page.

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