HALIFAX -- When the Earth's shadow gradually swallows the moon on Saturday, Dave Lane will have one of the best spots on the planet to watch the spectacle unfold.
The total lunar eclipse, the first in 2 1/2 years, can best be viewed along the east coast of Canada and the United States, as well as South Africa, Europe and much of Asia.
Lane, an astronomy technician at Saint Mary's University in Halifax, will watch the eclipse -- weather permitting -- from the school's observatory, perched atop a 22-storey building.
"It's one of the top events of the year for those interested in astronomy,'' says Lane. "We don't know what to expect... We don't know what colour it's going to have, how bright it's going to be.''
Lunar eclipses occur when a full moon, on its usual orbit around the earth, slips into the shadow of the Earth.
The eclipsed moon may appear washed in a copper or brown colour as sunlight leaks
through the earth's atmosphere.
The moon's disappearing act is expected to begin Saturday at 5:30 p.m. Atlantic time. The eclipse will be in progress as the moon rises and as the sky begins to darken over New England, Atlantic Canada and portions of Quebec.
In Ontario and points west, the moon won't rise until the eclipse is well underway, making it impossible for some to see the event.
"If the moon is really a copper colour, and if the sky isn't dark in the background, it isn't the same,'' says Lane.
In Atlantic Canada and eastern Quebec, the moon is expected to disappear for about 74 minutes, a phenomenon known as totality, starting at 6:44 p.m. AST.
The entire moon will reappear by 9:11 p.m. AST.
Though people on the East Coast will be in the right place to watch the eclipse, cloud
cover could make that difficult.
The president of the Royal Astronomical Society's Newfoundland branch is hopeful the province will be spared from snow that is in the forecast.
"I'm hoping they're wrong about the storm,'' says Garry Dymond, who has his own observatory at his home in St. John's.
"It's a nice, early (eclipse), so everyone can get out and see it.
"We spend so much time in front of computers and stuff like that, we lose contact with nature ... It's a nice chance to sit back and watch nature in action.''
Unlike a solar
eclipse, which happens when the moon blocks the sun's powerful rays, watching a lunar eclipse does not require any special gear or protective equipment.
"You don't need to be in all that special a place,'' says Lane, who developed an interest in astronomy after he took a physics course in high school.
"You don't need a telescope to see it, you can basically just look at the moon.''
According to NASA, the most recent total lunar eclipse was on Oct. 28, 2004, though there have been several partial eclipses since then.
Astronomers, who can predict these celestial events with great precision, say the next total eclipse will occur in August.
But Lane cautions stargazers along the East Coast not to wait for the summer eclipse as it won't offer much of a show.
"The centre of that one is dead in the middle of the Pacific,'' says Lane. "It'll be visible for those in the western side of the country, but not quite as nicely as this one.''