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Special Event

Moonstruck: Earth Undergoes Lunar Eclipse

Aired January 9, 2001 - 2:41 p.m. ET


NATALIE ALLEN, CNN ANCHOR: Well, you are looking at a live picture of a lunar eclipse. And this is the shot we have from Cheshire, England. We are told we are just a couple -- or maybe just a minute away from what could be -- or might not be -- a spectacular sight. You know live television.

Ann Kellan is here with us -- our science reporter -- to tell us about this, who all is able to see this right now, besides those of us with live capability.

ANN KELLAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Unfortunately, we can't be in Europe or Asia or Africa right now, because that is the picture you are seeing, is over Europe where people are getting a view of this wonderful eclipse. This is a total lunar eclipse. And that's when the Earth gets between the sun and the moon and blocks out the sunlight to the moon.

And what is going to happen in about minute or so -- and we hope, because the atmospheric dust could get in the way -- but if it doesn't, what happens is when it goes totally -- it's totally in shadow, some of the sun's rays sneak around the Earth and shine on the moon. And those rays are the red rays. So you get a red glow on the moon. But atmospheric dust and clouds could get in the way and make it just a dark brown or a -- you know -- not as spectacular. But they're saying that it could be a spectacular sight.

ALLEN: What -- why do they believe that this could be year for a spectacular sighting?

KELLAN: Well, there hasn't been major a volcano recently. And that would cloud the atmosphere and cause those rays to scatter before it hit the moon. But it has -- since there hasn't been one, they think that, possibly, it could be a good one this year because it's clear. Now, parts of Europe did not get a good show because they are in cloud-cover. But we are told, in North Africa, India and Southern Europe, there are clear skies.

And, obviously, here in Cheshire, England, it's not bad. You know, in the olden days, they used to think that these were omens, that lunar eclipses meant bad -- bad luck. And people would -- they say -- in Japan would cover their wells because they were afraid of contamination of water. They also thought that -- in the 19th century, in China, they would shoot at it with cannons because they thought it was a dragon eating the moon. ALLEN: We might have had the same conclusions...

KELLAN: Exactly.

ALLEN: .. of course, had we been alive then.

KELLAN: Well, all of the sudden you see the moon disappearing when you had -- it's a full moon. It's typically a full moon when this -- well, it always is a full moon when this happens. So you can imagine when people are expecting a full moon and all of a sudden see it disappear.

ALLEN: When was the last time we had a really spectacular lunar eclipse

(CROSSTALK) KELLAN: I don't know. That's a good question. I know the next one is in 2003. So we should -- the next total lunar eclipse. But the last one -- I'm not sure when we had a good total lunar eclipse. We saw one -- a photographer saw one over Indonesia this past July that was very nice -- from the pictures. I didn't get to see it. But from the pictures I saw, it was recently. And it was red. It did turn red. So it was a good view.

ALLEN: It looks like we're far from red here. Are we past the time where this should have happened?

KELLAN: Well, it's going to happen in next, you know -- it starts at 42, which we are past now. But it will go on for the next hour or so. So it doesn't look red yet. But we will keep you posted.

ALLEN: When was the last time we had a lunar eclipse for Americans? KELLAN: That...

ALLEN: How do you like my questions?


KELLAN: The last lunar or total lunar, I don't know. I would have to check. But, you know, in 1504, there's a great story with Christopher Columbus. He used it, because they could tell lunar eclipses back 2,000 years. They knew when these were going to occur. And Christopher Columbus was in Jamaica. And I guess he is an arrogant soul. And so he knew -- the Jamaicans didn't want feed his crew. He knew the lunar eclipse was coming. He says: Well, the gods are going to punish you for this.

ALLEN: Oh, Chris, you


KELLAN: Yes, but it wasn't that good. And so, of course, the lunar eclipse occurred as a punishment. And he said: Well, if you give our crew food, then I will make it go away. And he timed it perfectly so it disappeared as the -- so they thought he was somewhat godlike. And they gave him his food.

ALLEN: Unlike -- it's perfectly safe, of course, to look at a lunar eclipse.

LOU WATERS, CNN ANCHOR: Can I look directly into the moon, Ann?

KELLAN: You can look directly at it, unlike the solar eclipse -- which occurred on Christmas Day, which we told everybody to take those special glasses out and look and be careful. With a lunar eclipse, you can look directly at the moon, no problem. You just want to get to a dark area and...

WATERS: Look up.

KELLAN: And look up.


WATERS: Very good. Not too complicated. We have another story here, Ann, today about -- that NASA plans to land a satellite on the surface of an asteroid.


WATERS: Have you looked into that? Do you know anything about that?

KELLAN: Yes, we're going to exploring that. They have been orbiting the Near-Earth is the name of the project. And they have been orbiting this asteroid for months now. And it looks like that, very soon, they are going to try to land on it. Now, this is after the mission is over. This is totally an experiment. And they really don't expect anything to happen. It will be somewhat of a miracle if this thing survives and actually landed -- take pictures of the asteroid.

WATERS: I know there was -- I don't if the word is concern -- but there was some talk about an asteroid headed toward Earth before, and some talk that it might hit Earth. But what would be the purpose of landing on an asteroid? What are we trying to learn by this?

KELLAN: I think we are trying to learn how you our solar system formed, and also what an asteroid -- the basis principles of what an asteroid is made of. You might want to think, if one should be headed our way, we would know how to make it not head our way.

WATERS: Right.

KELLAN: You know, make it avoid the Earth. But I think also think it's a look back in our history to see how the universe formed as a -- as a -- that's one of the things. But I think it's exciting that they are even going to try to land. I know the team -- I talked to the team who worked on this. And they were really excited about the fact that maybe we could land on an asteroid and see

(CROSSTALK) WATERS: What size of...

KELLAN: I think it's about five miles -- two to five miles.

WATERS: Oh, that's a -- that's a big rock.

KELLAN: It's a big rock. It's a big rock. We wouldn't want one of those coming our way. And this one isn't. This one is far out there.

WATERS: Do you know how close it is?

KELLAN: No, and I don't how -- but it's not headed our way. It's way out there.

ALLEN: And when would they try to do this?

KELLAN: February.

ALLEN: This February?

KELLAN: This February. That's right. We are going to -- we will be covering that, bringing that to you.

WATERS: Well, for those folks who may have just tuned in


WATERS: We are watching a lunar eclipse.

ALLEN: Dee dee dee dee dee, just twiddling our thumbs.

WATERS: Yes, it's reality TV. It moves a little more slowly than other TV. But this is a shot from England. Is there any point in the United States where this can be seen?

KELLAN: Well, tips of New England can see it as a partial eclipse, but not very well. And parts of Canada might be able to see a little bit of it, but not this spectacular a sight as they are seeing in England right now -- and all over Europe. If it's not cloudy where they are, they are getting quite the view right now


WATERS: Is this still regarded as a rare occurrence? Or do folks sort of blow this off now? I mean, you know how we take things for granted.

KELLAN: Well, we have -- there are a couple of years -- right. We have partial lunar eclipses that occur a couple of times a year. So they are not that rare. They occur every now and then. But they are rare enough and special enough when you get the front-row seat, that it's special.

WATERS: Well, it used to be a religious experience. So... KELLAN: Exactly. Again, it was omen. A lot of people felt it was bad luck, that they would see -- the Chinese thought that the moon was being killed, because it would turn this red. And they thought it was blood red and that they were losing their moon. So, as we have said, it was a scary thing to see this happen.

WATERS: It's happening. It looks like it's happening here.

ALLEN: Take us through again for those just joining us what we are seeing happen.

KELLAN: What we are seeing is a total lunar eclipse, which is -- these are pictures in Cheshire, England. These are live. This is what people are seeing right now in Cheshire, England. And now we are in Edinburgh. This is what people in Edinburgh are seeing as the Earth comes between the sun and the moon and puts the moon in total shadow. And what could happen with a total lunar eclipse is that the sun's rays, even though they're being blocked out by the Earth, can sneak around the Earth and cast a red hue on the moon, and I think we're also waiting to see if the red glow of the moon will happen.

Of course, atmospheric dust could get in the way and scatter that and create more of a brownish tone, but we have been told that it could be a good one.

WATERS: I don't know if our television sets have got what it takes to bring this to life the way -- you know, if we were there, it would be a whole different.

ALLEN: It certainly has an incredible zoom lens.


ALLEN: That's a big lens to take that picture.

WATERS: But I notice sometimes Jay Leno is green on my TV sets.

ALLEN: So everybody, adjust your television sets right now. Would you all say that's a brown moon?

KELLAN: It looks brown. It doesn't look like it's getting that red tone.

WATERS: Well, darn it.

ALLEN: Shall we continue to watch it and -- what do we want to do? Asking the producers.

WATERS: I don't know.

KELLAN: You want to check in with "Ask CNN" about answering some questions about lunar eclipses.

ALLEN: OK, sure. We've got that segment and we'll continue to watch the moon here.


ALLEN: Well, we're still watching the moon because we can. We're enjoying doing it. The lunar eclipse going on in Europe and some parts of Asia. Ann Kellan's here. We're waiting for what we hoped would be the big red glow -- a glowing globe.

KELLAN: These shots are from Edinburgh, Scotland, and hopefully if it goes totally eclipsed it will shine red. I have questions. The last one was July 16, 2000 and before that was January 21, 2000, and they were seen over Asia and one was over the United States.

ALLEN: We talked about -- we talked about one of those being quite spectacular.

KELLAN: Right, right. The one in July over Indonesia was very spectacular. And the asteroid, by the way, is 2,000 miles. So, we don't have worry about that.

ALLEN: OK, thank you, Ann.


ALLEN: There's our lunar eclipse and if the pictures get any better, you'll see it here on CNN. Thanks, Ann. TO ORDER A VIDEO OF THIS TRANSCRIPT, PLEASE CALL 800-CNN-NEWS OR USE OUR SECURE ONLINE ORDER FORM LOCATED AT


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