Observers viewing lunar eclipse

Skywatchers in parts of Europe, Africa, Central Asia and Australia are counting on clear skies as Wednesday's lunar eclipse begins.

This is the first total lunar eclipse of 2011 and the longest in nearly 11 years, experts say.

This type of eclipse occurs when the Earth casts its shadow over the Moon.

But indirect sunlight can still illuminate the Moon turning it a dramatic shade of red.

The shadow started to fall at 1724 GMT and lifts at 2300 GMT.

"Totality" - when the lunar face is completely covered - lasts from 1922 GMT until 2102 GMT.

The 100-minute period of totality is the longest since July 2000.Nasa's eclipse expert Fred Espenak commented: "The entire event will be seen from the eastern half of Africa, the Middle East, Central Asia and western Australia."

Observers throughout Europe will miss the early stages of the eclipse because they occur before moonrise. However, totality can be observed throughout the continent except for northern Scotland and northern Scandinavia.

In the UK, observers will be able to start viewing the eclipse at around 2100 BST (2000 GMT).

Dr Robert Massey, from the UK's Royal Astronomical Society, said the weather for viewing the event in London was "50-50" and that observers in the south-east would need a good horizon view that was not blocked by buildings.

The weather forecast looks better for viewing the event from northern parts of Britain; but the further north one is, the shorter the totality lasts.

In the Americas, the totality will be visible from eastern Brazil, Uruguay and Argentina. But none of the eclipse will be visible from North America.

Eastern Asia, eastern Australia and New Zealand will miss the last stages of the eclipse because they occur after moonset.

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