Lunar eclipse guide 2019: When and where to see in the UK

On 21 January 2019 there will be a total lunar eclipse, also known as a blood moon, visible from the UK in the very early hours of the morning. The last total lunar eclipse was on 27 July 2018.

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How to see the lunar eclipse in the UK

21 January 2019

On 21 January 2019 a total lunar eclipse will be visible over most of North America, South America and parts of west and north Europe. The rest of Europe and Africa can witness the end of the eclipse.

Those in the UK will be able to see every part of the eclipse as long as they are willing to stay up all night! The Moon will start to enter the Earth’s shadow just after 2:30am GMT and the maximum eclipse will occur just before 5:15am. The entire eclipse lasts for more than five hours, ending at 7:48am.

The optimal viewing time to see the eclipse is between 4:41am – 5:43am. This is the period of totality, where the moon lies entirely in the Earth’s umbra (full shadow) and will appear red. 

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What is a lunar eclipse?

An eclipse of the Moon occurs when the Earth lies directly between the Sun and the Moon and the Moon lies in the shadow of the Earth. For a total lunar eclipse to happen, all three bodies lie in a straight line. This means that the moon passes through the darkest part of the Earth’s shadow - the umbra.

Total lunar eclipse

During a total lunar eclipse, the Moon usually turns a deep, dark red because it is illuminated by light that has passed through the Earth's atmosphere and has been bent back towards the Moon by refraction.

Penumbral lunar eclipse

A penumbral lunar eclipse occurs when the Moon travels only through the outer, fainter part of the Earth's shadow, or 'penumbra'. This happens when the Earth moves between the Sun and Moon but the three do not form a perfectly straight line.

The penumbra causes only a slight darkening of the Moon's surface, with the Moon still exposed to some direct sunlight, so this type of eclipse is easy to miss.

Partial lunar eclipse

During the partial phase of the eclipse, part of the Moon travels through the Earth's full 'umbral' shadow. However, on this occasion only a very small section of the Moon will be covered by the umbra at maximum eclipse, though the whole northern half of the Moon will be darkened by the penumbral shadow.

Image of glass lantern slide of a lunar eclipse taken 16 November 1910 - unknown artist 1.jpg

What time is the lunar eclipse?

The table below lists the timings for the whole eclipse as seen from London and they might differ by a few minutes for other parts of the UK.

Local time (GMT) in London




Penumbral eclipse begins

The Moon will start to enter the Earth’s penumbra (area of partial shadow) and start to darken.

High in the south west


Partial eclipse begins

The Moon will start to enter the Earth’s umbra (area of full shadow) and leave its penumbra and will darken considerably, almost as if it is changing its phase from full moon to waning crescent in just over an hour.

High in the south west


Full eclipse begins

The Moon has completely entered the Earth’s umbra and starts to turn red.

High in the west


Maximum eclipse

This is when the Moon is closest to the centre of the Earth’s umbra.

Fairly high in the south west


Full eclipse ends

The Moon will start to leave the Earth’s umbra and enter its penumbra losing its red colour.

Fairly low in the west


Partial eclipse ends

The Moon has left the Earth’s umbra and has completely lost its red colour. One side starts to get lighter whilst the other is still very dark as it enters the Earth’s penumbra, almost as if it is changing from a waxing crescent to a full moon in around an hour.

Low in the west


Penumbral eclipse ends

The Moon will look slightly darker than usual and has now left the Earth’s penumbra.

Low in the west

Diagram of January total lunar eclipse
Total lunar eclipse January 2019 | credit: NASA

How often are lunar eclipses?

A lunar eclipse happens between two to five times a year with a total lunar eclipse occurring at least two every three years. 

16/17 July 2019 – Partial lunar eclipse

10 January 2020 – Penumbral lunar eclipse

5 June 2020 – Penumbral lunar eclipse

Why doesn't a lunar eclipse happen every month?

A lunar eclipse occurs during the full moon phase but an eclipse does not happen every month, even though the lunar cycle is 29.5 days. This is because the moon’s orbit is inclined by 5˚ relative to the Earth’s orbit. This means that as it travels around the Earth it also moves up and down in its orbit. 

How long does a lunar eclipse last?

Since the Earth is around four times wider than the Moon, its shadow can darken the moon for up to five hours depending on conditions. Lunar eclipses can be seen between two and five times every year – from somewhere on the Earth’s surface. Total lunar eclipses are much rarer from one particular location.

What is a supermoon?

On 21 January 2019 the moon will also be close to perigee, the closest point to Earth in its orbit. This makes the moon appear slightly larger than usual. This phenomenon has been dubbed a “supermoon”. Much like “blood moon” it is not an official astronomical term. A “supermoon” will appear up to 7% larger than a regular full moon.

Why are blood moons red?

People sometimes refer to a lunar eclipse as a ‘blood moon’ because of the way the Moon can turn a deep coppery red colour during its eclipse.

However, the colour of the Moon during totality will depend on the global state of dust in the Earth’s atmosphere – sometimes red or possible virtually invisible.

Dust in the atmosphere blocks out the higher frequency blue light waves, but the longer wavelength of red light comes through.

Photograph of A Tainted Eclipse © Phil Hart, Astronomy Photographer of the Year Our Moon Commended 2015

This article has been written by an astronomer at the Royal Observatory, Greenwich

14/08/2018: Affelia Wibisono