Of the Baker City Herald

Sometimes the most beautiful full moon is the one you can't see.

Oregonians can test that theory tonight during a total lunar eclipse the first such event visible in the state since Jan. 20, 2000.

When the moon clears the horizon at about 8:05 in Baker City, its cold white surface will be almost completely obscured by the Earth's black shadow.

Nine minutes later begins the 53-minute period of totality, when the moon is entirely in shadow.

Which doesn't sound like a particularly fetching sight.

Nor would it be, if the Earth lacked an atmosphere.

Our planet does have one, though, and the atmosphere's presence can project a palette of colors onto an otherwise black-and-white event.

The atmosphere affects the sun's rays in two ways during an eclipse, according to the Web site run by andquot;Mr. Eclipseandquot; Fred Espenak, a NASA scientist.

First, the atmosphere filters sunlight, removing the blues and leaving deep reds and oranges.

Second, the atmosphere bends sunlight, allowing just a little to reach, and thus brighten, the moon's surface so Earth-bound viewers see something other than a black spot in the sky.

If there's a downside to tonight's eclipse it's that the event will occur a bit too early for optimum viewing.

The sun won't set until 8:13 p.m., and residual twilight will dampen somewhat the contrast between dark and light.

Balancing the imperfect timing is the simplicity of seeing a lunar eclipse.

Total solar eclipses might seem more spectacular, but they're also dangerous to gaze at without eye protection.

Not so with the moon.

andquot;You just look at it,andquot; said Dr. James Davis, a local amateur astronomer.

Davis owns a 25-inch telescope, an instrument powerful enough to bring into focus heavenly bodies far outside our galaxy.

But he said even a pair of inexpensive binoculars andquot;do a really good jobandquot; of adding detail to what viewers can see with the naked eye.

Of course, not even a telescope as strong as Davis' can penetrate layers of clouds.

But as it did during the 2000 eclipse, it seems the weather will cooperate.

The National Weather Service is predicting mostly clear skies tonight.

If you miss tonight's astral performance you'll have to wait more than a year for an encore.

The next total lunar eclipse visible in Oregon won't happen until Oct. 28, 2004. That one will last a bit longer one hour and 21 minutes of totality.