A total eclipse will turn the Moon red in the small hours of Thursday morning for about an hour.

The shadow cast by the Earth on the Moon will colour our nearest neighbour brick, copper or even blood red at just after 3am UK time, as sunlight scattered around the edge of our atmosphere paints the lunar surface with a warm glow.

Astronomers say that it is the last event of its kind for seven years and are hoping that the skies will be clear for the cosmic spectacle.

A lunar eclipse seen from Camberley, Surrey in 2004

"Lunar eclipses are one of the great events of astronomy," says Robert Massey of the Royal Astronomical Society. "It's well worth getting up in the small hours and watching the Moon turn red - the colour has an eerie quality reminiscent of a much closer Mars."

A total lunar eclipse occurs when the Sun, Earth, and Moon form a nearly straight line in space, so that the full Moon passes through Earth's shadow. Unlike a solar eclipse, which requires special equipment to observe safely, you can watch a lunar eclipse with your unaided eyes.

Binoculars or a telescope will enhance the view dramatically. "Wrap up well, grab a pair of binoculars and a hot drink and enjoy the view," says Massey.
The outer part of Earth's shadow, called the penumbra, creates only a slight dusky shading on the lunar disk. But as the Moon begins to move into the central and darkest part of Earth's shadow, the umbra, there's an obvious and ever-larger "bite" in the full Moon. The partial eclipse is then under way.

Earth's shadow will first encroach at 00.35 am, then totally engulf the Moon from 03.01 to 03:52 am, where the reddened Moon will be high in a darkened sky.

The precise colour during totality is hard to predict, being caused by sunlight scattered in our atmosphere. Its brightness depends on the amount of dust in Earth's upper atmosphere at the time, which influences how much sunlight filters through.

After this one, however, comes a prolonged dry spell. The next total lunar eclipse visible anywhere won't occur until December 20-21, 2010 - nearly three years from now.

And the next total eclipse of the moon will only be visible in the UK on 28th September 2015.