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North America in for a rare total lunar eclipse

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Total lunar eclipse with EarthglowA near-perfect alignment of the sun, the moon and Earth will provide sky watchers a generous holiday gift on the night of December 20 and the morning of December 21. If they can stay up late enough, North Americans should be able to witness—weather permitting—a prolonged total lunar eclipse, the first since February 2008. A lunar eclipse is among the most accessible astronomical phenomena to view: no telescope, binoculars or special eyewear needed.

The full moon will begin to slip into the northern half of Earth’s shadow at 1:33 A.M. (Eastern Standard Time) on December 21, and by 2:41 A.M. the entirety of the moon should be subsumed, according to a NASA Web page about eclipses. That phase of the eclipse, known as "totality," will last 72 minutes, with the moon just beginning to edge out of shadow at 3:53 A.M.

The eclipse should be visible throughout North America, according to NASA, as well as in parts of western South America. The next time Earth blankets the moon in shadow, in June 2011, the Americas won’t be so lucky, as the Western Hemisphere will mostly be turned away from the event. That eclipse will be most visible in Africa, Australia, the Middle East, and parts of Asia and Europe.

Photo credit: Steev on Flickr via Wikimedia Commons

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  1. 1. jtdwyer 1:20 pm 12/20/2010

    As I understand, this being approximately the winter solstice makes this a rare event. I think this also makes this lunar eclipse’s duration longer than any other…

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  2. 2. ewedlock 4:40 am 12/21/2010

    It was flat out gorgeous!

    I’m in Puntarenas, Costa Rica, on the Pacific coast and my wife and I sat out on our short pier and gazed at it from the beginning at around 11:30 pm (CST)until totality and then until re-emergence (she took a little nap) — not a cloud in the sky, Orion sparkling. But believe it or not a little chilly (but noting like North America). She took a bunch of pictures, but is now off to bed, and the show has about finished. I’ll probably stay to the end. @jtdwer: The last time this happened on the winter solstice was 1638 CE. Peace.

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