Lunar eclipse occurs tonight

Published 5:02 pm Monday, December 20, 2010

Shortly after midnight this evening, in the wee hours of the morning, the full moon will enter earths long shadow and an eclipse of the moon will follow.

The darkest portion of the eclipse (when the moon is completely immersed in shadow) will begin at 2:41 a.m.

At that time the moon will be almost directly overhead, an ideal position for comfortable viewing if you have a lawn chair in which to recline.

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Earths shadow will begin to encroach on the moons eastern limb at 1:33 a.m. and the eclipse will be partial for 68 minutes.

The total eclipse will then begin lasting 72 minutes after which time the earths shadow will being to depart from the moons western limb resulting in a second partial eclipse (a mirror image of the first), again lasting 68 minutes.

The eclipse event from beginning to end will thus last more than three hours.

A lunar eclipse occurs when the sun, earth and moon are aligned so that earths shadow crosses the face of the moon blocking sunlight from the moons surface.

Even at mid-eclipse the moon will remain faintly visible and will not disappear from view entirely. This is because sunlight is bent around the earths edges by refraction, impressing all the sunrises and sunsets of earth back onto the moon.

The darkened moon will have a ghostly reddish aspect as a result of this refracted light.

The night sky will grow progressively darker as the eclipse deepens and more and more stars, previously obscured by the bright light of the full moon, will begin to appear making the outlines of the constellations easier to recognize.

The eclipsed moon will be surrounded by the bright stars Betelgeu (in Orion), Castor and Pollux (in Gemini), Cappella (in Auriga) and Aldebaran (in Taurus) to name just a few.

The Pleiades and Hyades star clusters in the constellation Taurus (the bull) will be located just a few degrees to the west of the darkened moon.

View these clusters through binoculars for a sight you will never forget!

If you miss this eclipse it will be a long wait until the next one shows up in our area of the country April 2014. So, hope for clear weather and set your alarm clock.