Cloudy or not, here it comes! A total lunar eclipse will take place during the night of December 20 – 21 and will be visible in its entirety from North America… provided the local skies cooperate. The sight, at mid-eclipse, can be eerily spectacular when the evening’s formerly brilliant Moon is reduced to a red- or copper-colored orb floating in a dark sky. Most people see only a very few lunar eclipses in their lifetimes — it can be worth a little sleep loss to get out of bed and take a look.
A total lunar eclipse takes place when the entire Moon passes through the deepest part Earth’s shadow; the Sun must be on the opposite side of Earth for that to happen which also means total lunar eclipses can only take place when the Moon is in its Full phase.
The partial eclipse portion of the 2010 event will begin at 1:33 AM, Dec. 21 — when the (left) edge of the Moon first touches the Earth’s deep shadow or “umbra.” The total eclipse begins when the Moon is fully covered by shadow — 2:41 AM– and mid-eclipse is reached at 3:17 AM, when Luna is as far into shadow as it will travel this time. When the left edge (limb) of the Moon begins emerge from the Earth’s cone-shaped umbra, the Moon will begin to brighten and that starts at 3:53 AM. Finally, at 5:01 AM the right limb of our Moon emerges from the last bit of darkness and the disk will appear full once again.
Technically the Moon will be within Earth’s much thinner outer shadow (penumbra) well before and after the eclipse takes place. The dimming caused by the penumbra is so slight, however, that only the best observers and sophisticated instruments detect it.
A total lunar eclipse is a beautiful natural event, exciting and awe-inspiring to see. Lunar eclipses are completely safe to view and no special equipment is needed to enjoy the sight. Binoculars and telescopes are optional. Enjoy the wonders of our night skies!