Jeff Smith noon, March 8
Total Lunar Eclipse Tonight
The Total Lunar Eclipse of December 20-21 is the first such event visible from North America in nearly the past three years. As during all eclipses of the moon, the moon will be at full phase. This eclipse event involves total coverage of the moon by Earth's shadow, and that will happen around midnight Monday evening, December 20 through Tuesday morning, December 21. All lunar eclipses are leisurely events, and this one is no exception. The only problem, perhaps, is that this eclipse seems perversely timed to disturb the sleep cycle of almost anyone on a normal weekday work schedule. Things start happening in a noticeable way at 10:33 p.m., as the full moon begins to slip into Earth's shadow. The moon appears to have a small bite taken out of it and that bite gets deeper over the next hour or so. The total eclipse, or "totality" phase begins at 11:41 p.m. and ends at 12:53 a.m. During the long period of totality, you should still be able to spot the moon -- greatly dimmed from its normal full-moon brightness and tinted orange or red owing to a small fraction of the sun's light streaming and refracting through Earth's atmosphere. Use binoculars or a telescope for a better view of the ghost-like totally eclipsed moon, which will be so high in the sky that you might want to try lying down to avoid neck strain. The closing, partial stages of the eclipse will take place between 12:53 a.m. and 2:01 a.m. Having returned to its normal full shape by 2:01 a.m., the moon will remain fully illuminated as it sinks in the west toward a rendezvous with the west horizon at dawn. For a great view of this event, all we need is clear skies ... and strong coffee!