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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!

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Comments

nan shartel Dec. 21, 2010 @ 2:38 a.m.

wow a lunar eclipse on the winter equinox...a double celestial treat!!

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Jerry Schad Dec. 21, 2010 @ 9:08 a.m.

It would have been easier to travel overland to some part of the United States or Mexico that was experiencing clear skies. Lunar eclipses are visible from Earth's entire night hemisphere, and San Diego was nearly centered on the zone of visibility for this last total one.

I, for one, was pleased that although the eclipse was rained out, at least we are getting some nice rainfall to nourish our parched Southern California landscape.

Our next total solar eclipse takes place about a year from now (December 10). Below is some copy excerpted from a list of yearly celestial events that I prepare and hand out to my astronomy and physical science students.

December 9-10, 2011: On the afternoon of December 9, the full moon rises from the east horizon at around 4:11 p.m., about one-half hour before the sun sets. The next morning, near dawn on December 10, there occurs 2011's most interesting astronomical event -- a TOTAL LUNAR ECLIPSE. At San Diego, we will only see part of this eclipse. Partial phases of the eclipse begin at 4:46 a.m., with the moon sinking in the western sky. Over the next hour and twenty minutes, Earth’s shadow will take an increasing “bite” into the sunlit moon. Totality begins at 6:06 a.m., with the moon low in the west and dawn’s glare well underway in the east. Use binoculars to track the totally eclipsed moon, which will look practically like a ghost compared to its normal bright self. Soon after totality begins, the moon will become invisible due to the strengthening light of dawn.

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