Are you ready for some good, old-fashioned observing fun? Although you might not want to get up early, it’s going to be worth your time. This Saturday, December 10, 2011, marks the last total lunar eclipse event for the western portion of the Americas until 2014. While a solar eclipse event has a very small footprint where it is visible, a lunar eclipse has a wide and wonderful path that encompasses a huge amount of viewers. “We’re all looking at this together,” says Sky & Telescope senior editor Alan MacRobert.
If you live in the eastern portion of the Americas, sorry… You’ll miss out on this one. In the Central time zone, the Moon will be setting while it is partially eclipsed. However, beginning in a line that takes in Arizona and the Dakotas you’ll be treated to the beginning of the lunar eclipse, totality, and it will set as it is beginning to come out of eclipse. If you live in the western portion of the US or Canada? Lucky you! You’ll get to enjoy the Moon as it goes through the initial states of eclipse, see totality and even might catch the phases as it slips out of Earth’s shadow again – just as the Sun begins to rise. For Skywatchers in Hawaii, Australia, and East Asia, you’ll have it better. Seen from there, the whole eclipse happens high in a dark sky from start to finish. For Europe and Africa, the eclipsed Moon will be lower in the east during or after twilight on the evening of the 10th.
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When exactly does the event begin? The lunar eclipse will be total from 6:05 to 6:57 a.m. Pacific Standard Time. The partial stage of the eclipse begins more than an hour earlier, at 4:45 a.m. PST. Be sure to watch the southern lunar edge, too. Because the Moon will be skimming by the southern edge of the Earth’s shadow, it will remain slightly brighter and add to the dimensional effect you’ll see. Enjoy the coppery colors from the refracted sunlight! The Moon won’t be black – but it will most certainly be a very photogenic experience.
“That red light on the Moon during a lunar eclipse comes from all the sunrises and sunsets around the Earth at the time,” explains Sky & Telescope editor in chief Robert Naeye. “If you were an astronaut standing on the Moon and looking up, the whole picture would be clear. The Sun would be covered up by a dark Earth that was ringed all around with a thin, brilliant band of sunset- and sunrise-colored light — bright enough to dimly illuminate the lunar landscape around you.”
May clear skies be yours!