POST-ECLIPSE UPDATE: Others from the Western US and other parts of the world were treated to a marvelous eclipse. See a growing gallery of images at SpaceWeather.com.
On the morning of Saturday, December 10, 2011 there will be a total lunar eclipse. While much of North America will be in a position to see this natural wonder, those of us east of the Mississippi are pretty much completely out of luck! Timing is everything in this case.
Those who have seen total lunar eclipses know that they are wonderful astronomical experiences. They occur when the Moon passes through the shadow Earth casts out into space, away from the Sun. The colors of Earth’s sunrises and sunsets act as filters giving the darkened Moon hues ranging from copper tones to deep red. Lunar eclipses are safe to view (never any brighter than the full Moon), don’t require telescopes or special optics to enjoy, and are visible over a wide area.
Total lunar eclipses can only happen when the Moon is in its Full phase –on the opposite side of Earth from the Sun– which often results in local observers seeing only part of the event. Locally we might see the beginning or end of an eclipse, or be totally out of luck because the Moon has set and the Sun has risen. On rare occasions at a given locale, the entire eclipse cycle, covering a period of several hours, can be seen; those eclipses take place in the mid-night hours rather than just before Sun- or Moonrise.
For those of us in Northeastern Ohio, the December 10 eclipse will barely have begun when the Moon sets just as the Sun rises. The thin shade of Earth’s outer shadow or penumbra will only just have begun to cover our Moon as it sets slowly in the west. Those on the West Coast will be able to enjoy more of the show, being a few hours behind our time.
In today’s world of Internet-connected telescopes and Web broadcasts there will be opportunities for remote eclipse watching. Learn more and possibly watch a “webcast” at the following URLs:
NASA’s Eclipse Chart for December 10, 2011 (PDF)