Viewers in the western United States will get their chance to glimpse the last total lunar eclipse for three years early Saturday morning. In the Denver area the moon will be setting in the west with the mountains in the foreground potentially providing for an extraordinary scene.
- Update, 12/10/11 – Check out the photos of the total lunar eclipse
Saturday morning the moon will be passing through the lower half of the Earth’s shadow just before it sets in the west at 7:12am MST Saturday. The low hanging moon will appear much larger than normal bringing what NASA calls a ‘super-sized’ eclipse.
The space agency says that astronomers and psychologists don’t know why the human brain sees the moon as larger when it is low on the horizon. “In fact, a low Moon is no wider than any other Moon (cameras prove it) but the human brain insists otherwise. To observers in the western USA, therefore, the eclipse will appear super-sized,” NASA said.
The December 10th eclipse will begin around 5:46am MST as the first part of Earth’s shadow encroaches on the moon. Totality will be achieved at 7:06am MST.
- Slideshow: NASA images detailing the December 10, 2011 toal lunar eclipse
For watchers along the Colorado Front Range, the low moon with the Rocky Mountains to the west will render some extraordinary images. Clear skies as well are forecasted so cloud cover should not be an issue. There is however a catch.
The tall mountains on our western horizon are going to limit the time we are able to see the moon and the eclipse. In the Denver area, we won’t actually be able to see the total eclipse as the moon will have disappeared behind the mountains by then.
It is estimated metro area residents will be able to watch the show until about 6:50am at which point the moon will be below the horizon.
- Video: NASA ScienceCasts: A Super-Sized Lunar Eclipse
The celestial show should still be worth getting out of bed a bit early to see. Atmospheric scientist Richard Keen of the University of Colorado told NASA, “I expect this eclipse to be bright orange, or even copper-colored, with a possible hint of turquoise at the edge.”
Keen explains that the Earth’s stratosphere is currently relatively free of volcanic dust and other particulates. This should allow for a very bright event.
Tomorrow’s eclipse will be the last total lunar eclipse until April 14, 2014. A second will occur that year on October 8th. In 2015 there will also be two; one on April 4th and another on September 27th.
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On the net: Shadow and Substance