Saturday, December 10, 2011, will bring a spectacular and unusually rare, total lunar eclipse (start to finish photo gallery here) that will be visible in the United States, skies permitting. So, with this being such a rare and spectacular event, many people living in the United States are asking ‘where can I see the eclipse and what will I see?’
At first glance to people not familiar with astronomy, the phases near totality may not look that different than any thin crescent Moon, except that the thin crescent is high in the sky and not near the horizon. However, the other partial stages produce some strange looking Moons that cannot be seen at any other time.
When the Moon first enters the umbra (the dark part of the Earth’s shadow), a slight, rounded corner of the Moon will start to disappear into shadow. As time progresses, the shaded, curved section of the Moon will get larger and larger,looking like an unnaturally fat crescent until the Moon nears full coverage, at which point the Moon looks like a familiar thin crescent except for it’s high in the sky location. However the real treat comes at totality, or full coverage.
A few minutes before totality, the Moon will the on a distinctly reddish hue. Why? The sunlight coming through the atmosphere is scattered by the particles, both natural and man-made, floating in the air. Result: the most wavelengths of color are reflected away from the Moon, except for the reds, which continue on and fall on the Moon, thus giving it the shade of color unique to eclipses. In total, totality of this eclipse will last a little over an hour before the Moon starts to move out of the umbra, thus beginning a reverse partial stage.
Now, where to see the eclipse?
The great news is that, since this is an event involving the Moon, the eclipse can be observed from anywhere. Unfortunately, for Eastern United States residents, you will only get to see partial phases of the eclipse as the Moon sets. However, for people living more in more Westerly locations, more of the eclipse will be visible. In the Great Plains to the Rockies, the Moon will set during totality, during which it will be a dazzling reddish color. For people on the West Coast, the Moon will set just past totality.
For this event more than most, wishes of clear skies to everyone.
Hit the ‘subscribe’ button for automatic email updates when I write something new!
Want to read more of my stuff? Check out my other Examiner columns!
Cleveland Astronomy Examiner
Cleveland Photography Examiner
Toxic fallout could result from failed Mars probe
Zero hour approaching with Phobos-Grunt
NASA delays Curiosity launch
Exoplanet count tops 700
Doom or detour for Phobos-Grunt
Black Friday, black Sun
NASA launches Curiosity rover
Want even more? Check out my personal website:
Bodzash Photography and Astronomy