A week ago, sky-watchers were bundling up to take in the Geminid meteor shower. But tonight, there’s an even more powerful show coming to the sky. In North America, a total eclipse of the moon begins at about 1:30 a.m. Eastern (Tuesday morning).
Lunar eclipses are cool, but slow. They’re not like solar eclipses which last a few minutes at most; the shadow of the Earth is quite large, and it takes the Moon a while to move through it (also unlike a solar eclipse, lunar eclipses are perfectly safe to watch with your eyes, with binoculars, or through a telescope without protection). Not only that, there are two parts to the shadow: the outer penumbra, which is very difficult to see when it falls on the Moon, and the much darker umbra, which is what really casts the Moon into the dark. In other words, things really gets started when the Moon moves into the umbra.
If it’s cloudy where you are, or you’re on the wrong side of the planet, never fear: you can still get a look because NASA is hosting a live chat and video feed of the eclipse! JPL has set up a Flickr page for people to post their pictures of the eclipse, too. If you Americans miss this eclipse, you’ll have to wait over three years before the next one, which occurs on April 14, 2014.
For more details, check out the rest of Phil’s post at Bad Astronomy.
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Image: Anthony Ayiomamitis