Lunar eclipse Monday night

By Phil Plait | December 19, 2010 12:22 pm

Those of you who live in the North America* will be treated to a total lunar eclipse tomorrow night (Monday night/Tuesday morning)! The whole thing unfolds over about 3.5 hours, starting at 1:30 a.m. Eastern time.


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.

skyandtel_eclipsemap2010Sky and Telescope’s website has an excellent description of the timeline. The Earth’s dark shadow takes its first bite starting around 1:32 a.m. Eastern time (all times will be Eastern from here on out). Over the next 45 minutes or so, the Moon will plunge deeper into shadow, and the entire disk will be covered starting at 2:41 a.m. It’ll stay this way for over an hour, and then at 3:53 a.m. will begin to leave the shadow. An hour or so later, at 5:00 a.m., it’s all over, and the Moon will be restored to being full. Note that the farther west you are, the earlier this happens in the evening. For me, in Mountain time, it starts at the much more palatable 11:32 p.m. Monday night.

To someone viewing from the United States, you’ll see the eclipse start on the lower left part of the Moon. It really will look like a bite is taken out, and that dark bite will grow left to right. When the Moon begins to leave the shadow you’ll see the upper left part of the Moon becoming bright, with the illumination growing from left to right.

It’s hard to predict what you’ll see during that hour of totality. As weird as it is to believe, sometimes the Moon gets so faint it’s hard to see at all. I remember when I was in high school there was a lunar eclipse so deep I had to search the sky to find the Moon! It was that hard to spot, and really odd. But sometimes, atmospheric conditions on Earth will cast an eerie, blood-red shadow on the Moon. You can see that in the eclipse sequence picture above; during a 2007 eclipse Greek amateur astronomer Anthony Ayiomamitis captured the orange-red color of the Moon during totality. I’ve seen this many times myself, and it’s really quite stunning, and worth staying up (or getting up early) to see. Also, the Moon does not pass directly through the center of the Earth’s umbral shadow, so the top and bottom halves of the Moon may be dramatically different in appearance and color. There’s no way to predict this, so you’ll just have to go out and see for yourself.

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. Europe, Africa and Asia get the next lunar eclipse on June 15, 2011. Also, Africa, Europe, and parts of Asia are treated to a partial solar eclipse on January 5, 2011, in just two weeks! See Fred Espenak’s eclipse website for details.

Image credits: Anthony Ayiomamitis; Sky and Telescope.

* It’s visible in South America and in western Europe and Africa, but the sun rises in the middle of the eclipse; it’s also visible in Australia, New Zealand, and extreme eastern Asia, but the eclipse will have already started at moonrise.

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Astronomy, Cool stuff, Top Post
MORE ABOUT: Earth, Lunar eclipse, Moon

Comments (84)

Links to this Post

  1. Lunar eclipse Monday night – Discover Magazine (blog) | The New News | December 19, 2010
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  1. David

    I’ve been looking forward to this for over a year now, and, naturally, here we have rain forecast right through it.

    Hoping others enjoy seeing it directly, though.

  2. I’ll try to get my caboose in gear and see it.
    I got a good photo 2 or 3 years ago, so I won’t bother with photography:
    Lunar Eclipse 2008-email
    Jeebus was that a cold night! At least it happened earlier in the evening…

  3. Mykel

    Thanks for the timeline on the eclipse. I live on the shore of Lake Ontario, so I can get a nice view over the lake.

    Is it true that a Lunar Eclipse hasn’t happened on the winter solstice in about 400 years? I keep seeing that part mentioned, but I don’t know if it is true, or one of those hoax parts to make the event more interesting (like Mars being the closest it would be to the earth in x years).

  4. If you are on Tumblr, take a picture of the Lunar Eclipse and post it! It will be fun to see all the shots.

  5. Oli

    @2. Mykel: Wikipedia says that no Lunar eclipse has happened on a winter solstice since 1638 (

  6. Joseph G

    Looks like it’ll be cloudy here, but I’ll definitely be watching the NASA feed. I’ve seen solar eclipses, but never a lunar one (oddly, as they seem to be more common).

  7. Pete Jackson

    This eclipse should be darker than most, because it’s a winter eclipse and the Earth’s northern hemisphere is facing the full moon and most of this northern limb will be in clouds since winter is the cloudiest season.

    But, since there have been no really large and dusty volcanic eruptions, it won’t be as dark as the December 30, 1963 lunar eclipse! An eruption of the volcano Mount Agung in Indonesia had filled the stratosphere with dust and acid droplets, causing beautiful sunsets that summer and autumn.

    The eclipse was after midnight and my father and I stayed up late to see the it from our home in Toronto. However, as often happens there, especially in winter, clouds from Lake Ontario drifted over the sky as the partial eclipse was underway. Not to be cheated, we drove north, racing against the clouds and we finally emerged into a cloudless, starry sky near the town of Aurora around 4 AM. We got out of the car and saw the beautiful winter-spring sky full of stars and the Milky Way, but there was no moon!

    Darn, it’s got to be there, we thought because the full moon stays up all night, right? Knowing it must be in the west, I scanned and scanned for it and finally saw a faint, almost invisible patch of nebulosity in the constellation of Gemini. The apparent magnitude of the entire lunar disk was around +4!

    A similar circumstance happened for a lunar eclipse on December 30, 1982, as the volcano El Chichon had erupted in March. However, the moon did not pass as close to the center of the Earth’s shadow as it did on Dec 30, 1963 and so, although much of the moon became almost invisible during totality, a portion near the limb stayed a bit brighter. Even so, this portion was merely a brighter brownish-gray, not the normal red color exhibited by the totally eclipsed moon.

  8. What effect will local wildfires (about 100 miles away) have on the color of the eclipse? Is there any way to guess at that kind of thing?

  9. Sandrita21

    I’ve found a ton of great viewing information on this site. – Hope you all enjoy Monday’s show!

  10. Will be watching and imaging from Astroguyz HQ in Hudson, Florida:

  11. Chris

    I think the brightness of the eclipse has to do with how clean the stratosphere is. After a volcanic eruption the lunar eclipses were really dark, but these should be pretty bright.

  12. riverrunner

    Phil have you seen our sat for colorado? we are getting hammered with snow for the next few days. no eclipse for us.

  13. Jason

    I will probably miss this, we are on the road doing extensive driving and I doubt I will be awake enough to stay up and watch the eclipse. I will need the sleep to make the cross-country drive on Tuesday. Everyone take Good pictures!

  14. I remember when I was in high school there was a lunar eclipse so deep I had to search the sky to find the Moon!

    I think I have memories of that same one. The Moon was like a dark, dead cinder against the stars. I remember I was really struck by what seemed to be its enhanced three-dimensional nature – probably because of the stars visible so close to its edge.

  15. Daniel J. Andrews

    We’ve had cloudy skies and snow almost every day for the past 3 weeks so chances are we’ll have more of the same eclipse night. I’ll probably be too tired from shoveling us out to stay up late anyway.

  16. I will be watching the full moon rise just to the left of Mount Rainier, then start it’s shadowing as it moves over the mountain. If it is clear- it will be COLD.

  17. Amadan

    What’s even cooler is that the eclipse will finish just minutes before the solstice sunrise lights up the inner chamber of the passage grave at Newgrange, just a bit away from us here in Dublin!

    The Irish Times has the story

  18. Zoltán Lauer

    The partial solar eclipse you mentioned will be on the 4th of january 2011, not on the 5th!

  19. Dr_Cy_Coe

    Off-topic: Purdue, Imperial College London have a cool meteoroid impact simulator.

    I’ve been playing with it a bit and this triggered some questions from my side about the effects of the density of the incoming object. Maybe some of you have the answers.

    Suppose a 10 cubic meter fragment of a neutron star would fall to Earth (45 degrees angle, 50 km/s). I can get the tool to work this out, but what I was thinking about is the added effects caused by the neutron star fragment’s density, what with all the neutron-degeneracy and all.

    1. Does the tool correctly show the energy released? Would the fact that the compact neutron structure being violently disassembled add significantly to the total energy involved?
    2. Do neutron star fragments stay dense during millions of years of space travel, or will they – since ‘self’-gravity is no longer strong enough to cause neutron-degeneracy – break up or expand en route?

    Sorry about the blatant change of topic, please ignore if this is considered not-done.

  20. Karen

    Cool article! I am just SO pleased that the author actually acknowledges the Mountain Time Zone. We NEVER get any mention anywhere–it’s like we don’t exist. I WILL stay up and watch, in MTZ!!!

  21. Donnie B.

    @8 Joseph G:

    Lunar eclipses are actually less common than solar ones. However, when they do happen they’re visible over an entire hemisphere, whereas solar eclipses have a narrow track on the ground. So for a given location, you’re more likely to see a lunar eclipse than a solar one (especially a total solar).

  22. Gus Snarp

    Heavy clouds forecast here, so I’m a bit disappointed. BTW, I was reading the chapter on the moon’s orbit and phases in Bad Astronomy, and I think it’s a bit confusing. In fact, everything out there on the subject is a bit confusing. It seems to me that the Moons orbital path is on a different axis than the Earth’s path around the Sun, and that’s why we get a full moon when the Moon is “behind” the Earth without usually getting an eclipse, but that doesn’t seem to be spelled out so well in the book (or maybe I’m wrong and I’m just paraphrasing exactly what I read and was only confused because it came late in the discussion). But either way, somehow I have trouble picturing it. I need more diagrams and video models to make this sink in.

  23. Jon Hanford

    @23 Amadan,

    Great story, thanks for the link. I liked the interview with Prof. Tom Ray [great name!]:

    “He would not be drawn on whether the juxtaposition carried some portent, some special omen about the future.

    “I don’t do astrology,” he said.” :)

  24. Mike

    This sounds cool! I wish that I could see it!

  25. Bryan

    Here is a funny take I wrote on the eclipse:

    Read it if you want :)

  26. Ryan C

    Cloudy and snow in Winnipeg, so no viewing for me. At least it will be warm, -13C tonight!

  27. Missy

    I am so mad it will be raining! I am still going to the Griffith Observatory but I am upset I can’t see the actual eclipse.

  28. Jon Hanford

    The Shadow & Substance site has a nice animation (and many cool diagrams) of tonight’s lunar eclipse:

    Besides the live webcast of the eclipse from Huntsville, AL mentioned by Phil, the Coca-Cola Space Science Center in Columbus, GA plans a live webcast beginning at midnight Eastern Time:

    Hopefully neither site will be clouded out (as well as my location in Tampa, FL).

  29. Now, if this rain storm that isn’t going to clear up until Wednesday would just clear up Monday…

  30. Joseph G

    @#30 Donnie: Really! I didn’t know that. That makes sense, though – the earth is a bigger target (for a shadow, that is). Perhaps it’s just that solar eclipses get so much more media attention…

  31. Joseph G

    @#25 Dr Sy: I’ve often wondered about what happens to degenerate matter when it’s divided into smaller bits (possibly because of all those comparisons you read in science books, ie “A teaspoon of neutron star would weight a million kajillion pounds” or somesuch).

    I would think that at some point, a smallish portion of neutronium would just explode into “normal” gas when separated from the intense gravity of an N-star. What would be the dividing line (of mass), though, above which the neutronium would be self-stable?
    I suck at math, but I’m guessing that the calculation would be somewhat similar to determining the Schwartzchild radius of a given amount of mass, but in reverse, and with a lower density threshold.

    In any case, liberating a blob of neutronium from a neutron star’s surface gravity would take a terrifying amount of energy – I’m thinking about at least several tons moving at a very high percentage of the speed of light.

  32. NAW

    Well, luckily I don’t have to be at work till 11am, so I may get at least some sleep. I hope my camera can get some shots of it.

  33. Michael Swanson

    Rain, rain, rain…


  34. Ken

    It’s cloudy here in Vancouver … as it usually is in the winter here.

    In anticipation of the clouds, I made a simulation video of what the total lunar eclipse will look like from Vancouver BC.

    It can be viewed at these links:

    or here:

  35. Aaron

    Unfortunately, it looks like MOST of North America will be under clouds:

    Citizens of Mexico, get your cameras ready!

  36. Jon Hanford

    @49 Ken

    Nice animation. I see M 35 (& NGC 2158) will be situated close to the eclipsed moon. Definitely will have a (telescopic/binocular) look during totality.

  37. lauren

    What’s the web address of the nasa feed?

  38. Blizno

    Not good. I saw the full moon scooting through thick clouds a few minutes ago but the solid overcast has since clamped shut. It’s 8:00 CST so there are hours to wait before the eclipse. I’m hoping that the sky will grow enough clear spots that I’ll at least get glimpses of the eclipse.

  39. Tribeca Mike

    The moon on the breast of the new-fallen snow
    Gave the lustre of mid-day to objects below.
    When, what to my wondering eyes should appear,
    But a miniature sleigh, and eight tinny reindeer.

    — Clement Clarke Moore, “Twas The Night Before Christmas”

  40. QuietDesperation

    No joy for Southern California because IT WON’T STOP RAINING!!! AAAAAA!


    This is “supervillain plot in action” weather.

    Been going for nearly a week now, and they say Tuesday and Wednesday is when the “real rain” moves in. :-(

    Someone detonate something somewhere to disrupt this thing, will ya?

  41. Tribeca Mike

    QuietDesperation — the first time I hitchhiked through LA and environs, lo these 40 years ago, was the first time I discovered that phunky phenomenon called “fog.” It as only then (and a few months later during a visit for a softball game in equally funky El Centro) that I understood why Tom Waits sang so low and Johnny Otis had the West Coast Blues. Here’s sending good vibes your way for a clear sky.

  42. Andria

    Does anybody know a clear cloudless spot in southern california where you can see the solar eclipse? i really don’t want to miss out!

  43. inkrediblechina

    well what time dose it come out in texas

  44. Jan

    i live in so calif in high desert and its pouring rain here – am hoping maybe cnn would carry it – do not get the nasa tv channel

  45. After many days of cloudy/foggy mornings, we finally have clear skies here in Denmark. Looking good so far :-)

  46. Keith Bowden

    Yay! The rain stopped and the clouds have thinned to “foggy”. :) The first lunar eclipse on the winter solstice (aka my birthday) in almost 400 years and I get to see it! (Somewhat.)

  47. autumn

    It’s started! In north Florida I have clear skies. It seems to me that the initial shadow is darker than I remember other lunar eclipses being, but I may simply be mistaken due to the super bright moon as a contrast.
    Memories are not to be trusted.

  48. Aaron

    For those of you under clouds, I’ve been having luck with this stream from Miami, FL:

  49. 24601

    Phew, it’s cold out there! At least it’s a warmer night than average this time of year. I went out about 20 minutes late and the moon was already 1/4 in shadow. Stayed out until totality, on top of a silvery RV sunshade and under a blanket. Now an hour inside to warm up, then back out for the finale ^_^.

    Oh, and an awesome night for this, too. Nearly totally clear skies, save for some high-up cirrus clouds which put a huge ring around the moon at the beginning. The ring stretched to just above Orion’s belt. Saw at least 5 shooting stars as well. Too bad my camera cannot take good pictures in this light.

  50. Ken

    It stayed cloudy in Vancouver. I managed to take a few shots, but with the clouds totality was nearly over by the time I even had the camera focused properly. There weren’t really breaks in the clouds so much as thinnings.

  51. Dave Wave

    Why do I keep seeing news articles about this being the darkest day in 372 years? Wouldn’t a much more common new moon happen on the solstice and create a much darker, long solstice night?

  52. CB

    Sadly, the clouds started off thick enough that I could rarely catch a glimpse of the moon at all as the eclipse began, and moved to completely obscuring by the time of totality. So I went to bed. :(

  53. Nuclear_chris

    There is such publicity about the “rarity” of this cosmic event in respect to it falling on the day of the solstice. Yes it has been 372 years since the last time it coincided on Dec21, but no one seems to mention that the next total lunar eclipse falling on the winter solstice is 2094, 84 years, some of us will still be around for this. Eclipses are cool enough without people tagging specific dates to them. It doesnt matter what date they occur we should make the attempt to go and witness it.

  54. Rare cloud thinning/breaks provided several glimpses of the moon in shadow, just after the moon began to leave the shadow, and just before the shadow was completely off the moon. The clouds looked like they ended just north of me, but looking at the weather maps, that appears to have only been an illusion.

  55. i wonder today i was jogging in al arabi stadium 8:00 PM what i saw up in the sky very dark, and the moon is a color blue, what is the meaning of sawing falling star? because i saw falling star 8:00 pm in qatar doha decmber 21,

  56. 24601

    @tata: no particular meaning, other than you were in the right place at the right time to see a bit of space dust, which has been traveling for who knows how long, enter Earth’s atmosphere right above you. Sure, lots of people see lots of shooting stars, but when you consider the odds of you seeing that one particular one at that exact time, it’s impressive.

  57. Tiffani Brissette

    easons Greetings!

    It was a beautiful sight and I always wonder what the Earth looks like from the moon when this happens! Also I wonder, since the moon always moves away from the “cone” of the Earth’s shadow so we don’t have regular eclipses like this and so you’d miss seeing what the Earth looks like from the moon if you were there then, would it be possible to build a satellite that would fly in such a way that it will stay in the “cone” where the Earth eclipses the sun so you can always see by TV the same eclipse as you would when the moon is in the “cone” of the Earth’s shadow? Hope I asked this right!

    Merry Christmas all!

  58. 24601

    @Tiffani: Dish Network has on one of their satellites a camera which they use for their “Dish Earth” channel. And every night the satellite goes into eclipse. The only problem is the camera’s sensor has been damaged by high-energy rays and particles from the sun, so when the sun is behind the earth, all you really see is a lot of multi-coloured dots caused by the damage. I don’t expect a camera on or orbiting the moon to fare much better.

  59. marie mellott

    I want to use your photo of the lunar eclipse in may art. I created a drawing during the eclipse ( not exactly about it). I want to put the photo you did below the drawing because it will make it more historical. Let me know if this is OK> Marie Mellott

  60. i was just asking about that because i thought it just a fairytale story. but now ibelieve that theres a real falling star, because i saw it in my eyes and i dont know that time is also the moon was is something showing me empressive i take a picture from my neighbore house, it is very beautiful house. i wonder why i should like to take a pictures on this house with that moon?after a minute ago about 8:OO PM quarter i sse it is like a light i dont know how to explain that star is like a lightball and so fast passing on the sky and fast gone . that it. thats why i search on this website

  61. i was just asking about that because i thought it just a fairytale story. but now ibelieve that theres a real falling star, because i saw it in my eyes and i dont know that time is also the moon was is something showing me empressive i take a picture from my neighbore house, it is very beautiful house. i wonder why i should like to take a pictures on this house with that moon?after a minute ago about 8:OO PM quarter i sse it is like a light i dont know how to explain that star is like a lightball and so fast passing on the sky and fast gone . that it. thats why i search on this website when i have time to up load my pictures from that blue moon you can see at my facebook, to marie mellott:merry christmas to all! and happy new year!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  62. Jim from Queens

    > 77. 24601 Says:
    > December 22nd, 2010 at 12:44 pm
    > @Tiffani: Dish Network has on one of their satellites a camera which they use for their “Dish Earth”
    > channel. And every night the satellite goes into eclipse.

    Naw. Those were cheapie optics like Dish Network’s programming, not quality gear like the Japanese lunar orbiter’s. Anyway, geosync orbit isn’t far enough out to be within the focii to reproduce the Earth eclipse effect from the moon’s orbit, and you have two options which could even do better. Put a spacecraft in lunar orbit or its own orbit around the Earth, which has far greater advantages since you’re not held hostage to the moon entering the Earth’s umbra once a blue moon (sorry bout that!). In its own extra-lunar orbit around Earth the spacecraft at mininum has to have the ability to jockey itself along that orbital plane to regularly intercept the Earth’s umbra at will for the max visual effect, but then it’d the added possibility of creating its own genuine solar eclipses which would be an awesome plus for solar science. So what she’d need is a ion-drive spacecraft with a nice big camera to do the job and a Bill Gates to sponsor it!

    Happy Holidays!


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