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Winter Solstice Lunar Eclipse

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(NASA Photo)

A spectacular lunar eclipse is visible across the skies of North America, just hours before the winter solstice, on the night of December 20/21, 2010.

A lunar eclipse is visible when the moon, at the full phase, moves into the Earth’s shadow.  Occurring infrequently because the orbit is tilted slightly compared to the earth’s solar orbital path, the moon usually moves above or below the shadow when on the opposite side of Earth from the sun.

As the moon slowly plunges into the Earth’s shadow, it loses its reflected sunlight.  A total eclipse is not completely dark, but some red and orange sunlight is refracted into the shadow.  The moon then has a reddish orange glow.

Earth’s shadow has two zones:  The penumbra is the outer part of the shadow where the sunlight is not completely blocked.  The umbra is dark because it receives no direct sunlight.  During the nighttime we are inside the earth’s umbra.  No sunlight is visible.

Lunar eclipses are seen more often from any one location as they are visible from over half the earth, where the moon is above the horizon.  A lunar eclipse is not dangerous to view.  Binoculars or a telescope under low power, 15x to 40x present outstanding views of the eclipse.

Here are the events for the evening:

December 20, 2010  (The times that follow are accurate for any location in North American, except times for sunrise, sunset, moonrise, and moonset.  Observers in other time zones can adjust the eclipse times by adding or subtracting their time zone difference from Central Standard Time.)

December 21, 2010

The next lunar eclipse visible from North America occurs on June 4, 2012.  The start of the eclipse occurs June 4, 2012, although it completes after moonset.  The next total lunar eclipse visible from the Americas is on the night of April 14/15, 2014.

For more information about lunar eclipses and general sky watching, see the Waubonsie Valley High School Planetarium website.

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