Sunday, December 19, 2010
For all you moon gazers out there, be alert, the full moon will turn a deep copper color Monday night as it passes into the Earth's shadow for a total lunar eclipse visible in North America. We're not much as astronomy photographers so forgive the little Pic Shaws cartoon above. There are gobs of pictures of the freaky red moon all over the internet. Just do an image search for "lunar eclipse".
This total eclipse will occur the night of the 20th and the early morning of the 21st. The particular time will depend on your location and I am uncertain of all the places where the show will be visible so do some research. For the west coast of North America the moon will be in shadow from about 10:30pm to about 1:30am with total eclipse beginning about 11:40pm. You'll have to do some research and find your local time for the event. Unfortunately it looks like we in Central California will be out of luck. We are in the middle of a long steady rain and the cloud cover is likely to be total Monday night. Piffle. I'll still go out to take a look. Maybe we'll get lucky and there will be a break in the clouds. The forecasts have been wrong before.
Do go out and take a look if you have never seen a lunar eclipse. The red brown color of the moon in Earth's shadow is weird enough to make me understand how people used to take it as an omen of terrible things afoot. The peculiar color of Earth's shadow on the moon is caused by a small bit of sunlight refracted through Earth's atmosphere and scattered into the Umbra, as astronomers call the shadow area. The Griffith Observatory web page has a good short explanation of the phenomenon.
If you live in North America and you have the luck of a clear sky on the evening of the 20th don't miss the show. It'll take just a few minutes of your time to peek outside before you go to bed and you'll remember the sight for the rest of your life.