How high the moon: 2010’s total lunar eclipse

Posted Dec. 21, 2010, at 4:12 a.m.

Though the weather in Maine prevented residents from seeing much of the event, sky gazers in North and Central America and a tiny sliver of South America could boast the best seats Tuesday morning to this year’s only total eclipse of the moon.

The eclipse began Monday night on the West Coast and during the wee hours Tuesday on the East Coast. Western Europe saw the start of the spectacle while western Asia caught the tail end.

The moon is normally illuminated by the sun. During a total lunar eclipse, the full moon passes through the shadow created by the Earth blocking the sun’s light. Some indirect sunlight will still manage to pierce through and give the moon a ghostly color.

Since the eclipse coincides with winter solstice, the moon appeared high in the sky — a boon for skywatchers. With recent volcanic eruptions around the globe dumping tons of dust into the atmosphere, scientists predicted the moon may appear darker than usual during the eclipse, glowing an eerie red or brown instead of the usual orange-yellow tinge.

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“It’s perfectly placed so that all of North America can see it,” said eclipse expert Fred Espenak of NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center as the center prepared for the show.

The Griffith Observatory perched on the south slope of Mount Hollywood in Los Angeles was host to an eclipse party Monday evening although rain was forecast. Telescopes were set out on the lawn for the public and astronomers gave free lectures on the eclipse’s various stages.

To learn more about the eclipse, visit NASA’s eclipse page.

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