Saturday, December 18, 2010

America awaits total lunar eclipse on Tuesday

A total eclipse of the earth's moon on Tuesday will have sky watchers across North America braving cold temperatures to witness a rare celestial show.

Astronomers and space enthusiasts alike will have necks turned high and telescopes trained on earth's only natural satellite.

A total lunar eclipse is when the earth moves between the Sun and the moon, thus the Sun's direct light is blocked from reflecting off the moon's surface. Instead, the Sun's rays pass through the earth's atmosphere generating an orange to red light upon the moon's surface.

Astronomers from the east coast of the United States will begin to see the moon pass into the earth's shadow at 1:33 a.m. EST on Tuesday. Observers on the west coast will begin to see the eclipse at 10:33 p.m. local time Monday.

Even if you do not own a telescope, your own eyes or binoculars will do just fine.

As the earth flies around the Sun, and the moon orbits the earth, the totality -- or time when the earth's shadow fully covers the moon -- will last 72 minutes beginning at 2:41 a.m.

Weather permitting, thousands of amateur astronomers are expected to visit their local planetariums for the inside story on eclipse events on the first day of the winter solstice.

Cold temperatures and scattered clouds are forecast for the southeast early on Tuesday.

That's not stopping several we spoke with in north Georgia.

"I'm just planning on bundling up and letting my adrenaline fuel my observations on Tuesday morning," Jeff Weston of Alpharetta said on Friday.

At NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Ala., a live camera feed of the eclipse is planned and can be viewed by visiting NASA's Eclipse page.

Also, follow this reporter via Twitter (@CAtkeison) for images and updates during the sky show.

This will be the last total lunar eclipse visible to North America until April 15, 2014.

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