Tuesday, December 21, 2010

North America treated to total lunar eclipse

The moon during Tuesday morning's eclipse in this NASA image.

Overcast skies across the Unites States forced many amateur astronomers inside to watch Tuesday morning's lunar eclipse by way of live video on the Internet.

Clouds over much of the country disappointed astronomers from watching the celestial show on this the first day of winter as the earth wedged between the Sun and the moon.

Low clouds over metro Atlanta forced many residents to give up their backyard moon parties and observations and head indoors.

Bill Sullivan of Lawrenceville, Georgia, was one resident dejected by the cloudy evening.

"My son and I had hoped to watch the eclipse, but I guess we'll just have to watch it on TV or something," he told this reported by phone.

Along the Texas Gulf Coast, residents were treated to an astronomical show as clear skies prevailed.

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

Just as predicted, the totality, or time when the earth's shadow fully covered the 1,060 mile wide face of the moon, began at 2:41 a.m. EST,
and lasted just over seventy minutes.

The earth's dark shadow then gave way to a redish light upon the lunar surface as the Sun's light beamed through our planet's atmosphere.

Several observers in the south described the total eclipse to this reporter as looking like a "copper penny" or "copper and red".

A camera aboard the International Space Station was able to catch several dramatic views of the eclipse from 220 miles above earth.

On a historic note, the last time a lunar eclipse occurred on the first day of the winter solstice was 372 years ago -- Dec. 21, 1638. A time when Galileo de' Galilei, the father of modern astronomy, was alive and well in Italy.

The next total lunar eclipse to be visible from North America will happen again in April 2014.

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