This total lunar eclipse - a phenomenon that occurs only when the Earth finds
its way directly between a full moon and the sun - will be especially long,
lasting a little more than four hours. But the best viewing will be mid-eclipse,
when the moon spends about 90 minutes entirely in the Earth's shadow.
Early Tuesday, the moon will gradually darken as the Earth's shadow falls upon it,
but it won't appear completely black, said Andrew Fraknoi, chairman of the astronomy
program at Foothill College. Light bent through the Earth's atmosphere will give the
orb a dull brown or reddish glow. The exact color is determined by how dirty the
atmosphere is - whether volcanoes have recently erupted and how much cloud cover,
storm activity and human pollution there is, Fraknoi said.
On average, there is about one lunar eclipse a year, although some years have
none and others as many as three. But most are only partial eclipses, and some
are visible only from other parts of our planet.
"This will be a magical eclipse out your way," said Jim Garvin, chief scientist
at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Maryland. The view on the East Coast,
he said, won't be nearly as spectacular, and only observers to the west of the
Rocky Mountains will be treated to the entire event. The show won't be visible
at all from Europe, Africa or western Asia.
Unlike solar eclipses, lunar eclipses are completely safe to watch. You don't
need protective filters for your eyes, or even a telescope. But a pair of
binoculars will certainly help magnify the view and make the red coloration
brighter and easier to see.
If you miss this total lunar eclipse, you'll have to wait until Feb. 21 for
another one. But the moon won't be covered for nearly as long. That eclipse,
however, will have one big upside: It will take place in the evening, rather
than during the wee hours of the morning, Burress said, "so that will be a
little easier on the eyes."