Skywatching This Weekend: Last Chance To Catch A Full Lunar Eclipse For 3 Years

By Nikki Garrett Metzger

(Victor Valley) – If you are able to roll out of your warm bed before dawn this Saturday morning you will be able to catch a real treat: the last total lunar eclipse of the year.  And there won’t be another one for three years.

A lunar eclipse is where the Earth passes between the moon and the sun.

In the Victor Valley, the eclipse will begin around 4:40 a.m. and will reach totality around 6 a.m. That will last about 50 minutes, until shortly before moonset.  During a total lunar eclipse, the moon turns a shade of copper-red, due to sunlight bending around the edges of the Earth. A total lunar eclipse is safe to look at directly with your naked eye — no special equipment is needed.

Not only will the Moon be beautifully red, it will also be inflated by the Moon illusion, according to NASA.  For reasons not fully understood by astronomers or psychologists, low-hanging Moons look unnaturally large when they beam through trees, buildings and other foreground objects. In fact, a low Moon is no wider than any other Moon (cameras prove it) but the human brain insists otherwise. To observers in the western USA, therefore, the eclipse will appear super-sized, NASA says on its website.

This is the second total lunar eclipse this year, when the entire moon is in Earth’s darkest shadow. The first was in June. That’s it now until 2014. Until then, stargazers will have to settle for partial eclipses.

The National Weather Service is predicting clear skies in the early hours of Saturday.

For more information on the eclipse and a global visibility map visit NASA’s website:

http://science.nasa.gov/science-news/science-at-nasa/2011/02dec_lunareclipse/

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