Skywatchers enjoy total lunar eclipse

Published 8:05 pm Tuesday, December 21, 2010

NEW YORK (AP) – Skywatchers got an early holiday present thisyear: A total eclipse of the moon.

Hanging high in the sky, the moon slowly turned from brightsilver into a red disk early Tuesday.

A total lunar eclipse occurs when the Earth casts its shadow onthe full moon, blocking the sun’s rays that otherwise reflect offthe moon’s surface. Some indirect sunlight still pierces through togive the moon its eerie hue.

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The 3 1/2 hour celestial spectacle was visible from North andCentral America where skies were clear. Portions of Europe and Asiaonly caught part of the show.

The totality phase – when the moon was completely immersed inEarth’s shadow – lasted 72 minutes.

Since the year’s only total lunar eclipse coincided with wintersolstice, the moon glowed high in the sky.

The last time this occurred was more than three centuries ago onDec. 21, 1638. It will happen again on Dec. 21, 2094, according toU.S. Naval Observatory spokesman Geoff Chester.

Lunar eclipses are safe to watch with the naked eye, unlikesolar eclipses.