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If you live in the continental United States, tonight (Jan. 20) is a great night to take a gander at the sky.
As the clock ticks toward midnight on the East Coast, the moon will become increasingly cloaked in red shadows in the longest lunar eclipse visible from North America for years.
Lunar - Phases - Penumbral - Phase - Pm
Lunar eclipses happen in three phases: penumbral, partial and total. The penumbral phase will start at 9:36 p.m. EST (6:36 p.m. PST) on Jan. 20. Earth will be positioned between the sun and the moon at that time, and the moon will just be sliding into the very outer shadow of the planet. This phase is extremely subtle and hard to see.
At 10:34 p.m. EST (7:34 p.m. PST), the partial phase of the eclipse will begin. This is when the moon moves into the darkest part of Earth's shadow, the umbra. It will be visible as a reddish darkness creeping across the moon's face.
Pinnacle - Show - Pm - EST - Pm
The pinnacle of the show will occur between 11:41 p.m. EST (8:41 p.m. PST) and 12:43 p.m. EST (9:43 p.m. PST), when Earth's umbra will entirely engulf the moon. Our natural satellite will appear rusty and dark, because a tiny bit of sunlight will slip through Earth's atmosphere. The atmosphere will scatter the light, preferentially allowing red wavelengths through. This light will then hit the moon, creating the blood-red effect.
The moment of greatest eclipse, when the moon is deepest in Earth's shadow, will occur at 12:16 a.m. EST (9:16 p.m. PST).
Lunar - Eclipse - Eclipses - Observer - Difference
Technically, this lunar eclipse will also appear larger than other, non-supermoon eclipses, but the casual observer may struggle to tell a difference. The moon's orbit is not a perfect circle, so sometimes it swings closer to Earth, while other times it's a bit farther out. The close passes are called perigee.
As the full moon passes by Earth...
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