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Wherever clear skies prevail, skywatchers all across the Americas will have front-row seats when the full Moon dives through Earth's shadow on Wednesday evening, February 20th. In Europe and West Africa, the eclipse occurs during the early-morning hours of Thursday, the 21st.
Unlike a solar eclipse, each stage of a lunar eclipse is visible to everyone on the Moon-facing side of Earth at once; we’re all looking together.
So Earth’s shadow will totally engulf the Moon from 10:00 to 10:52 p.m. Eastern Standard Time for those on the East Coast, where the Moon will be high in a completely darkened sky.
Meanwhile, in the Far West, totality occurs from 7:00 to 7:52 p.m. Pacific Standard Time, with the Moon closer to the eastern horizon. In fact, anyone along the Pacific Coast will see moonrise just as the partial eclipse is getting under way.
Here are the key event times for the eclipse, given for four North American time zones:
|Total Eclipse of the Moon, February 20, 2008|
|Partial eclipse begins||5:43 p.m.||6:43 p.m.||7:43 p.m.||8:43 p.m.|
|Total eclipse begins||7:00 p.m.||8:00 p.m.||9:00 p.m.||10:00 p.m.|
|Total eclipse ends||7:52 p.m.||8:52 p.m.||9:52 p.m.||10:52 p.m.|
|Partial eclipse ends||9:09 p.m.||10:09 p.m.||11:09 p.m.||12:09 a.m.|
This is the third of three total lunar eclipses within a year's time. The previous total lunar eclipse, last August 28th, favored the Far West. The one before that, on March 3, 2007, favored eastern North America and Europe.
After this one, however, comes a prolonged dry spell. The next total lunar eclipse visible anywhere won't occur until December 20-21, 2010 — nearly three years from now.
During the eclipse, the Moon makes a broad triangle with the bright planet Saturn and the somewhat fainter star Regulus, marking the heart of Leo, the Lion.
How and Why
A total lunar eclipse occurs when the Sun, Earth, and Moon form a nearly straight line in space, so that the full Moon passes through Earth's shadow. Unlike a solar eclipse, which requires special equipment to observe safely, you can watch a lunar eclipse with your unaided eyes. Binoculars or a telescope will enhance the view dramatically.
The outer part of Earth's shadow, called the penumbra, creates only a slight dusky shading on the lunar disk. But as the Moon begins to move into the central and darkest part of Earth's shadow, the umbra, there's an obvious and ever-larger "bite" in the full Moon. The partial eclipse is then under way.
The total eclipse begins when the Moon is fully within the umbra. On February 20th, totality lasts 52 minutes. But the Moon likely won't disappear completely. It usually glows as an eerie, coppery red disk in the sky, as sunlight scattered around the edge of our atmosphere paints the lunar surface with a warm glow. This is light from all the sunrises and sunsets that are in progress around Earth at the time.
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