Dec 082011
 

Waking up before sunrise can be tough to do, especially on a weekend. On Saturday, Dec. 10th, you might be glad you did. A total eclipse of the Moon will be visible in the early morning skies of western Northern America.

The action begins around 4:45 am Pacific Standard Time when the red shadow of Earth first falls across the lunar disk. By 6:05 am Pacific Time, the Moon will be fully engulfed in red light. This event—the last total lunar eclipse until 2014—is visible from the Pacific side of North America, across the entire Pacific Ocean to Asia and Eastern Europe.

Not only will the Moon be beautifully red, it will also be inflated by the Moon illusion. 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.

Why the red color? Earth's stratosphere is the key: "During a lunar eclipse, most of the light illuminating the moon passes through the stratosphere where it is reddened by scattering," he explains. "If the stratosphere is loaded with dust from volcanic eruptions, the eclipse will be dark; a clear stratosphere, on the other hand, produces a brighter eclipse. At the moment, the stratosphere is mostly clear with little input from recent volcanoes."

A bright red super-sized lunar eclipse: It’s coming on Saturday, Dec. 10th. Wake up and enjoy the show.

 

* Photo taken on July 19, 2008 courtesy of Theophilus Photography