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A blink-and-you’ll-miss-it lunar eclipse will decorate the pre-dawn sky tomorrow. Skywatchers in the western half of the United States will see all of the total phase of the eclipse, while those in the east will experience only part of the show.
A lunar eclipse takes place only at full Moon, when the Moon passes opposite the Sun in our sky. But the Moon’s orbit around Earth is tilted a little with respect to Earth’s orbit around the Sun, so most months, the Moon just misses Earth’s shadow. The geometry has to be just right — an alignment known as syzygy — for an eclipse to occur — something that generally happens two or three times a year.
This eclipse really gets going at 5:16 a.m. Central Time, when the Moon first touches the dark inner portion of Earth’s shadow. The Moon will be fully immersed in the shadow by 6:58 a.m. The Moon barely tucks inside the shadow, however, so it’ll remain fully eclipsed for only a few minutes.
During that “total” phase of the eclipse, the lunar disk will be colored dark red or orange by faint sunlight filtering through Earth’s atmosphere. How much of that color you’ll actually see depends on sky conditions, your color sensitivity, and other factors.
The eclipse ends when the Moon exits the shadow at 8:45 a.m. The Moon will have dropped from view across most of the country by then. Only those on the West Coast and in Alaska and Hawaii will see the entire event.
Script by Damond Benningfield, Copyright 2015