Coming right on the heels of the annual Geminids meteor shower, sky watchers will be treated to a second visual treat this month. In the early morning hours of December 21, coincidentally the day of the winter solstice, observers throughout North America can see a full lunar eclipse.
A lunar eclipse occurs when the Moon’s orbit passes briefly through the Earth’s shadow, blocking it from the sun’s rays.
The action will begin at 12:29 a.m. EST, when the Moon begins to enter the Earth’s outer shadow, or penumbra, the Moon will gradually darken over the next few hours, before beginning its total eclipse phase at 2:40 a.m. The total phase will last for 72 minutes, peaking at 3:17 a.m., and ending at 3:54 a.m. The moon will then continue to pass gradually out of the Earth’s shadow, finally leaving it at 6:06 a.m.
The last total lunar eclipse in North America took place on February 21, 2008, and the next isn’t expected until April 15, 2014. Other total eclipses will occur before then, but will not be visible from North American locations.