Watching the Sky
2:30 pm
Mon December 20, 2010

Lunar eclipse tonight

Western Washington can look forward to an added gift of the Winter Solstice: a total eclipse of the moon. The heavenly event begins at 10:32 pm tonight, with the moon in full eclipse from 11:41 pm to 12:53 am, according to NASA.

The question: will the weather allow us to see it?  The National Weather Service in Seattle is forecasting clouds and showers tonight and early tomorrow. No doubt the event will keep people awake in hopes of a glimpse of the copper-colored glow the moon takes on during an eclipse. 

KPLU listeners know Stardate (evenings at 6:30 pm) is following the event closely. From Stardate's website:

As Earth’s long shadow falls across the Moon, the part in the shadow will turn dark. It will look as though a chunk were missing from the Moon. About an 70 minutes later, the shadow will completely cover the Moon, an event known as "totality." This will last for more than an hour, then the shadow will exit the Moon's opposite side over another hour or so.

Canada's CTV reports this total lunar eclipse is a unlike most:

The event itself isn't that rare -- lunar eclipses take place about twice a year. However, this eclipse is the first in 372 years to occur on the winter solstice -- the first day of winter marked by the shortest day and longest night of the year.

In this video, CTV talks to a Montreal astronomer about the basics of a lunar eclipse:

UPDATE: Lunar experts from NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center will be hosting two live Web chats to discuss the eclipse. On Monday, Dec. 20 from 12-1 p.m. PST, Dr. Rob suggs will answer your questions. Later on Dec. 20, make plans to to stay "up all night" with astronomer Mitzi Adams at she answers your questions from 9 p.m. to 2:00 a.m. PST.

NASA will also be hosting a live video feed of the eclipse starting at 2 p.m. PST. The camera is mounted at NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Ala.