Dec 19

Seen from Central Park in New York at 4:30 a.m., the eclipse is nearly over, but the moon stands high, flanked by Orion on the left and Auriga and Taurus on the right. Credit: Starry Night Software. Full story.

For a few hours on the night of Dec. 20 to Dec. 21, the attention of tens of millions of people will be drawn skyward, where the mottled, coppery globe of our moon will hang completely immersed in the long, tapering cone of shadow cast out into space by our Earth. If the weather is clear, favorably placed skywatchers will have a view of one of nature’s most beautiful spectacles: a total eclipse of the moon.

Unlike a total eclipse of the sun, which is only visible to those in the path of totality, eclipses of the moon can usually be observed from one’s own backyard. The passage of the moon through the Earth’s shadow is equally visible from all places within the hemisphere where the moon is above the horizon.

The total phase of the upcoming event will be visible across all of North and South America, as well as the northern and western part of Europe, and a small part of northeast Asia, including Korea and much of Japan. Totality will also be visible in its entirety from the North Island of New Zealand and Hawaii — a potential viewing audience of about 1.5 billion people.  This will be the first opportunity from any place on earth to see the moon undergo a total eclipse in 34 months. [Amazing photos of a total lunar eclipse]

This star chart shows where in the sky the upcoming lunar eclipse will appear. And check this NASA lunar eclipse chart to see how visible the eclipse will be from different regions around the world.

Stages of the eclipse

There is nothing complicated about viewing this celestial spectacle.  Unlike an eclipse of the sun, which necessitates special viewing precautions in order to avoid eye damage, an eclipse of the moon is perfectly safe to watch. All you’ll need to watch are your eyes, but binoculars or a telescope will give a much nicer view.

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