Lunar Eclipse to Shade the Sky Tonight

The year’s only lunar eclipse will occur late tonight or in the wee hours tomorrow, depending on where you live.

Providing the weather is clear, people in North and Central America and a small region of South America will have the best view of the phenomenon. Western Europe will catch only the beginning glimpses of the eclipse while western Asia will see only the end.

“It’s perfectly placed so that all of North America can see it,” eclipse expert Fred Espenak of NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center told The Associated Press.

The event is expected to last about 3 1/2 hours, and will begin at 11:41 p.m. PST or 2:41 a.m. EST.

When the moon passes through the Earth’s shadow, the earth blocks the sun from illuminating the moon. This is only possible when the moon is full. The totality phase – when the Earth, moon and sun are perfectly aligned, blocking all of the sun’s rays from the moon – will last about 72 minutes.

Indirect sunlight will pass through the Earth’s atmosphere, coloring the moon an eerie orange or red. Scientists say ash and dust from recent volcanic eruptions may darken the eclipsed moon to a deeper red or brown.

North America is lucky enough to have the best seats in the house for 2010′s only total lunar eclipse, but won’t be so fortunate in 2011. The region will miss the June 2011 eclipse entirely, and catch only part of the eclipse expected to occur next December.

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