LRO observes final lunar eclipse of the year

December 9, 2011 By Nancy Jones
This 2003 image shows the ruddy appearance typical of the moon during a lunar eclipse. Credit: Fred Espenak

(PhysOrg.com) -- Orbiting 31 miles above the lunar surface, NASA's Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO) spacecraft will get a "front-row seat" to the total lunar eclipse on Dec. 10, 2011.

LRO's instrument will record how quickly targeted areas on the moon's day side cool off during the eclipse. The degree of cooling is dependent on factors such as how rocky the surface is, how densely packed the is, and its . By studying the during the eclipse, scientists can learn even more about our nearest celestial neighbor.

From beginning to end, the eclipse will last from 11:33 UT (6:33 a.m. EST, 3:33 a.m. PST) to 17:30 UT (12:30 p.m. EST, 9:30 a.m. PST). Totality, the time when Earth's shadow completely covers the moon, will last 51 minutes. All of the United States will see some portion of the eclipse. The West Coast will have a more complete view of this particular eclipse.

The West Coast will see totality as the moon sets and the sun rises. For West Coast viewers, the eclipse begins at 3:33 a.m. PST. The peak, when the moon is a deep red, occurs at 6:30 a.m. PST.

For East Coast residents, the only stage of the eclipse that will be visible is the earliest portion when the moon begins to enter Earth's shadow. This dimming is very slight and may be difficult to see.

A lunar eclipse occurs when Earth is directly between the sun and the moon, blocking the sun's rays and casting a shadow on the moon. As the moon moves deeper and deeper into Earth's shadow, the moon changes color before your very eyes, turning from gray to an orange or deep shade of red.

The moon takes on this new color because sunlight is still able to pass through Earth's atmosphere and cast a glow on the moon. Our atmosphere filters out most of the blue colored light, leaving the red and orange hues that we see during a lunar eclipse. If there are additional dust particles in the atmosphere, the moon will appear to be a darker shade of red.

Unlike solar eclipses, lunar eclipses are perfectly safe to view without any special glasses or equipment. All you need is your own two eyes. Our next opportunity to view a from the U.S. is April 15, 2014, so mark your calendars!

Explore further: Total Lunar Eclipse

Related Stories

Total Lunar Eclipse

February 14, 2008

On Wednesday evening, February 20th, the full Moon over the Americas will turn a delightful shade of red and possibly turquoise, too. It's a total lunar eclipse—the last one until Dec. 2010.

Get Ready For Total Lunar Eclipse Wednesday Night

February 19, 2008

In the late night hours of Feb. 20, 2008, a total lunar eclipse will dazzle the night sky. And this lunar eclipse may be worth staying up for, because it will be the last one until December 2010.

Partial lunar eclipse visible in western skies

June 27, 2010

(AP) -- Skygazers got a treat Saturday when a portion of the moon crossed into the Earth's shadow during a partial lunar eclipse visible in the western United States and Canada, the Pacific and eastern Asia.

New lunar eclipse video released

June 9, 2011

(PhysOrg.com) -- In anticipation of the upcoming lunar eclipse later this month, NASA has released a new video that shows how lunar eclipses work.

Recommended for you

Interstellar seeds could create oases of life

August 27, 2015

We only have one example of a planet with life: Earth. But within the next generation, it should become possible to detect signs of life on planets orbiting distant stars. If we find alien life, new questions will arise. ...

Dawn spacecraft sends sharper scenes from Ceres

August 25, 2015

The closest-yet views of Ceres, delivered by NASA's Dawn spacecraft, show the small world's features in unprecedented detail, including Ceres' tall, conical mountain; crater formation features and narrow, braided fractures.

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.