Stargazing: Lunar eclipse

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Set your alarm for 2 a.m. before you go to bed tonight so you can go outside in the early hours of Tuesday and witness one of nature's grand spectacles: a total lunar eclipse.

A total lunar eclipse occurs during a full moon when the entire moon passes through Earth's umbral or inner shadow. Once the moon comes into contact with the edge of the umbral shadow, it takes about an hour to become fully immersed in the shadow, at which point totality begins. First contact during Tuesday's early-morning eclipse occurs at 1:59 a.m., with totality beginning at 3:08 a.m. Totality will last about 75 minutes until it ends at 4:23 a.m. Look for the eclipsed moon in the southern sky in Virgo, near first-magnitude Spica and Mars.

During totality, the moon can take on an array of colors from dark brown and red to bright orange and yellow. The color depends on how much dust and the number of clouds present in the atmosphere. No special equipment is required to view a lunar eclipse. Just go outside and look up.


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