How to Watch Tonight’s Lunar Eclipse

I snapped this series of photos during a 2008 lunar eclipse.

Not only is tonight’s total lunar eclipse the only one of 2010, it’s the first one any of us on this planet have seen in almost three years, and it won’t happen again until 2014. This one’s also a little extra special by being the first one to happen during a winter solstice in half a millennium. So take an afternoon nap, make some hot chocolate, and find a good spot for late-night eclipse watching.

The 72 minutes of totality will be visible from all of North and South America, as well as much of Europe and part of northeast Asia.

Credit: F. Espenak, NASA

Although it technically starts earlier, you won’t see much happening until around 1:30 a.m. ET (6:30 UT). If you want to catch the “total” part of “total eclipse,” you’ll have those 72 minutes starting around 2:40 ET (7:40 UT).

And if it helps you feel less guilty about keeping the kids up all night, turn it into science class. I went to many a late-night astronomy lab in college–sometimes sleep must be sacrificed for the stars.

  • Take turns rating your viewing on the Danjon scale.
  • If you have an Android phone, try out Google SkyMap for identifying the stars and constellations.
  • Take pictures. If you’re not too confident with the camera yet, this guide might help.
  • For kids more interested in history than science, send them to NASA’s list of eclipses of historical interest. Have them talk about how it would feel to have experienced an eclipse like this if you didn’t know why it was happening.

Total lunar eclipses are my favorite sort of eclipses. Solar eclipses are fun, but you can’t look at them without a tool, even a quick homemade one. And the moon changes colors. Good stuff. Where’s my tripod and hot chocolate?

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