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Eclipse data by Fred Espnak, NASA GSFC. (full pdf page)

For more about these eclipses and to see some pictures, visit my Lunar Eclipse Page

 

See my Annular Eclipse Page for a look at Arizona's next solar eclipse in May 2012

LUNAR ECLIPSE - DECEMBER 10, 2011

Below is an image of the December 2011 lunar eclipse from South Mountain Park. I took it at 6:57 AM, 9 minutes before the totality. You can see the last sliver of direct sunlight hitting the lunar surface along with some of the reddish light usually associated with a total eclipse. By the time the moon was fully within the umbral shadow at 7:06 AM, it was low enough in the brightening sky to render it all but invisible.

Original eclipse description begins here:
Of the six eclipses this year, two total lunar and four partial solar, Arizona will only get to see the total eclipse of the moon on the early morning of December 10. Unlike the last eclipse of December 2010 which was visible in its entirety, only about the first half of this one will have time to unfold before the moon sets.

With moonset as the limiting factor, your location will determine how much of totality you get to see. The map at left shows eclipse events that will occur at moonset. For example, the U2 line passing by the southeastern corner of Arizona means totality will occur just as the moon sets for that area. Sky watchers in northwestern parts of the state, half way between the U2 and U3 lines, will have mid-eclipse occurring at moonset.

Below is a diagram of eclipse phases and times accurate for Arizona and all states in the Mountain Time Zone. Notice how the moon passes through the southern third of the shadow. This shortens the time of totality and means that the moon's southern limb will tend to remain a bit brighter. The viewpoint of these diagrams are standardized to show north as up. To get an idea of how it should actually be oriented at moonset for your area, subtract your latitude from 90° and rotate this diagram clockwise by that many degrees.

Even though the moon will be totally eclipsed as it sets for observers at Arizona's southeastern corner, they probably won't be able to see it. The reality is that the sun rises a couple of minutes before moonset so the sky will be quite bright. Also, the already-dimmed moon will be very low and further dulled by the thick atmosphere at the horizon.

Observers in Phoenix have a better shot. When totality begins at 7:06, the moon will be about 2.6° above the horizon and 18 minutes before setting with sunrise still 15 minutes away. To spot the moon at this time it is essential to have an unobstructed view of the horizon to the WNW and, of course, perfectly clear skies.

The view of this eclipse gets better the farther you go towards the northwest. This makes the state's best view in the Lake Powell area or the western Arizona Strip where the moon will be 5.5° up in a more subdued sky 32 minutes before sunrise. Conversely, areas where eclipse conditions are equal slant from the southwest to the northeast. Because of this, locations like Ajo, Happy Jack and Monument Valley have nearly the same eclipse/moonset conditions as Phoenix.

No matter what your location, you can better your chances of seeing the fully-eclipsed moon by using binoculars. It's not so much the magnification, but the light gathering power that will help you pick it out from the background sky. Also try shooting a picture of the sky area with a digital camera. Even if you don't happen to see the moon when completely in the umbral shadow, you can study the image later and even enhance the contrast for a much better look.

This total lunar eclipse may not be ideal, but it's still worth catching. You'll have to wait until April 14, 2014 for the next one, though there will be a partial eclipse on June 4, 2012.


All images are copyrighted by Frank Zullo. Please do not use without written permission.