Rare Total Lunar Eclipse for the US Tonight

December 20, 2010; 9:37 AM ET
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Weather dependent, North America will be treated to a total lunar eclipse early Tuesday morning. What makes this eclipse rare is that it coincides with the winter solstice, a feat that has not occurred in over 350 years.

Tuesday's eclipse will begin at 1:33 a.m. EST and will continue through 5:01 a.m.

Totality, the time when Earth's shadow completely covers the moon, will start at 2:41 a.m. and lasts 72 minutes.

Roughly 3:15 a.m. will prove to be the best time to view the eclipse. NASA reports the eclipse will then be at its peak and the moon will display the most brilliant shade of coppery red.

Tuesday is a busy calendar day in the world of astronomy. Not only does the total lunar eclipse take place in the morning, but winter officially gets under way at 6:38 p.m. EST.

It is extremely rare for the two events to take place on the same date. The last such occurrence took place on Dec. 21, 1638, though this was only at the Greenwich meridian, according to Space.com. In the Americas, the eclipse fell on the evening of Dec. 20, 1638 with the solstice following the next day.

The next time the two events pair up will occur on Dec. 21, 2094.

Tuesday's rare eclipse will be visible to all of North America. That is of course weather dependent.

The Southeast will enjoy the best viewing conditions. Clear skies should also grace sky-gazers along the Interstate 95 corridor from Washington, D.C., to Philadelphia to New York City.

A snowstorm swinging back into New England will likely ruin the show for residents in Boston. Those from Fargo to Minneapolis to Chicago to Cincinnati will also be disappointed due to another snowstorm.

A pair of storms will make it nearly impossible for residents across the western-third of the nation to view the eclipse.

Those in the central and southern Plains should be able to catch at least a glimpse of the eclipse underneath a partly cloudy sky.

Where clear skies do prevail, AccuWeather.com Meteorologist and Astronomy Expert Lisa Beightol stated, "The moon won't be hard to find before the eclipse since it's full as of 3:13 a.m. that morning."

As an added treat to star-gazers, Beightol issued a reminder that the Ursid meteor shower follows Wednesday morning.

Benjamin Franklin misses a lunar eclipse in 1743.


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