Lunar eclipse: Making the best of a not-so-stellar performance

Tuesday, December 21, 2010 | 2:53 p.m. CST

 COLUMBIA — Close to 1 a.m. Tuesday, shrouded behind thick cloud cover, a lunar eclipse took place in the skies over mid-Missouri; and although inclement weather limited the plans of intrepid sky-gazers here and across the country, the celestial anomaly was visible to anyone with Internet access.

About 1:43 a.m., a full lunar eclipse occurred for the first time in almost three years, accompanied by excited chat room posts exclaiming “Bye-bye Moon,” and “Go Moon Go!” Following along via Twitter, Facebook, AIM and many other streaming sites, people across the continent refused to let a little thing like the weather get in the way of their moon-gazing.

Having foreseen the likelihood of soupy skies, NASA’s eclipse website offered numerous links to webcams and live feeds across the country in places with clear skies. Three minutes before the full eclipse, NASA’s page was swamped by almost 70,000 viewers, most of whom were listed as participating in a live chat to comment on the action.

According to the National Weather Service website, more than half of the United States could see nothing but clouds during the eclipse. Only the lucky inhabitants of the upper and mid-Atlantic coast, parts of Florida and Texas had unobstructed views of the moon.

In addition to a full lunar eclipse, during which the moon passes entirely into the shadow cast by Earth, the eclipse Tuesday marks the first time since 1638 that such an event has fallen on the winter solstice, the longest night of the year. The two astronomical events will not occur in tandem again until 2094, according to NASA’s website.

For those not willing to wait 84 years, the next full lunar eclipses will occur on June 15 and Dec. 10, 2011.

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