U.S. missed first total lunar eclipse of 2011

Tuesday, June 21, 2011 | 11:13 a.m. CDT; updated 1:37 p.m. CDT, Tuesday, July 19, 2011
The moon is seen during a total lunar eclipse in Nairobi, Kenya, on June 15. Asian and African night owls were treated to a lunar eclipse, and ash in the atmosphere from a Chilean volcano turned it blood red for some viewers. Astronomical calculations confirm that it would be one of the two longest total lunar eclipses of the century. A total of 85 total lunar eclipses, according to the scientists, will be taking place this century. The longest total lunar eclipse is predicted to occur on July 27, 2018.

CLARIFICATION: The total lunar eclipse was June 15.

LOS ANGELES — The year's first total eclipse of the moon lasted an unusually long time — a rare celestial treat for a wide swath of the globe.

Except in the United States and Canada. North America was left out of Wednesday's lunar spectacle, visible from start to finish from eastern Africa, central Asia, the Middle East and western Australia — weather permitting.

The period when Earth's shadow completely blocks the moon — known as totality — was expected to last a whopping 1 hour and 40 minutes. The last time the moon was covered for this long was July 2000, when it lasted 7 minutes longer than that.

The full moon normally glows from reflected sunlight. A total lunar eclipse occurs when the moon glides through the long shadow cast by the Earth and is blocked from the sunlight illuminating it.

As the moon plunges deeper into Earth's shadow, the disk appears to gradually change color, turning from silver to orange or red. This is because some indirect sunlight still reaches the moon after passing through Earth's atmosphere, which scatters blue light. Only red light strikes the moon, giving it an eerie crimson hue.

It's difficult to predict the exact shade the moon will take in an eclipse. It depends on the amount of dust and clouds are in the atmosphere during the eclipse.

In this eclipse, the moon passing closer than usual to the center of Earth's shadow made the total eclipse phase longer than usual, said NASA eclipse expert Fred Espenak at the Goddard Space Flight Center in Maryland.

The entire eclipse was predicted to last a little over 5 1/2 hours. Observers in Europe missed the first part of the show because it occured before the moon rose. Eastern Asia and eastern Australia wouldn't catch the final stages after the moon set. Portions of South America could see the moon entirely shrouded.

Unlike solar eclipses, lunar eclipses are safe to watch with the naked eye.

Keith Gleason, who runs the Sommers-Bausch Observatory in Boulder, Colo., was disappointed that he would not have a ringside seat to the upcoming eclipse. The last total lunar eclipse visible from the U.S. occurred Dec. 21, 2010, which coincided with winter solstice and was widely observed. Some 1,400 people showed up for a viewing party at the observatory.

"We had an absolutely glorious time," he said.

The next total lunar eclipse will fall on Dec. 10, with best viewing from Asia and Australia. The moon will be completely blotted out for 51 minutes. Only parts of the U.S., including Hawaii and the Pacific Northwest, will catch a glimpse.

The rest of the continental U.S. will have to wait until April 15, 2014 to witness a total lunar eclipse.

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