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Lunar eclipse will turn moon a fire red

Saturday's lunar eclipse promises to make the moon appear supersized and bright red for skywatchers in the Western United States and Canada. 

By Denise ChowSPACE.com / December 9, 2011

In this June 16 photo, the moon exhibits a deep orange glow as the Earth casts its shadow in a total lunar eclipse as seen in Manila, Philippines, before dawn. The last total lunar eclipse of the year will be on Saturday. And there won't be another one for three years. Viewers in the western half of the United States will have the best views Saturday well before dawn, Pacific and Mountain Standard Time.

Bullit Marquez/AP

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A total lunar eclipse will occur early Saturday morning (Dec. 10), casting the moon into shadow and making it appear bright red and supersized.

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In North America, skywatchers located in western Canada and the United States should have a great view of the eclipse, which will start at around 7:45 a.m. EST (4:45 a.m. PST, 1245 GMT), when the Earth's shadow begins to creep across the lunar disk.

total lunar eclipse occurs when the Earth passes between the sun and the moon, throwing the moon into shadow.

"For people in the western United States, the eclipse is deepest just before local dawn," NASA scientists said in a statement. "Face west to see the red moon sinking into the horizonas the sun rises behind your back. It's a rare way to begin your day."

Observers in Alaska, Hawaii, Australia, New Zealand, and central and eastern Asia should also be well placed for the celestial show. [Video: Return of the Blood Red Moon]

Unlike solar eclipses that are often visible to people within only a narrow slice of the globe, a lunar eclipse can be seen by anyone on the moon-facing side of the planet, explained Alan MacRobert, senior editor of the magazine Sky & Telescope.

"We're all looking at this together," MacRobert said in a statement.

The reddened moon

By 9:05 a.m. EST (6:05 a.m. PST, 1405 GMT), the moon will be fully engulfed in a glow that could range from light orange to blood red.

Skywatchers in the central time zone may get only a short glimpse, as the moon will set while it is only partially eclipsed, before the total eclipse stage begins, MacRoberts said. Unfortunately, people farther east will also miss out on the opportunity due to the setting moon and rising sun.

But for those who are favorably placed, this eclipse promises a stunning show, NASA officials said.

"Not only will the moon be beautifully red, it will also be inflated by the moon illusion," NASA scientists explained. "For reasons not fully understood by astronomers or psychologists, low-hanging moons look unnaturally large when they beam through trees, buildings and other foreground objects."

In reality, the moon is not any wider, but the human brain sees it differently, and those in the western United States will notice that the moon looks supersized.

And despite passing into shadow, the moon will be appear to be illuminated in dazzling reddish hues.

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