Science & Environment

Skywatchers observe lunar eclipse

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Media captionProfessor Alan Fitzsimmons from Queen's University, describes the eclipse from Belfast

Skywatchers around the world have been observing a rare total lunar eclipse.

The best viewing conditions for the eclipse were from North and Central America, parts of northern Europe and East Asia.

Total eclipses can turn the Moon a shade of pink or dark red. The eclipse began early on Tuesday morning GMT.

It is the first total lunar eclipse in three years and the first to fall on the Winter Solstice - the shortest day of the year - in nearly 400 years.

The Moon is normally illuminated by the Sun. During a total lunar eclipse, the full Moon passes through the shadow created by the Earth blocking the Sun's light.

Some indirect sunlight can pierce through and give the Moon a dramatic shade of red.

The west coast of America saw the eclipse start on Monday night; observers in North and Central America were able to view the whole event.

Total eclipse began at 0741 GMT on Tuesday (0241 EST on Tuesday; 11:41 PST on Monday).

Western Europe sees the start of the spectacle while western Asia catches only the tail end.

The totality phase - when the moon is entirely inside Earth's shadow - lasted a little over an hour.

"It's perfectly placed so that all of North America can see it," said eclipse expert Fred Espenak of Nasa's Goddard Space Flight Center.

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