Full lunar eclipse tonight

Some will be treated to a a total lunar eclipse tonight, but clouds and scattered showers in Long Island's forecast will likely smother the show.

For 78 minutes, the moon will be transformed into an eerie reddish ball that will hang like a Christmas ornament in the sky. That's because the sun, the earth and the moon will stretch out in a straight line in space with the moon plunging directly into the shadow of the earth.

At first, as the moon begins to move into earth's shadow, it will appear to gradually and mysteriously darken and then, as it becomes completely covered it will begin to glow with a reddish or coppery orange color.

The reason this happens is that sunlight is bent around the edge of the earth by our atmosphere, says News 12 meteorologist Joe Rao. To an astronaut on the moon, the sun would be hidden behind the earth, and backlit by a brilliant red ring of light composed of all of the world's sunrises and sunsets.

So, as the earth's shadow engulfs more and more of the moon, and depending on the state of our atmosphere, the totally eclipsed moon can appear a reddish orange, murky brown or dusky and gray, all depending on the effects of clouds and haze encircling our globe.

The show will get underway at 1:58 a.m. when the earth's dark shadow begins to appear as a bite on the moon's upper left edge. From 3:07 a.m. to 4:25 a.m. the moon will be completely immersed in the earth's shadow and the eclipse will then be in its total phase. After 4:25 a.m., the moon will slowly exit the shadow, the last bit disappearing on the moon's lower right edge at 5:33 a.m.

Viewers don't need to worry about damaging their eyes, because this is an eclipse of the moon, not the sun. A pair of binoculars or a telescope will be able to bring out the subtle shades and colors on the moon during the total phase.

On Long Island rain, cloudly skies and scattered shows are expected overnight, so residents may not get a glimpse of the rare sight.

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