A rare event not seen in 372 years will occur early Tuesday morning, when a total lunar eclipse coincides with the winter solstice. While you can't see the solstice, the eclipse promises to be an amazing spectacle.
And if that's not enough, a minor meteor shower is expected to send a few shooting stars through the darkened sky during the height of the eclipse.
Weather permitting, viewers in North and South America, as well as the northern and western parts of Europe, and a small area of northeast Asia should get a great view of the total eclipse of the moon.
On the East Coast of North America, the lunar eclipse begins half an hour after midnight on Tuesday; on the West Coast, it begins around 9:30 p.m. PST Monday. In all cases, the lunar eclipse will be observable before the moon sets in the west just as the sun is rising in the east. Maximum eclipse – the really cool part when the moon is totally in shadow – is at 3:17 a.m. EST/12:17 a.m. PST. [Complete Lunar Eclipse Guide]
How it works
During a total lunar eclipse, the Earth gets between the full moon and the sun, blocking the sun's light from bouncing off the lunar surface. A lunar eclipse can only occur at full moon, but since the three objects are not all exactly in the same plane in space, not every full moon produces an eclipse.
Monday's eclipse is particularly special because it also aligns with solstice – the winter solstice in the Northern Hemisphere, and the summer solstice in the Southern Hemisphere. Winter solstice marks the official beginning of winter. The sun is at its lowest in our sky because the North Pole of our tilted planet is pointing away from it.
Winter solstice is also the shortest day of the year, with the longest night. That means that it should be darker Monday night than any other night this year in the Northern Hemisphere. And because of the lunar eclipse, the moon's light will be dimmed as well, meaning this night will be even darker.
Winter solstice has not coincided with a total lunar eclipse since 1638, according to NASA.