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Winter solstice under a red moon

Stephen Nowers

lunar-eclipse-location

Approximate location of the moon at the start of the Dec. 20 eclipse as viewed from Anchorage.

On Monday night Alaskans can celebrate the shortest day of the year with a little extra darkness: A total lunar eclipse will immediately precede the winter solstice.

The Earth's shadow will begin to move across the face of the moon at about 9:30 p.m. Alaska time on Dec. 20. Totality begins at 10:41 p.m. and will last 72 minutes. The show concludes just after 1 a.m. on Dec. 21.

If you've only got a minute to spare -- or you're in Fort Yukon and it's 40-below -- step outside at 11:17 p.m. to catch the eclipse at midpoint.

The best planning in the world won't help if the weather doesn't cooperate and, unfortunately, the forecast doesn't look great for Southcentral Alaska. The National Weather Service is predicting mostly cloudy conditions, with a chance of snow for the Anchorage area.

Total lunar eclipses aren't that unusual (Alaska will see another on Dec. 10, 2011), but the timing with the longest night of the year is pretty rare. The next time it will happen is 2094. NASA has more information on the solstice eclipse here, and you can find a cool collection of eclipse-related graphics at Shadow and Substance. Also, check out Stellarium, a cool open source, desktop planetarium.