LOS ANGELES - Weather permitting, sky gazers in North and Central America and a sliver of South America will have the best seats for this week's total eclipse of the moon, the only one to occur this year.
The eclipse will happen Monday night on the West Coast and during the wee hours Tuesday on the East Coast. Western Europe will see only the start of the spectacle, while western Asia will catch the tail end.
During a total lunar eclipse, the full moon passes through the shadow created by Earth blocking the sun's light. Some indirect sunlight will manage to pierce through and give the moon a ghostly color.
Since the eclipse coincides with winter solstice, the moon will appear high in the sky - a boon for sky watchers. With recent volcanic eruptions around the globe dumping tons of dust into the atmosphere, scientists predict that the moon may appear darker than usual during the eclipse, glowing an eerie red or brown instead of the usual orange-yellow.
North and Central America should be able to view the entire show, which is expected to last 31/2 hours, if skies are clear. The total eclipse will begin at 2:41 a.m. Tuesday, Philadelphia time. The totality phase - when the moon is entirely inside Earth's shadow - will last a little more than 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.
Among the various outfits that will show the eclipse live is NASA, which has a camera mounted at its Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Ala.
Unlike solar eclipses, lunar eclipses are safe to watch with the naked eye. There will be two total lunar eclipses in 2011, in June and December. North America will miss the June show and witness only part of next December's eclipse.