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Longest Total Lunar Eclipse in 11 Years Thrills Skywatchers

Skywatcher Derek Keats of Johannesburg, South Africa snapped this photo of the total lunar eclipse of June 15, 2011 with a Canon EOS 50D camera.
Skywatcher Derek Keats of Johannesburg, South Africa snapped this photo of the total lunar eclipse of June 15, 2011 with a Canon EOS 50D camera. (Image credit: Derek Keats)

The moon took on an eerie red hue Wednesday (June 15) during the longest total eclipse in 11 years, amazing skywatchers around the world, even in places where the cosmic event wasn't visible.

The total lunar eclipse, one of two that will occur this year, offered 100 minutes of totality as the moon passed into Earth's shadow, but the eclipse's actual progression took hours.

The moon first dipped into the fringe of Earth's shadow at about 1:24 p.m. EDT (1724 GMT) and left it behind at 7 p.m. EDT (2300 GMT). Not since the 107-minute lunar eclipse of July 16, 2000 has the moon been in Earth's shadow so long. Only four total lunar eclipses, counting this one, have ever lasted 100 minutes or longer.  [Photos: The Long Total Lunar Eclipse of June 2011]

The total lunar eclipse of June 15, 2011 turns the moon a blood-red hue as steam rises from the Mayon volcano on Cagraray Island, Albay in the Philippines. Skywatcher David Matthews snapped this photo just before moonset during the eclipse. (Image credit: David Mattews)

Under a blood moon

"Awesome! We have a perfect view from our neighborhood in Jerusalem, Israel," skywatchers Cecile and Roberta Cohen told in an email. "We started seeing it at 9 p.m. At 10:20 (give or take a minute) the moon was totally eclipsed. We came indoors shortly thereafter because it's cool out, but we can see the moon from our window. Awesome; just awesome!"

According to NASA, the entire lunar eclipse was expected to be visible (weather permitting) from eastern Africa, the Middle East, central Asia and western Australia. European skywatchers missed the very beginning of the eclipse, because the moon was still below the local horizon when the event began. [Video: Inside the June 15 Total Lunar Eclipse]

Skywatcher and photographer David Paleino snapped this view of the total lunar eclipse of June 15, 2011 from Italy using a Fujifilm FinePix S2000HD camera. (Image credit: David Paleino)

In Italy, university student David Paleino snapped stunning views of the eclipse as the moon slowly turned blood-red during its march into Earth's shadow.

"For an astrophile, a lunar eclipse is always fascinating. I also watched it through my telescope, but unfortunately none of the photos made with that were of good quality. Still, it was a great experience," Paleino said in an email. "I'm located in southern Sicily, and here the sky was crystal clear, so I could enjoy the eclipse since the moon rose. Unfortunately, I know of friends located in other places of Italy who couldn't see it, due to clouds mainly."

A screenshot of the skywatching website Slooh, which broadcast the June 15, 2011 total lunar eclipse live via the Internet for free in partnership with the Internet company Google. (Image credit: Slooh)

A digital eclipse experience

While North American skywatchers missed seeing the moon's eerie red glow first-hand, a multitude of live Internet broadcasts allowed everyone the chance to experience the lunar eclipse vicariously.

Internet giant Google and the skywatching website Slooh teamed up to offer live views of the eclipse from three different locations (Dubai, South Africa and Cyprus), with Google modifying its homepage logo for the cosmic event. A live view of the moon, as it appeared in the Slooh camera, took over one of the letter O's in the company's logo.

A screenshot of the Google homepage on June 15, 2011, which incorporated a live view of the total lunar eclipse into the company's logo doodle. (Image credit: Google)

"Wow! Just Wow!," wrote reader Shawn Roberts in a comment posted on this website. "You can't see the eclipse in North America, but the Internet is just as good with these live shots! Phenomenal!"

Total lunar eclipses occur when the Earth passes directly between the sun and the moon, casting a shadow through which the moon passes. The result is often a reddish or deep orange moon, since the sunlight that normally gives the moon its bright appearance (by reflecting off its surface) is blocked by the Earth.

"The moon takes on this new color because indirect sunlight is still able to pass through Earth's atmosphere and cast a glow on the moon," NASA officials said in a statement. "Our atmosphere filters out most of the blue-colored light, leaving the red and orange hues that we see during a lunar eclipse. Extra particles in the atmosphere, from say a recent volcanic eruption, will cause the moon to appear a darker shade of red."

The city of Zagreb, Croatia shines under an eerie red moon during the total lunar eclipse of June 15, 2011. This photo was taken from Sljeme mountain in Croatia by a skywatcher Phillip Bailey. (Image credit: Phillip in Zagreb, Croatia)

Wednesday's shadowy moon event was the first of two lunar eclipses in 2011. The next total lunar eclipse this year will occur on Dec. 10. That event should be visible from the western United States and Canada. 

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Tariq Malik

SPACE.COM EDITOR IN CHIEF — Tariq joined the team in 2001 as a staff writer, and later editor, covering human spaceflight, exploration and space science. He became's Managing Editor in 2009. Before joining, Tariq was a staff reporter for The Los Angeles Times. He is also an Eagle Scout (yes, he has the Space Exploration merit badge) and went to Space Camp four times as a kid and a fifth time as an adult. He has journalism degrees from the University of Southern California and New York University. To see his latest project, you can follow Tariq on Google+, Twitter and on Facebook.