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Lunar eclipse tonight! How to see it, what it is

A lunar eclipse will be visible in the skies over Southern California early Wednesday morning.

Set your alarm clocks, sky watchers! There's a lunar eclipse coming tonight and you don't want to miss it.

The great news is that the full eclipse will be visible for those of us who live in the western United States. The bad news is we'll have to be awake at some ungodly hours to enjoy it.

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The early stages of the eclipse begin at 1:15 a.m. PDT on Wednesday, but there won't be much to see at that time. This is when the moon will move into the outer shadow of the Earth called the penumbra. The penumbra shadow is so light that it won't be visible to most of us.

At 2:14 a.m. the moon will move into the darker part of the Earth's shadow, called the umbra, and this is when the viewing starts to get good.  If you are patient, and you have clear skies, you can watch our planet's shadow spread across the lunar surface.

The full eclipse, when the Earth's shadow is completely covering the moon, will start at 3:25 a.m. and will continue until 4:24 a.m.

The website Shadow and Substance has put together cool animation about what this all looks like.

Even when the moon is entirely in the shadow of the Earth it should still be visible against the black of the night sky because it will be reflecting the scattered reddish orange light of all the sunsets and sunrises on the Earth back at us.

"If you were standing on the moon during a total lunar eclipse, you would see the Earth as a black disk with a brilliant orange ring around it," said Alan MacRobert, of Sky and Telescope magazine. "And this brilliant ring would be bright enough to dimly light up the lunar landscape."

From here on Earth, the moon will look reddish, rather than its usual luminous white. This is why the lunar eclipse has been dubbed the ominous sounding "blood moon."

If you want a challenge, look for hints of turquoise on the moon's surface as well. The turquoise color occurs when the sun's light passes through the ozone layer of our stratosphere. Ozone absorbs red light, so the ozone layer will appear more blue than the rest of the atmosphere, explains Tony Phillips of spaceweather.com.

Good luck and happy lunar eclipse watching!

Science rules! Follow me @DeborahNetburn and "like" Los Angeles Times Science & Health on Facebook.

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