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Lunar eclipse viewing made easier with free SkySafari Lite

Mel Martin

If you're going to grab a look at the total lunar eclipse tonight (actually early tomorrow morning U.S. Eastern Standard Time) we've got just the app for you.

The developers who brought you the excellent SkySafari astronomy app are offering SkySafari Lite for free today to help you track the eclipse and learn a little more about it.

What makes the early morning show unique is that it comes at the same time as the Winter Solstice. The last time that happened was 1638, and it won't happen again until 2094. Expect the Moon to turn reddish in color, and depending on conditions it might completely vanish for at least part of the 72 minutes that it is within the shadow of the Earth.

The eclipse begins at 1:32 AM EST. The entire disc of the Moon will be covered at 2:41 AM and totality, as it is called, ends at 3:53 AM. The Moon will move completely out of the shadow of the Earth by 5:00 AM. If you're in other time zones, just subtract the correct number of hours for your location.

Gallery: SkySafai Lite | 4 Photos

I ran SkySafari Lite up to the appropriate time here in the Mountain Time Zone and yes, there was the eclipsed moon. As I moved time forward the moon grew brighter until the eclipse ended. Check the Gallery for a screen shot.

I did try a few of my other favorite Astronomy programs like Star Walk, Distant Suns 3, and Pocket Universe, but none of those apps rendered the eclipse. It takes some extra trouble and some math to get it right, and SkySafari Lite did just that. By the way, the beautiful Emerald Observatory app models the relative positions of the Earth, Moon and Sun, which is useful for understanding the mechanics of lunar eclipses.

The full version of SkySafari is US $14.99. It has a lot more features and is a good choice for serious hobbyists, but it doesn't render the eclipse graphically either. So clear or cloudy, wherever you are tonight, get a look at what's happening with Sky Safari Lite and grab the app today while it's free.

By the way, this eclipse is a North American event only. The next total lunar eclipse is visible in Africa, Europe and Asia, and is on June 15, 2011. No matter where you are, or what your weather forecast is for tonight or tomorrow morning, NASA is hosting a live chat and video feed of the eclipse.

SkySafari Lite is a universal app, and runs on the iPhone, iPod touch, and iPad. It does much more than show eclipses. It has detailed maps of the heavens and planets, and uses the internal compass of your iDevice (if it has one), to show you a properly oriented star map as you move device against the sky.

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