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Goodnight, Moon: Total lunar eclipse wows the world

Julie Jacobson / AP

A lunar eclipse is seen framed within Turret Arch at Arches National Park near Moab, Utah, on Dec. 10. This total lunar eclipse, which occurs when Earth gets directly between the moon and the sun, will be the last of its kind until April 2014.

Did you catch today's total lunar eclipse? Take a good, long look at these pictures of the dusky dark moon: It'll be more than two years before we see a fresh batch.

The best seats in the house for today's spectacular were in Asia. A lunar eclipse occurs when the moon is positioned just right in its orbit to pass through Earth's shadow. Today, that occurred when Asia and the Pacific were facing right at the moon. Other regions of the world, including some areas of Europe and the western U.S. and Canada, could catch at least part of the show before sunrise or after sunset. Here's a sampling of the snapshots:


Ringo H.W. Chiu / AP

This photo combination shows the different stages of the moon during Saturday's lunar eclipse as seen from the Griffith Observatory in Los Angeles.

Ringo H.W. Chiu / AP

A lunar eclipse and the Hollywood sign are seen from the Griffith Observatory in Los Angeles.

Tim Wimborne / Reuters

The earth's shadow falls on the moon as it undergoes a total lunar eclipse above the Sydney Harbour Bridge in Australia on Dec. 11 local time.

Yoshikazu Tsuno / AFP - Getty Images

A partial lunar eclipse is seen near the Tokyo Tower on Dec. 10. People across Japan were in the prime viewing zone for the total eclipse.

Koji Sasahara / AP

The moon turns red as the earth passes between the moon and the sun during the total lunar eclipse, as seen from Tokyo.

I watched the onset of the eclipse's total phase from our deck, east of Seattle, but the clouds closed in partway through the 51-minute window of totality. Did you see the moon's red glow? Leave a comment below, and if you captured a great picture, point us to it and we just might add it to the roundup.

So if it's a total eclipse, why didn't the moon go totally dark? The lunar surface takes on that dusky appearance during a total eclipse because some sunlight is refracted around Earth by our planet's atmosphere. It's as if the glow of a thousand sunsets is directed toward the moon. This report explains the physics that's involved.

Although there'll be some partial eclipses of the moon in 2012 and 2013, our next dose of lunar eclipse totality won't come until April 15, 2014. But next November, a total solar eclipse will be visible from a narrow track that stretches across northern Australia and the South Pacific. Stay tuned for that one ... and in the meantime, check out these links to eclipse pictures and lore:


Alan Boyle is msnbc.com's science editor. Connect with the Cosmic Log community by "liking" the log's Facebook page, following @b0yle on Twitter and adding the Cosmic Log page to your Google+ presence. You can also check out "The Case for Pluto," my book about the controversial dwarf planet and the search for new worlds.