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Image: Dec. 20 total lunar eclipse
Kevin R. Witman
Photo of the Dec. 20 total lunar eclipse from Cochranville, Pa. taken by Kevin R. Witman, using a Meade LX50 10" Schmidt Cassegrain telescope and a Canon XS DSLR camera.
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updated 12/21/2010 6:40:47 PM ET 2010-12-21T23:40:47

A blood-red moon hung in the black sky on the darkest night of the year.

This week's total lunar eclipse was the only one this year and the only one in the last 372 years to coincide with the winter solstice in the Northern Hemisphere, which marks the longest and darkest night of the year.

Skywatchers around the country got some gorgeous views of the moon late Monday night and early Tuesday morning, as long as it wasn't obscured by clouds.

"The blue edge to Earth's shadow set against the reddened moon was indescribably beautiful!" Jimmy Westlake, an astronomy professor at Colorado Mountain College in Steamboat Springs, Colo., said of the view moments before the beginning of totality, when the moon is fully engulfed in Earth's shadow. Westlake was viewing this eclipse from near Dublin, Ga. [ Westlake's photo ]

Westlake also managed to snap a picture of the moon with star constellations behind it. "The totally eclipsed moon was positioned at the feet of the Gemini Twins and near the M35 star cluster," he told Space.com.

A total lunar eclipse occurs when the Earth aligns between a full moon and the sun, blocking any sunlight from reflecting off the moon's surface.

"The perfect Christmas Gift from Mother Nature!!!!!" Kevin R. Witman of Cochranville, Pa. wrote on SpaceWeather.com. "Definitely a lighter eclipse compared to past years."

Witman captured two photos of an amber, bronze and orange moon.

The color of an eclipsed moon will vary depending on weather conditions, the amount and types of small particulates in the air, and the optical equipment being used (hues tend to be more vivid with the naked eye than in telescopes). The French astronomer Andre-Louis Danjon introduced a five-point scale of lunar luminosity ("L") to classify the color of eclipses, with L=0 being a very dark eclipse with the moon almost invisible, and an L = 4 being a very bright copper-red or orange eclipse. [ More photos of past lunar eclipses ]

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David and Jaime Campbell of Lawrenceville, N.J., and Michael Vagnetti of Brooklyn, N.Y. both wrote to SPACE.com to say they estimated last night's eclipse to be an L=2 on the scale, corresponding to a deep red or rust-colored eclipse.

Robert Lane, viewing from Windermere, Fla., concurred.

"I had an excellent view of the eclipse with pretty good darkness conditions," he wrote in an e-mail. "At 0317 Eastern time, I observed probably 95 percent of disk to be dark red in color with a slightly lighter ring as the perimeter."

© 2013 Space.com. All rights reserved. More from Space.com.

Video: Lunar eclipse delivers solstice special

  1. Closed captioning of: Lunar eclipse delivers solstice special

    >>> did you set your alarm to drag yourself or a loved one outside to see the total lunar eclipse ? turns out a lot of people did including a viewer of ours in brisbane, australia, who captured the image as an aircraft streaked across the sky. the first time since 1638 that a lunar eclipse has happened on the same day as the winter solstice and it won't happen again until 2094 . our resident astronomy expert, dr. tyson of the planetarium was intrigued by the dark amber color of the moon.

Photos: Your pictures of the lunar eclipse

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  1. Seeing triple

    The total lunar eclipse of Dec. 21 was the first such eclipse in almost 400 years to take place on the same day as a winter equinox, and msnbc.com users made good use of the opportunity. Here are three pictures that David Terao shot just outside his home in Silver Spring, Md., starting at about 3 a.m. ET. "It was cold - in the 20s - but a nice clear sky," he wrote. "Shot with a Canon 5D DSLR with a 100-400mm lens set at 400mm. Exposure at 2 seconds at f5.6." (David Terao) Back to slideshow navigation
  2. Cosmic orange

    The eclipsed moon glows orange in a photo from Paul DeSanto of Drexel Hill, Pa. "Photo taken using an Olympus E-510 at 3:17 a.m.," he writes. The moon takes on a red-orange glow during a total eclipse because it shines with the light refracted by Earth's atmosphere. (Paul DeSanto) Back to slideshow navigation
  3. Orion points the way

    This photo from Scott Anderson of Sioux Falls, S.D., includes a well-known constellation as a guide. "High in the sky above the constellation Orion, the moon is totally eclipsed by the earth," Anderson writes. "Bright and red, it appeared almost as if the planet Mars had become a closer neighbor in the night sky." This photo was taken near Uvalde, Texas. (Scott Anderson) Back to slideshow navigation
  4. Dark moon

    The color of the moon during a total eclipse depends in part upon atmospheric conditions. Here's a view sent in by Camilo Garzon of Davie, Fla., taken at 3:45 a.m. ET Dec. 21. (Camilo Garzon) Back to slideshow navigation
  5. View from Down Under

    Lou Cetrangelo of Saint James, N.Y., passes along a photo taken by his son, Matthew, who lives in Brisbane, Australia. Here's the note that Matthew included with the e-mailed picture: "We had another lunar eclipse tonight. So I thought I’d try out my camera again on a tripod. Here’s a shot I took just a few minutes ago. Talk about being in the right place at the right time, and having the camera set up correctly! (Not usually my style.)" The camera settings were ISO 800, shutter speed 200, aperture f5.6, 300 zoom. (Lou Cetrangelo) Back to slideshow navigation
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  1. David Terao
    Above: Slideshow (5) Your pictures of the lunar eclipse
  2. Image:
    Y. Beletsky / ESO
    Slideshow (12) Month in Space: January 2014

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