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Lunar Sky Show, In Many Areas

As the moon moved through the shadow of the Earth, 6-year-old Parker Sydnam peered up at the phenomenon through a 6-inch telescope.

"It didn't look really like the moon, just a pink cloud," Parker said.

Skygazers across the nation were treated to the first lunar eclipse visible from North America in three years - if they were lucky enough to have the weather cooperate.

Initially, it was difficult to make out the darkened moon as it rose through haze hanging over Los Angeles.

"It's over there - it's the schmutz in the sky," said Kara Knack, 58, a member of Friends of the Observatory, a Griffith Observatory support group.

The view was sharper through the more than dozen telescopes that amateur astronomers set up on the Griffith Park lawn.

The moon remained totally eclipsed for 53 minutes as seen from North America, appearing darkest around 9 p.m. PDT or midnight on the East Coast.

"We've got clouds. We're clouded out," Kelly Beatty, executive editor of Sky & Telescope magazine in Boston, said sadly.

In El Paso, Texas, about 50 people gathered in front of the Gene Roddenberry Planetarium, despite a seasonal dust storm that sent gusting winds through the area.

Annette Campos dragged a few friends to the planetarium named for the creator of "Star Trek" after reading about the eclipse in her local paper.

"It gives you perspective," Campos said. "It's the one time you get to see how big the Earth is."

A total lunar eclipse occurs when the full moon passes into the shadow of the Earth and is blocked from the direct sunlight that normally illuminates it. During an eclipse, the sun, Earth and moon line up, leaving a darkened moon visible to everyone on the night side of the planet.

The moon does not go totally black, however. Some indirect sunlight still reaches the moon after passing through the Earth's atmosphere. Since the atmosphere filters out blue light, the indirect light that does reach the moon paints it red or orange, as it did Thursday.

Lunar eclipses are safe to view with the naked eye, unlike solar eclipses, which are also far briefer.

Thursday's eclipse was the first visible across North America since January 2000. It also was visible from South and Central America, as well as western Europe and Africa.

A second lunar eclipse on Nov. 8 will be visible from North and South America.

By Andrew Bridges