Tonight's sky will give eclipse watchers a show

COLUMBIA -- Tonight's the night to break the routine. Encourage the kids to stay up late. Let them go out after dark. They might even learn something.

The last total lunar eclipse visible from North America for nearly three years officially begins at 8:43 p.m. But Earth's shadow won't be obvious on the moon for 20 to 30 minutes.

The moon takes 78 minutes to slip completely into the shadow, reaching total eclipse at 10:01 p.m.

Even in totality, the moon is still faintly visible, and that can be the most fascinating part of the eclipse.

Traces of sunlight bend through the Earth's atmosphere, and the same phenomenon that makes sunrises and sunsets colorful throws faint color on the eclipsed moon. It's usually reddish but can take on other tones.

Before you put the groggy kids to bed, note the bright object to the left and down from the moon. That's Saturn. And the bright star just above the moon is Regulus, part of the Leo constellation.

The moon will begin re-emerging around 10:52 p.m., and it will be full again by 12:09 a.m.

If clouds hide the show, mark the calendar for the next one -- Dec. 20, 2010.