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Americas get front-row seat for lunar eclipse

CAPE CANAVERAL, Florida -- North and South America, get ready for the first eclipse of the year — in color.

Next Tuesday morning, the moon will be eclipsed by Earth's shadow. This total lunar eclipse will be visible across the Western Hemisphere. The total phase will last 78 minutes, beginning at 3:06 a.m. EDT and ending at 4:24 a.m. EDT.

The moon will be rising in the western Pacific, and so only the last half of the eclipse will be visible there. In much of Europe and Africa, the moon will be setting, so there won't be much, if anything, to see.

Even though the moon is in the Earth's shadow, it should appear a bit colorful, some shade of red or orange. That's from light around the edges of the Earth — essentially sunrises and sunsets — splashing on the lunar surface and faintly lighting up the moon, said Alan MacRobert, senior editor at Sky & Telescope magazine.

On April 29, the Southern Hemisphere will be treated to a rare type of solar eclipse.

In all, four eclipses will occur this year, two lunar and two solar.

Tuesday's lunar eclipse may damage a NASA spacecraft that's been circling the moon since fall. But no worries: it's near the end of its mission.

The robotic orbiter LADEE (LA'-dee) was never designed to endure a lengthy eclipse. Scientists don't know if it will withstand the prolonged cold of the hours-long eclipse.

Even if it freezes up, LADEE will crash into the far side of the moon the following week as planned, after successfully completing its science mission. In an online contest, NASA is asking the public to guess the impact time. Scientists expect LADEE's doomsday to occur on or before April 21.

LADEE stands for Lunar Atmosphere and Dust Environment Explorer. The science-collecting portion of the mission went into overtime at the beginning of March.

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This combination of Saturday, Dec. 10, 2011 photos shows the different stages of the moon during a lunar eclipse as seen from the Griffith Observatory in Los Angeles. On next Tuesday morning, April 15, the moon will be eclipsed by Earth's shadow and will be visible across the Western Hemisphere. The total phase will last 78 minutes. (AP)

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