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Rare lunar eclipse to start early Tuesday morning

This file picture taken on February 21, 2008 is combo picture of seven images showing various stages of the lunar eclipse as seen in Sofia. Weather permitting, skygazers in northern America and Europe are in for a treat in the early morning hours of December 21, 2010, when the first total lunar eclipse in almost three years is poised to turn the Moon pink, coppery or even a blood red.

Boryana Katsarova/AFP/Getty Images/Boryana Katsarova/AFP/Getty Images

A blood red moon awaits those determined to stay awake for the total lunar eclipse that starts at 1:33 (ET) Tuesday morning. It's the first one to fall on the winter solstice in more than 300 years, according to NASA.

Lunar eclipses happen about two times a year, but this one is unusual. Dec. 21 is the winter solstice, which is the shortest day of the year. An eclipse hasn't fallen on the date since 1638, and will not happen again until 2094.

For some Canadians, the eclipse could also be a moment of religious significance.

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Mary Lou Whitehorne, president of the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada, said this eclipse will be particularly beautiful because it is one of the rare times the moon will be aligned with the stars of the Milky Way, providing an unusually brilliant backdrop.

Ms. Whitehorne said by 2:41 a.m., the moon will be completely covered and viewers will see shades of orange and brick red. And since the eclipse coincides with the winter solstice, the moon will appear high in the sky - a boon for those lucky enough to have clear skies overhead.

The entire show is expected to last 3 1/2 hours. Clear skies in Winnipeg, Calgary and Ottawa mean residents there have a good shot, whereas snow on the East Coast and rain on the West Coast will mean a virtually zero chance in those regions, while Ontario is looking iffy but still possible, says David Phillips of Environment Canada.

Hindu scripture says an eclipse is an attempt by the demon Rahu to swallow the moon.

Sridhara Jayateerthacharya, a priest with the Hindu Society of Calgary, said Hindus will be called to help the moon escape from Rahu through fasts and ritual chants. Should the moon "escape," Hindus are expected to take a fully clothed bath to ensure all the impurities of Rahu's darkness are washed away.

With reports from Associated Press

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