It was astronomy without eye strain.
Across the Western Hemisphere, people simply craned their necks from parking lots, sidewalks, back yards, apartment windows and even living room sofas to witness a total eclipse of the moon.
While much of the East Coast had lingering clouds, many watched the eclipse surrounded by city lights, which white out meteor showers and more subtle astronomical spectacles. Museums and planetariums put on viewing parties, hoping to seize on the mass appeal of sky watching that didn't demand binoculars.
In Winston-Salem, N.C., dozens stared from the sidewalk in front of SciWorks science museum, some shivering in the subzero wind chill.
They were rewarded with the most impressive lunar eclipse in years, according to SciWorks planetarium Director Duke Johnson: ''It's a much brighter eclipse than we've had in recent years. It's a nice red color.''
Scientists had predicted it would be relatively bright, saying the atmosphere had finally purged darkening chemicals spewed skyward in 1991 by the eruption of Mount Pinatubo in the Philippines.
Starting around 8:30 p.m. CST Thursday with a darkened belt along its left edge, the moon began creeping visibly into Earth's shadow.
The phase of total shadow, when the moon climbed to its height over the East Coast, happened between 11:05 p.m. EST and 12:22 a.m. today. The moon imperceptibly slipped out of the last sliver of Earth's shadow at 2:24 a.m.
''You can tell people what's going to happen. But once they start seeing it, that's really cool,'' said George Fleenor, director of the Bishop Planetarium in Bradenton, Fla., where several hundred people feasted on pizza and barbecue as they watched.
Wherever skies were clear, the eclipse was visible across a huge expanse of the globe: North and South America, as well as parts of Africa and Europe. An eclipse happens when the Earth casts its shadow on the full moon, blocking the sunlight that otherwise reflects off the moon's surface.
For science, eclipses once helped prove the Earth is round, because its shadow on the moon is curved. Today, the subtle coloration of an eclipse can give tips about the chemistry of the atmosphere.
For others, the eclipse was largely a reminder of the wonder of the heavens that can transform the familiar fixture of the moon into a mystery.
''It's an astronomical phenomenon that has great influence on the Earth, that serves to remind us of where we come from,'' said Julio Nieto, who watched with dozens of others from a plaza in Mexico City.
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