Monday, December 20, 2010

Tonight's Adventure! Total Lunar Eclipse During The Winter Solstice

By Danelle Frisbie © 2010

Lunar eclipse Feb 21, 2008 by Gregg L. Ruppel

One of the advantages of having a night owl for a toddler is that we've been able to experience many of the midnight wonders the sky has to offer. I long ago gave up my attempts to get him into a 'normal' schedule (much to the dismay of my mother), and decided instead to just go with my son's natural sleep rhythms - snoozing along side him when he does. The benefits of this arrangement have allowed us to partake in night time adventures that I was never expecting to have before my mothering journey began. We've trekked down to the beach and joined local astronomers in peering through telescopes to check out fantastic visions on more than one occasion. At two-years-old, my son has examined the blue beauty of Neptune, counted its four moons, gone swinging and singing under remarkable meteor showers, gazed upon blue-green Uranus, and indulged in the triple conjunction of Venus, Mars and Saturn. Granted, he understands little more than the fact that these events are all "Woooow!" worthy, and he has no idea that many of the sights we've seen may not occur again in his lifetime, but the experiences are fun nonetheless.

Tonight will be another wonder to indulge in, and if you have tots who play long into the night at your house, it may be something you want to step outside and see as well. It will be the first time since 1638 that we experience a total eclipse of the moon on the winter solstice. The next time this happens will be on December 21, 2094, so for many of us, this truly is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.

 Lunar eclipse will be visible to all of North America

The eclipse will begin tonight (Tuesday morning, Dec 21) at 1:33am EST -- or 10:33pm this evening for those on the Pacific coast. At 1:33am, the Earth's shadow will appear as a dark red 'bite' at the edge of the lunar disk. It will slowly expand over the next hour to 'swallow' the entire moon at 2:41am EST. For 72 minutes, the eerie amber light will dance across the snow of North America (or sand, if you're on the beach like us). Visions of rusty, ruddy shadows will play out before us. This totality will remain until 3:53am.

According to The Weather Channel (TWC), if you are only going out for one look, you may want to do so at 3:17am EST when the moon will be in the deepest shadow of Earth and displaying the boldest shades of coppery red.

Why red?

TWC recently answered this question:
A quick trip to the Moon provides the answer: Imagine yourself standing on a dusty lunar plain looking up at the sky. Overhead hangs Earth, nightside down, completely hiding the sun behind it. The eclipse is underway. You might expect Earth seen in this way to be utterly dark, but it's not. The rim of the planet is on fire! As you scan your eye around Earth's circumference, you're seeing every sunrise and every sunset in the world, all of them, all at once. This incredible light beams into the heart of Earth's shadow, filling it with a coppery glow and transforming the Moon into a great red orb.
How magnificent!


What makes this particular lunar eclipse so rare (the last lunar eclipse was Feb 21, 2008 and there have been three total in the past decade) is that it falls on the same date as the northern winter solstice. The winter solstice holds an extra bit of significance for our family because my partner and I were joined together in a handfasting ceremony on the eve of the winter solstice (my grandfather's birthday) years ago. At the time it was actually the Navy governing our wedding agenda (or lack thereof) as it was the only time deployments matched up with dates family could attend... But now I rather enjoy the significance of it all.

U.S. Naval Observatory's "walking history book," Geoff Chester, has examined eclipse and solstice records from the past 2,000 years, including our handfasting date, and says, "Since Year One, I can only find one previous instance of an eclipse matching the same calendar date as the solstice, and that is December 21, 1638."

So for a truly rare, red event, toss on the snow boots and head outside tonight. You can always take a snooze tomorrow...


If you snap a photo - send it to peaceful parenting. We'll add readers' images to our Lunar Eclipse Facebook photo album here. DrMomma.org@gmail.com 

The last total eclipse of the moon on Feb 21, 2008


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4 comments:

  1. lol no wonder I missed the last eclipse on Feb 21, 2008 - that's the day my first daughter was born, at 1:24 a.m. :)

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  2. "As you scan your eye around Earth's circumference, you're seeing every sunrise and every sunset in the world, all of them, all at once." I like that way of putting it. I also like "It's red for the same reason the sky is blue: the sky has reflected the blue light to earth (and out into space) and let the red light go on."

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  3. While the whole day is often considered "Winter Solstice", the actual moment Solstice occurs is at 6:38pm EST, which is hours after the eclipse has finished.

    I still intend to enjoy both, on the same day.

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  4. I was up feeding my baby and tried so hard to see it, but it was cloudy and snowing in my area. I have to rely on the lovely images shown online.

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