Solstice Lunar Eclipse

1378 AD was the last timethat a lunar eclipse fell on the winter solstice, so for that this is somethingspecial.  Otherwise enjoy the fresh air,take in the eclipse and also look at the stars in the winter sky.  If you are really lucky, you are far from acity.  That is the one thing that I missfrom my own childhood on a farm in Ontario.

It will be the full dealfor North America, so do take it in.

I look forward to the day when this can be observed from themoon itself where it will be even more spectacular.

Solstice Lunar Eclipse

Dec. 17, 2010:  Everyone knowsthat "the moon on the breast of new-fallen snow gives the luster ofmid-day to objects below."

A similar lunar eclipse in Nov. 2003. Credit:Jim Fakatselis. [more]

That is, except during a lunar eclipse.

See for yourself on Dec. 21st, the first dayof northern winter, when the full Moon passes almost dead-center throughEarth's shadow. For 72 minutes of eerie totality, an amber light will playacross the snows of North America, throwinglandscapes into an unusual state of ruddy shadow.

The eclipse begins on Tuesday morning, Dec.21st, at 1:33 am EST (Monday, Dec. 20th, at 10:33 pm PST). At that time,Earth's shadow will appear as a dark-red bite at the edge of the lunar disk. Ittakes about an hour for the "bite" to expand and swallow the entireMoon. Totality commences at 02:41 am EST (11:41 pm PST) and lasts for 72minutes.

If you're planning to dash out for only onequick look -­ it is December,after all -­ choose this moment: 03:17 am EST (17 minutes past midnight PST).That's when the Moon will be in deepest shadow, displaying the most fantasticshades of coppery red.

From first to last bite, the eclipse favorsobservers in North America. The entire eventcan be seen from all points on the continent. Click to view a world map of visibilitycircumstances. Credit: F. Espenak, NASA/GSFC.

Why red?

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. Theeclipse is underway. You might expect Earth seen in this way to be utterlydark, but it's not. The rim of the planet is on fire! As you scan your eyearound Earth's circumference, you're seeing every sunrise and every sunset inthe world, all of them, all at once. This incredible light beams into the heartof Earth's shadow, filling it with a coppery glow and transforming the Mooninto a great red orb.

Back on Earth, the shadowed Moon paints newlyfallen snow with unfamiliar colors--not much luster, but lots of beauty.
Enjoy the show.

Author: Dr. Tony Phillips | Credit: Science@NASA

More Information
Coincidences: This lunar eclipse falls on the date of the northern winter solstice. How rare is that? Total lunar eclipses in northern winter are fairly common. There have been three of them in the past ten years alone. A lunar eclipse smack-dab on the date of the solstice, however, is unusual. Using NASA's 5000 year catalog of lunar eclipses and JPL's HORIZONS ephemeris to match eclipses and solstices, author Dr. Tony Phillips had to go back to the year 1378 to find a similar "winter solstice lunar eclipse."

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