Monday night and Tuesday morning, the full moon will be hiding in Earth’s shadow. Wouldn’t you know that the longest night of the year, which would have been brightly lit by the glorious full moon, coincides with a rare total lunar eclipse! Actually, the moon will still fill the sky with light most of the night. For 72 minutes, it will darken to a wonderful orange or red shade, and the sky around it darken revealing a canopy of winter stars.
Monday night and Tuesday morning, the full moon will be hiding in Earth’s shadow.
Wouldn’t you know that the longest night of the year, which would have been brightly lit by the glorious full moon, coincides with a rare total lunar eclipse! Actually, the moon will still fill the sky with light most of the night. For 72 minutes, it will darken to a wonderful orange or red shade, and the sky around it darken revealing a canopy of winter stars.
Unfortunately for those in the Eastern time zone, the eclipse occurs after midnight. The farther west you live, the earlier in the night you can see this celestial event. We probably shouldn’t mention the frigid cold or the fact that for many working people, you might be a tad sleepy the next day on the job! The great cycles of our solar system and place and time in the universe are not bound to our convenience. Tremendous acts of nature go forth day and night, and we in our front-row seat have to choose if we will participate even for a minute!
Consider bundling up warm for a backyard excursion in the wee hours. Notice how quiet the neighborhood likely is! Or rather, maybe the neighborhood will be out seeing the eclipse as well. (Hint: Don’t tell anyone I said so, but you CAN rise in the night and peek through your window glass that faces southwest to west at the moon without even disturbing the cat if you’re careful!)
It has been nearly three years since a total lunar eclipse has been seen from North America. Because the path of the moon is inclined away from the straight line from the sun to the Earth, only on occasion does the passage of the moon line right up with the Earth and sun. If the moon is full, which is on the back side of the Earth, it plunges into the conical-shaped shadow of our planet.
Approximately 27 days before or after, when the moon is new, it comes in line between the Earth and sun. At that time we have a solar eclipse. Indeed, on Jan. 4, a partial solar eclipse occurs in the Eastern Hemisphere.
For the Eastern time zone, on Tuesday, Dec. 21, the moon first touches the darkest part of the Earth’s shadow - the umbra - at 1:33 a.m. This is the start of the partial phase of the eclipse, when a “bite” appears to have been taken out of the left side of the moon. The eclipse deepens to the beginning of total eclipse at 2:41 a.m.; mid-eclipse is at 3:17 a.m. and the total phase is over at 3:53 a.m. The moon then re-enters the partial phase as more and more sunlight reaches the moon. The partial phase is done at 5:01 a.m., when the moon is low in the west.
The darkness and hue of the total phase varies from eclipse to eclipse. This depends on conditions in our Earth’s atmosphere. Sunlight refracts around the edge of our world, and what we are seeing is the refection of a ring of fiery sunsets and sunrises as seen from the lunar surface. If there is a lot of dust in the upper atmosphere, as from recent volcanic eruptions, the eclipse may be darker.
The moon will be right above the constellation Orion. Note how the sky changes. Before the eclipse, the brilliant full moon, so very high in the sky around midnight, illuminates the ground and is especially bright if there is a blanket of snow. During the total eclipse, the ground darkens and the sky fills with stars as if there was no moon at all.
How would you describe the eclipsed moon? Some liken it to a peach, an orange or a pumpkin. Darker eclipses have turned the moon brick-red, brown as chocolate or black.
You don’t need a telescope or even binoculars to enjoy a lunar eclipse, and unlike the solar variety, this is perfectly safe to look at. Binoculars or a small telescope, however, will greatly enhance the view.
In a telescope, note how the edge of the shadow appears blurred and has a bluish tinge. The subtle variation in shades gives the moon a very three-dimensional effect. Look for faint stars around the moon and watch how the moon slowly covers them up in its travel.
And you thought the wee hours were only good for sleeping!
Send your impressions, and eclipse photos as well, to email@example.com.
Let’s hope for a clear sky. The next total lunar eclipse visible for all of North America is not until April 14-15, 2014.
A Merry Christmas and happy holidays is extended to all.
Keep looking up!