If you're in one of the areas of the world blanketed by snow, it probably feels like winter is already here - the cold weather has NPR pundits in such a panic they are claiming the snow is worse than global warming because it means (to them) that the climate is already 'unstable'.
But December 21st is officially winter and it is bringing with it a lunar eclipse. Last time that happened? 1554 A.D., according to NASA.
So enjoy it when it happens. You can see it early in the morning on December 21st across North America, Greenland and Iceland, in Western Europe you will see the beginning stages of the eclipse before moonset, and in western Asia the later stages of the eclipse will be visible after moonrise. Unlike solar eclipses, lunar eclipses are perfectly safe to view without any special glasses or equipment.
A lunar eclipse occurs when the Earth lines up directly between the sun and the moon, blocking the sun's rays and casting a shadow on the moon. As the moon moves deeper and deeper into the Earth's shadow, the moon changes color before your very eyes, turning from gray to an orange or deep shade of red.
The moon takes on this new color because indirect sunlight is still able to pass through Earth's atmosphere and cast a glow on the moon. Our atmosphere filters out most of the blue colored light, leaving the red and orange hues that we see during a lunar eclipse. Extra particles in the atmosphere, from say a recent volcanic eruption, will cause the moon to appear a darker shade of red.
Path of the Moon through Earth's umbral and penumbral shadows during the Total Lunar Eclipse of Dec. 21, 2010. Graphic: Fred Espenak/NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center
From beginning to end, the eclipse will last about three hours and twenty-eight minutes. For observers on the east coast of the U.S. the eclipse lasts from 1:33am EST through 5:01 a.m. EST. Viewers on the west coast will be able to tune in a bit earlier. For them the eclipse begins at 10:33 p.m. PST on December 20 and lasts until 2:01am PST on Dec. 21. Totality, the time when Earth's shadow completely covers the moon, will last a lengthy 72 minutes.
While it is merely a coincidence that the eclipse falls on the same date as this year's winter solstice, for eclipse watchers this means that the moon will appear very high in the night sky, as the solstice marks the time when the Earth's axial tilt is farthest away from the sun.
So take this opportunity to stay up late and watch this stunning celestial phenomenon high in the night sky. It will be the last chance for sky watchers in the continental U.S. to see a total lunar eclipse until April 15, 2014.
- PHYSICAL SCIENCES
- EARTH SCIENCES
- LIFE SCIENCES
- SOCIAL SCIENCES
Subscribe to the newsletter
Stay in touch with the scientific world!
Know Science And Want To Write?
- Wait, Let's Not Rush To Be Multiplanetary Or Interstellar - A Comment On Elon Musk's Vision
- Bizarre Forelimb Evolution In Ancient Drepanosaurus Fossil
- Ground Squirrels Use The Sun To Hide Food
- The Social Psychology of Presidential Election Polls, Part 1 of 2
- Paleo: In A Clinical Trial, Bread Made With Ancient Grains Could Benefit Heart Health
- Study Explains Mechanisms Behind Glioblastoma Influence On The Immune System
- A Book By Guido Tonelli
- "No, no cause for concern at all :). It's just a new moon, such as happens once a month. When the..."
- "Nice quote! I googled around for this a bit more and stumbled on a graph that showed earth's energy..."
- "hey robert you ta knowing that tomorrow will be a phenomenon on the moon called black moon ???..."
- "Oh, that's a really interesting point, hadn't thought of that. I agree! Perhaps the most advanced..."
- "Yes that's what I'm saying :). If you want more reassurance do message me on quora, quite a few..."
- Kratom Is A Drug By Any Measure - Treat It Like One
- San Francisco Soda Tax: A Feel-Good Policy Based on Junk Science
- Watson and Crick did not discover DNA
- Is Parenting Kids of Human and Canine Persuasion the Same? Yes!
- Diabetes: MiniMed 670G Hybrid Closed-Loop Insulin System Is A Waypoint To An Artificial Pancreas
- Celebrate Oktoberfest with Beer Chemistry
- 51 U.S. House Members Urges DEA To Delay "Hasty" Ban On Natural Herbal Supplement Kratom
- Women are a quarter of the 1 percent
- Wetlands and agriculture, not fossil fuels, behind the global rise in methane
- Mass immigration is correlated to higher levels of crime, but not causal
- How would you like a kitchen surface that cleans itself?