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    Winter Is Coming - And So Is Its First Lunar Eclipse Since 1554 AD
    By News Staff | December 19th 2010 09:20 AM | 8 comments | Print | E-mail | Track Comments
    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.

    lunar eclipse december 21 2010
    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.

    Comments

    Hank
    In Pennsylvania when I was a kid, we had snow banks higher than me to get to the car - the dog stood on top of the snow and watched us dig out and the power was out for quite a while.   The climate was not 'unstable' then, it was an early winter.
    What is with the snide - and completely uncalled for - comments about "NPR pundits" and climate change. If you're going to PRETEND to be scientific, at least pretend not to be prejudiced.

    Hank
    A science site has a responsibility to debunk leftwing massaging of data to fit a cultural topology along with rightwing massaging.  So when BP claims snow means there is no global warming, we make fun of them.  When NPR claims snow means the climate is 'already unstable' (whatever that even means) we make fun of them for it. 

    If NPR doesn't want to be made fun of for making up stupid stuff, the solution is for them not to say stupid, unscientific things with no basis in data.
    If your article had been about climate study, the comment could have been appropriate. For that though, you would have needed to specify the source of the NPR story and specifically who was making the claims that YOU regarded as "leftwing massaging".

    But this story was about the lunar eclipse. A subject that has nothing to do with any of the controversies surrounding increased levels of CO2 and the possible effects on climate.

    I can only assume that your conscious decision to insert a snide comment about an extraneous subject was nothing more than a sophomoric attempt to show off how clever you are. Either that, or an act of desperation because you were completely unable to come up with a lead in paragraph that was actually appropriate

    Quentin Rowe
    Well, I for one am happy that I don't have to climb on a snow-bank to observe the eclipse. We've waited 500 odd years for this, so I don't want to miss the opportunity to watch an astronomical spectacle without freezing my nuts off or getting a stiff neck.

    Ha ha!     ...from down-under!  :-)
    Bonny Bonobo alias Brat
    Quentin, do you know what time the eclipse will be happening here on the East coast of Australia? Presumably it will be after moonrise on the evening of the 22nd, as the article said :-
    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.
    My article about researchers identifying a potential blue green algae cause & L-Serine treatment for Lou Gehrig's ALS, MND, Parkinsons & Alzheimers is at http://www.science20.com/forums/medicine
    Bonny Bonobo alias Brat
    Its OK, I've found it. Time to observe the lunar eclipse for most of the time zone on Australian East Coast: 05:41pm - 9:05pm (EST) On: December 21. See http://www.spacedex.com/lunar-eclipse/
    My article about researchers identifying a potential blue green algae cause & L-Serine treatment for Lou Gehrig's ALS, MND, Parkinsons & Alzheimers is at http://www.science20.com/forums/medicine
    Quentin Rowe
    Hi Helen,

    I'm a bit further south, over in New Zealand. I'm Christchurch, so east coast. My time is 9:08 moon rise, with the eclipse well under way. Earth's shadow is expected to recede 10pm approximately.

    A blood-red moonrise will surely be spectacular, but most of NZ will be shrouded in cloud. Whether I get to see it is a bit hit&miss. Fingers crossed.

    Enjoy your loony eclipse!
    Quentin.