Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Upcoming event: Winter Solstice Lunar Eclipse!

In the wee hours of the morning of Tuesday, December 21, viewers in North and Central America and the eastern half of the Pacific will be treated to a total lunar eclipse.  Parts of this eclipse will be visible everywhere else except India, central Eurasia, eastern and southern Africa, the Indian Ocean, and all of Antarctica.

In the past my first thought would have been to see what Jack Horkheimer had to say about this.  Unfortunately, Jack has been dead for several months, and as far as I  know his pre-recorded programs didn't extend out this far.  So I was a little surprised when I went to his old site and found a link to a video for a program about this event.

But...it's not Jack.

OK, obviously I haven't been keeping up with this, but apparently the show has gone on with rotating guest hosts.  I like and appreciate that.  And this host, Dean Regas, is...fine.  Informative, articulate.  But he lacks the madcap enthusiasm and excitement that Jack Horkheimer was able to project.  Then again, so did Jack, at first; the "Star Hustler" persona was something he developed over time.

Anyway, for those who didn't bother to sit through that whole piece, here's the short form:

Quick summary:  the Moon will be totally eclipsed from 2:40 AM - 3:53 AM Eastern Time the morning of December 21.  It will actually be moving into and out of eclipse from about 1:30 AM to about 5:00 AM.  Those earliest and latest stages are really just for completists.  Of more interest is the period from just before totality to just after totality.  You would think that there really isn't much difference between a Moon almost completely in the Earth's shadow and one that is, but in reality the difference is remarkable.

This eclipse is falling on the date of the Winter Solstice.  The last time we had such a coincidence of events was back in 1997, when an eclipse fell very close to Easter during the passage of Comet Hale-Bopp - and the Heaven's Gate cult decided it was time to commit suicide.  (Unless you count the lunar eclipse under which the Red Sox won the 2004 World Series.)  What craziness will ensue this time?

This is the last total lunar eclipse visible in North America until April 15, 2014.  Tax Day.  I wonder what that coincidence of events will bring about?

See also:
NASA - Eclipses During 2010
Total Eclipse of the Moon on Dec. 21, 2010
Total Lunar Eclipse on December 21, 2010
Total lunar eclipse, December 21, 2010 - Astronomy Magazine
SkyandTelescope.com - Observing Highlights - A Sky-High Lunar Eclipse

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