Total Lunar Eclipse December 20/21, 2010

This eclipse is supposed to be one of the best ever. What makes this years’ eclipse so special is the fact that the moon will be very high in the sky and so the eclipse will be seen from coast to coast. Moreover, it is the first total lunar eclipse to occur during the Winter Solstice since 1378!

Lunar eclipses always occur at full moon when the moon is behind the Earth from the sun and the Earth’s shadow is cast upon the moon. Therefore, both lunar and solar eclipses can only occur when the Earth, Sun and Moon are directly aligned.

Why Will the Moon Look Copper?

Theoretically, the moon should disappear from sight during totality, since it is completely in the Earth’s shadow. But in this eclipse, the moon will become a gorgeous copper color because of the Earth’s atmosphere. If the Earth had no atmosphere, the moon would be completely dark during an eclipse. The red coloring arises because some sunlight still reaches the moon. Only direct sunlight is blocked. However, for the light that does manage to reach the moon, it must pass through a long and dense layer of the Earth’s atmosphere, where it is scattered. Shorter wavelengths are more likely to be scattered by the small particles, and so by the time the light has passed through the atmosphere, the longer wavelengths dominate. This resulting light we perceive as red.

Eclipse totality will last from 2:41 to 2:53 AM EST.


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19 Responses to Total Lunar Eclipse December 20/21, 2010

  1. Trish says:

    Another blogging friend posted about this yesterday and mentioned that this is the first Lunar Eclipse on a Winter Solstice in 456 years. How about that? 😉

    Glad to have you guys blogging about such things otherwise I’d be in the dark! That copper moon is simply gorgeous!

    • 1378 was actually a pretty action-filled year. The Black Plague was still going on in some places (which killed an estimated 75 million people – 30-60% of the European population), and it was also the start of the Great Western Schism (during which two men simultaneously claimed to be the true pope). And for this year, according to today’s paper, “Earthquakes, heat waves, floods, volcanoes, super-typhoons, blizzards, landslides and droughts killed at least a quarter-million people in 2010 – the deadliest year in more than a generation. More people were killed worldwide by natural disasters this year than have been killed in terrorism attacks in the past 40 years combined.” Obviously it all relates to the eclipse….

  2. JoAnn says:

    Thanks so much for posting this. I may have to set my alarm… if I’m not still up wrapping and baking!

  3. Sandy says:

    As always, you are educating us! Were you a teacher in a former life? The big question is whether I will be able to stay up to see this. I’ll see if my son is game. He has no issues with late-night.

  4. Care says:

    COOL!!! Thanks.

  5. zibilee says:

    My husband is so excited about this!! Thanks for explaining it all to us, because when he tried to tell me, it went right over my head!!

  6. Rural View says:

    Can you imagine how the lunar eclipse must have frightened people during the plague? They must have been absolutely positive the end of the world had come.

  7. Ooooh this is so cool! My son and husband and I have been playing around with space stuff, recently. We’ll have to add this to our studies. ;O0

  8. marthalama says:

    This is so exciting. My kids and I can’t wait. Thought we’ve had cloudy, rainy weather so I don’t know how lucky we’ll be.

  9. Margot says:

    We are here in Portland, Oregon, the rain capital of the world, and we’re going to miss it. It was a choice between the lunar eclipse or seeing the granddaughters. Great explanation of he eclipse and the history behind it. I’m with Sandy – you were either a great teacher or a great researcher or both, and still doing a great job for us. Thanks.

  10. ds says:

    Cool! I will have to figure out a way to be awake for this one. Wonder what sort of lunacy an eclipse coupled with the solstice is likely to bring…

    Thanks so much for the lesson. You present it so well!

  11. Staci says:

    I just may have to get up and check this out!

  12. Jenny says:

    *sigh* This sounds cool but I just cannot face being awake at that hour. I am tired. I will have to catch a lunar eclipse some other year.

  13. Jenners says:

    Jeez … why can’t this happen while I’ll be awake!!???

    And I hope it doesn’t turn out like the eclipse in “Life As We Knew It.” Maybe I should stock up on chocolate just in case.

  14. Amanda says:

    Since 1378?? The news tonight said 16-something…hm…well either way, I’m debating getting up for it. Even if it’s from about 2-3 am…

  15. Alyce says:

    I heard about this and was very excited until my husband reminded me that chances were slim of us seeing it since it’s been so stormy and cloudy here lately. We’ll have to step outside tonight before bed though and see if we can see anything besides the clouds.

  16. Nymeth says:

    I’m worried I’m going to miss it because it’s so cloudy here :\

  17. I was actually awake, working through the night, and still was able to forget to go outside and watch it.

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