An Eclipsing Solstice

A total eclipse of the moon.

During a lunar eclipse, the moon passes into the earth's shadow. The physical properties of the earth's atmosphere result in the red colouration.

I am excited and hoping for clear skies on this eve of the winter solstice.  For the first time in 456 years there will be a total lunar eclipse in conjunction with the winter solstice.

In North America, you can observe the eclipse, with totality beginning at 23:41 PST December 20, 2010 (07:41 UT December 21, 2010).  The partial eclipse begins at 22:33 PST December 20, 2010 (06:33 UT December 21, 2010), ending at 02:01 PST December 21, 2010 (10:01 UT December 21, 2010).

The winter solstice marks the southernmost extent of the sun.  After the winter solstice, the sun begins its journey back north towards the equator.  The days become longer – slowly at first and accelerating as we approach the vernal (spring) equinox in March.

The last time these two events – a lunar eclipse and the winter solstice – occurred together was in the year 1554 CE.  So, because of the rarity of the event, and also (at least in part) because of the astrological origins of astronomy, many people assign significant mystical, spiritual, or other meaning to it.  Of course, we now know better: astronomy and physics have successfully explained (thank you to Copernicus, Galileo, Brahe, Kepler, Newton, and many others for never giving up!) both phenomena and allow us to calculate (with great accuracy and precision) when similar phenomena will occur or have occured.  Still, it can be fun to observe the significant solar events to an approximation of the ancient Pagan rituals.

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