December 20, 2010

Winter Solstice To Bring First Full Lunar Eclipse In 456 Years

This year's winter solstice will coincide with a full lunar eclipse for the first time in 456 years.

The winter solstice is the shortest day of the year, and it has not fallen on the same day as a lunar eclipse since 1554, according to NASA.

This eclipse will be the second on two eclipses in 2010.  The first was a partial lunar eclipse that took place on June 26, 2010.  

Some believe that this event holds special significance, such as one ancient culture who saw the winter solstice as a time of renewal.

The winter solstice played an important role in the Greco-Roman rituals.

"It's seen as a time of rebirth or renewal because, astrologically, it's a time where the light comes back," Shane Hawkins, a professor of Greek and Roman studies at Carleton University in Ottawa, told the Montreal Gazette.

"If (the eclipse) happened on the 21st, they might well have been drunk," he said. However, skeptics say that it is just an event with not significance.

"It's quite rare, but there's no profound significance. It's luck of the draw; you got dealt four aces," said Robert Dick, an astronomy instructor at Carleton.

The eclipse will be completely visible for North and South America just after midnight Eastern Time on Tuesday, lasting until about 5:30 a.m. for North and South America.

According to NASA: The eclipse begins on Tuesday morning, Dec. 21st, at 1:33 am EST (Monday, Dec. 20th, at 10:33 pm PST). At that time, Earth's shadow will appear as a dark-red bite at the edge of the lunar disk. It takes about an hour for the "bite" to expand and swallow the entire Moon. Totality commences at 02:41 am EST (11:41 pm PST) and lasts for 72 minutes. If you're planning to dash out for only one quick look -­ it is December, after all -­ choose this moment: 03:17 am EST (17 minutes past midnight PST). That's when the Moon will be in deepest shadow, displaying the most fantastic shades of coppery red. Click to view a a world map of visibility circumstances. Credit: F. Espenak, NASA/GSFC.

Europe will be able to catch a glimpse of the beginning of the lunar eclipse, but Japan will be catching the ending.

This lunar eclipse is part of the Saros cycle, which is an eclipse cycle with a period of 18 years and a little over 11 days.  This cycle is useful for predicting the times of when nearly identical eclipses will occur.


Image Caption: Total lunar eclipse captured January 20-21, 2000. (Mr. Eclipse/Fred Espenak)


On the Net: