Do you follow NASA on Twitter? Didn’t think so. But I do. I know. Very edgy. Anyway, I’m glad I do or I might have missed some important news they tweeted earlier this month. North America and the western portion of South America will be treated to a rare total lunar eclipse in the early morning hours of December 21.
And before you go off thinking what I initially though, let me just tell you: No—I’m not confusing the total lunar eclipse with the winter solstice. They actually occur on the exact same day this year, at least if you’re on the east coast.
Wild, isn’t it? According to NASA‘s tweet, on the winter solstice, the very shortest day of the year, we will also witness a total lunar eclipse. If you click on the link NASA provided in their tweet, it takes you to a very technical description of the event. But the Los Angeles Times ran a story yesterday that was easier for the layman to understand, at least it was for this layman.
The action will start at 1:33 am eastern (on what will by then be December 21 on the east coast, but still December 20 on the west coast.) when the moon will begin to enter the Earth’s inner shadow, also known as the Earth’s umbra. At that point, weather permitting, everyone in North America will see a red-brown shadow slowly make its way across the surface of the moon. After 2:41 am the moon will be fully eclipsed and will remain eclipsed until 3:53am. The moon will then begin to come out of the Earth’s umbra and will once again become fully visible 5:01 am eastern.
Unlike a solar eclipse, the moon seldom looks blackened out during a total lunar eclipse. Instead, thanks to the refraction of light from sunrises and sunsets all across the world, the moon usually takes on a bright copper-orange shade, or sometimes a dark red-black shade if there’s a lot of pollution in the atmosphere.
Regardless of what shade the moon becomes, it will be a fantastic event to witness for people of all ages. And unlike the recent Geminid meteor shower, some of us won’t have to stay up too incredibly late to witness it, at least those of us who reside on the west coast, that is. That means the total lunar eclipse could be an ideal activity for the whole family.
Me? I’m on the east coast, but I still may try to watch. After all, total lunar eclipses don’t happen every day. The last time one occurred was on February 20, 2008. And the next one won’t happen until April 14-15 2014.