Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Once In A Lifetime Winter Solstice Moon

We've had two major cold fronts with freezes come through in the last four weeks and joked that it's not even winter yet. Officially, December 1st is the beginning of winter but December 21st is the longest day of the year and traditionally celebrated as the start of winter. Last night the winter solstice arrived with an unusual astronomical event not seen in four centuries. The solstice marks the day in the Earth's annual orbit where the sun at noontime is seen at the lowest point in the sky. Eclipses are not that rare but lunar eclipses happening on the exact winter solstice are extremely rare.

Geoff Chester of the US Naval Observatory inspected a list of eclipses going back 2000 years. "Since Year 1, I can only find one previous instance of an eclipse matching the same calendar date as the solstice, and that is 1638 DEC 21," says Chester. "Fortunately we won't have to wait 372 years for the next one...that will be on 2094 DEC 21."

Without a cloud in the sky, here's how the lunar eclipse was viewed in Orlando. The shadows moved very quickly.

2:12am EST

Photograph by Teresa Watkins

2:19am EST
Photograph by Teresa Watkins

More lunar eclipse links:

NASA Lunar and Solar Eclipse Site

Great animated graphic of an eclipse

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