December 21, 2010
- Your Guide to the Darkest Day in 372 Years [Astronomy]
Late Monday night—well, actually, early Tuesday morning—the moon will move into the earth’s shadow, causing a lunar eclipse visible to anyone in North America. Even better, it’s happening on the Winter Solstice, for the first time since 1638.
Now, obviously, you already have your Winter Solstice party/pansexual orgy/potluck planned out to perfection. (Right?) But can you properly include a showing of the first full lunar eclipse in three years? Here’s what you need to know.
- Locate the moon. (Hint: It’s in the sky.) The earth’s shadow should start showing on the moon’s lower left around 1:33 a.m. Eastern time, which is when Fallon ends, if you’re on the east coast, or halfway through Hawaii Five-0, if you’re on the west coast.
- The shadow moves slowly, but by 2:41 a.m., the entire moon will be covered, and will stay that way for an hour. The is the optimal time for consuming your peyote, playing your war drums, murdering people, etc.
- The shadow will start moving again at 3:53 a.m., and the moon will be back to normal by 5:00 a.m. At this point it’s appropriate to do your winter solstice folk dances and poetry recitals.
So, you see: It’s pretty simple. But you might be wondering: What, exactly, is the point of watching a lunar eclipse? Why can’t I just close my eyes? Bad Astronomy’s Phil Plait explains what’s so cool:
Sometimes, atmospheric conditions on Earth will cast an eerie, blood-red shadow on the Moon… it’s really quite stunning, and worth staying up (or getting up early) to see. Also, the Moon does not pass directly through the center of the Earth’s umbral shadow, so the top and bottom halves of the Moon may be dramatically different in appearance and color. There’s no way to predict this, so you’ll just have to go out and see for yourself.
So, something like this:
See! Science can be cool, even on the winter solstice.
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