Sky watchers will have an extra thrill Monday night as the first total lunar eclipse for 2010, and also the first in two years overlaps the winter solstice, the first time this has happened in 456 years. Having both a total lunar eclipse and winter solstice in December 2010 is a treat in itself. But having both occur the same night, overlapping each other, is especially nice. NASA is especially excited, and will be hosting an all-night chat-fest online at their website (see below). Everyone in North America will have a great opportunity to view this event, weather permitting, as well as most of Central America and northwestern South America. Even our friends in Hawaii will be able enjoy this one. So what is a lunar eclipse? Let’s get some details.
The show begins at 05:29:17 UT, Universal Timezome, or 29 minutes after midnight, Tuesday on the East Coast of the USA. The Total Eclipse occurs about two hours later, at 07:40:47 UT with the ‘Greatest Eclipse’ at 08:16:57 UT. The total eclipse ends at 08:53:08 UT, and the whole event wraps up at 11:04:31 UT. The absolute best location for observing this lunar eclipse in all of it’s glory would be on America’s west coast, from southern California to Baja, Mexico, at 3:17am PST.
Unlike a solar eclipse, this one you can watch with the naked eye. During a solar eclipse, the Moon comes in between the Sun and Earth, blotting out the Sun. But in a lunar eclipse, the Earth blocks the Sun, casting a dark shadow across the face of the Moon. At the midway point, the moment of total eclipse, the Moon takes on a distinctive copper-color.
Naturally, telescopes and binoculars will aid in observations. The use of these ‘light buckets’ increases the amount of light your eyes will see, and provide magnification as well. But, as you folks whom have read my other articles on amateur astronomy already know, the night sky moves. So ‘astro-photography’ requires a motorized drive unit if one wants to take quality pictures since objects in the sky move at about one degree every four minutes.
So tomorrow tonight we will have a spectacular show as the last total lunar eclipse for December 2010 occurs at the same time the winter solstice takes place, the first time this has happened in 456 years. From late Monday night into early Tuesday morning, sky-watchers in North America, especially on the west coast, as well as Central America and northwestern South America, will have the best view. Unfortunately, most of Europe, Asia and all of Africa will not be in position to view the event. For idea of what you will see during the lunar eclipse Monday night, watch the video below taken from Hawaii during a lunar eclipse in 2007. I’m sure all of you with a ’special interest’ in such matters will be thrilled.