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Winter Solstice 2010 And Lunar Eclipse

December 28, 2010

In case you missed the opportunity to witness total lunar eclipse on winter solstice,  a very rare celestial event, you can thank hundreds and thousands of enthusiastic sky watchers all around the globe who captured the event in the form of beautiful pictures and videos. As we all know that the total lunar eclipse occurs when the moon, earth and sun are lined up perfectly and earth blocks the sun’s radiation reaching the moon. This perfect alignment also explains why total lunar eclipses always occur on a full moon day. As compared to total solar eclipses, total lunar eclipse is not that uncommon; on an average there can be about 4-5 total lunar eclipses in a decade. Additionally, lunar eclipses are visible from large portion of the earth and lasts for a long time(~3-4 hours) as compared to Solar eclipses which is visible only at a particular location and is short lived (few minutes). This year, the lunar eclipse occurred on Dec 21st which coincided with with winter solstice, also called as the first day of winter, which made the event more special. Previous such event occurred in 1638 and next such event will occur in probably after 2-3 centuries. Winter solstice occurs when Earth’s axis is tilt farthest away from the sun resulting in shortest day and longest night of the year. In Northern hemisphere this occurs on Dec 21 or 22 which also marks the beginning of winter.

Coming back to the lunar eclipse, the moon is not completely darkened during the event as compared to the complete darkening of the sun in solar eclipses. Instead you can see moon turning into a red or deep copper colored ball, the reason being that some of the sunlight is refracted by the Earth’s atmosphere and reaches the moon. Shorter wavelengths get scattered by the particulate and aerosols in the atmosphere, only the longer wavelength (red) reaches the moon and that’s why we see moon as red colored ball during lunar eclipses. More is the amount of aerosols or particulate matter in our atmosphere, more reddish moon will appear. Probably, redness of moon during lunar eclipse can tell us about the health of our atmosphere during that time.

Here is another great image taken by Francis Anderson at Tuktoyaktuk in Arctic. Here you can see the moon turning red in the sky as well as beautiful green hue from aurora borealis about which I have written in my previous posts. You can also see those pillars of light, which is basically due to reflection of surrounding lights by tiny ice crystals floating in the atmosphere, doesn’t that look awesome! To finish this post, here’s a beautiful video of the lunar eclipse as seen from Gainesville Florida. The video was taken by Univ of Florida professor William Castleman. Enjoy!

Image credits: | Image 1- JEWEL SAMAD/AFP/Getty Images| Image 2- REUTERS/Aly Song Image 3- Francis Anderson / CC BY-ND

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