Slept Through the Lunar Eclipse? No Problem—Here's What It Looked Like

By Andrew Moseman | December 21, 2010 1:05 pm

It’s the chilly winter solstice and the eclipse of the moon happened in the wee hours of this morning, so plenty of people probably didn’t sacrifice sleep and stand out in the cold to watch the sky show. No worries—those who did stay up took pictures.

Total Lunar Eclipse
Total Lunar Eclipse
Total Lunar Eclipse
Total Lunar Eclipse

This eclipse was visible across much of Europe, the Americas and parts of Asia. And it was more unusual than most because it coincided with the winter solstice and today’s official start of winter. [NPR]

Such an astronomical alignment hasn’t happened in centuries, and most people alive today won’t be around for the next one: It doesn’t happen again until 2094. Those who braved the cold and had clear viewing skies got to enjoy hours of the eclipse, as the Earth’s shadow began to fall on our natural satellite during the 1 a.m. hour Eastern time.

The total eclipse began about 2:40 a.m. and lasted 72 minutes, until 3:52 a.m. The moon then continued moving through the Earth’s shadow, emerging completely sometime after 5 a.m. The winter solstice, which occurs later in the day, is the time when the sun reaches its lowest point in the northern sky. The Naval Observatory said this year’s solstice will be at 6:38 p.m. [Washington Post]

But why is the moon bathed in blood red light?

Imagine yourself standing on a dusty lunar plain looking up at the sky. Overhead hangs Earth, nightside down, completely hiding the sun behind it. The eclipse is underway. You might expect Earth seen in this way to be utterly dark, but it’s not. The rim of the planet is on fire! As you scan your eye around Earth’s circumference, you’re seeing every sunrise and every sunset in the world, all of them, all at once. This incredible light beams into the heart of Earth’s shadow, filling it with a coppery glow and transforming the Moon into a great red orb. [NASA Science News]

To see the shadow move across the moon, check out this video by University of Florida professor William Castleman. And check out NASA’s schedule of solar and lunar eclipses to come in 2011.

Winter Solstice Lunar Eclipse from William Castleman on Vimeo.

Related Content:
80beats: Coming Tonight to North America: A Total Lunar Eclipse
80beats: Astronomers Display the Eclipse of a Star With Amazing Thermal Images
Bad Astronomy: Solar Eclipse, From Space!
Bad Astronomy: The July eclipse, from 12,000 meters up

  • Don Taylor

    Thank You and it was very COOL! Don

  • Aaron B.

    Cool picture! I didn’t even know there was a lunar eclipse until I heard it on the news this morning. :0)

  • DJ Busby

    I stayed up all last night taking pictures of it. I just posted the best of them on my site if anyone would like to see! Hope this isn’t regarded as spam,
    Much Respect,

  • patricia thorne

    I am glad to see the eclipse was recorded. We had a lot of cloud cover here in Neshoba co .

  • s

    You know what would have been really cool?

    A camera sent to the moon to take a picture of the Earth’s ring.

  • Liz McCleaster

    I drug myself outside in 20 degree weather just to watch it….it was well worth it!!!

  • Tom

    Thank you very much. I was in the Chicagoland area where Mother Nature decided to help Santa out by dumping snow on us. On the positive side of sky watching, a couple weeks previous I was able to observe the meteor shower for over an hour – saw at least 10 big ones all over the sky – even with neighborhood light polution. Very special.
    Happy New Year!


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