Video: Solstice lunar eclipse tonight

  1. Closed captioning of: Solstice lunar eclipse tonight

    >>> tonight that hasn't happened since the year 1638 and it's going to capture attention of well over a billion people across the planet and it's the stuff of folklore throughout history. talking about a full lunar eclipse . it's happening at the peak of winter solstice . we have to go to bed early and watch it ourselves, because it's happening late at night . talking about something that hasn't happened in a long time. last full moon lunar eclipse on the solstice happened hundreds of years ago, some 400 years ago. you can bet celebrants will be going big, perhaps like this. freedom of religion .

    >> that, you see there, is a 30-minute wiccan ritual from a nativist church international. one wiccan high priestess says this is a unique coupling of the masculine energy of the sun with the feminine energy of the moon. now this icon, as i was watching this entire ritual here, chris, they circle around the symbol, which i haven't been able to figure out as of yet, when i know, i'll let you know. interesting in terms of what they're doing there. others to celebrate, portlanding maine, a meditation chanting, they have crystal sing bowls as well. i don't know what that is. also poetry. a dance ceremony in oregon, that tick kicks off 7:00 p.m . local. four hours before the eclipse begins. pretty simple. the sun, the earth , and the moon, they line up. we all know that. perfect line. this causes the earth to cast a huge shadow over the moon , causing it to look like this. bloody red. we've got a picture of that somewhere. here it is. this is what happens when the earth 's atmosphere does something from the light coming from the sun. it acts as a filter. it strips out light from the yellow light from the sun. now, basically only leaves red light hitting the moon. this what happens here, filters it out, and red light hits the moon, bounces back and that's what we see. that's the red light that makes it look so beautiful when watching, again, this lunar eclipse as a light bends there. also factored into this, chris, ash pushing into the atmosphere by volcanos. that can make the moon appear a little bit darker. you can get a sense of what all things will affect. no matter how you mark this first in, let's say, 400 years with kids with friends or, you know, a ritual like this or two, the start time is 1:33 a.m . eastern time . it ends at 5:01 a.m . should be fun.

    >> should be. just so happens i get up at 3:45 every morning. i wouldn't miss it. thank you so much.

    >> i want to bring in with more on the exciting lunar eclipse the director of the hayden planetarium . highly technical question to start off with, how cool is this?

    >> well, it's actually a little less cool than people are making it out to be. first of all, it's a long, drawn-out cosmic event. it takes hours. in the winter, wee hours of the morning i don't know how many people will stay awake in the cold, winter night to watch it.

    >> if you want to say it at its peak on the east coast , set your alarm for the maximum exposure?

    >> so 2:45, 3:00 in the morning. look up for the moon. and it might not even be there because it would have gone deeply into earth shadow as it's cast out into space. this in is what we're looking at, a total lunar eclipse . the moon in its orbit around the earth occasionally enters earth 's shadow and that will happen tonight. it's not as rare as everyone's making it out to be. happens every two or three years. there are two next year. so, what people are getting excited that it's happening on the solstice.

    >> yes.

    >> well --

    >> will it look different than it looked a couple years ago?

    >> no, it's just another day of the year. i could say, it's rare it would happen on my birthday and it would just as rare as it happening on the solstice. these are not rare phenomenon. what's good about a total lunar eclipse , anyone who can see the moon on earth will see the eclipse. un like solar eclipses there's a narrow band where action takes place, you to travel to it, usually in exotic places. we have a chance of a billion people to eyewitness the eclipse.

    >> don't knee a telescope.

    >> binoculars help. it's fun to look at the moon more close up than what your eyes can bring. it will be fun for those who don't mind the cold or don't mind losing sleep.

    >> or those who have a good view from the window. where are l. you be at 3:00?

    >> probably asleep.

    >> you've got to be kidding me.

    >> i like the moon when pie can see it rather than when i can't see it. a quick note about the light coming through earth 's atmosphere, an interesting point, when the moon is deep in the shadow, some light filters refracts around earth 's atmosphere and puts light into the shadow. so we can learn about the conditions of our atmosphere during the peak lunar eclipse , what hues the moon takes on, that's what happens to the sunlight which starts out white, filters through our atmosphere, reflects off the moon. so we can tell whether there's volcanic activities, how our pollution's coming, how clean our air is. that would be interesting to monitor.

By Alan Boyle Science editor
updated 12/20/2010 7:35:51 PM ET 2010-12-21T00:35:51

After weeks of buildup, it's finally time to go outside and see the full moon go dark — or, if it's cloudy, watch the total lunar eclipse over the Internet.

Such eclipses occur when Earth gets precisely between the sun and the moon, casting a shadow that covers every bit of the moon's disk. North Americans should have the best seats in the house for the event, which reaches its climax at 2:41 a.m. ET Tuesday when the total phase begins. For more than an hour, the moon should glow sunset-red, thanks to the light refracted by the edge of Earth's atmosphere.

Image: Eclipse coverage
Sky & Telescope
This map shows which parts of the total lunar eclipse are visible from which parts of the world.
Image: Timetable
Joe Rao /
This table indicates which stages of the eclipse will be visible when: 1. Moon enters penumbral shadow; 2. Penumbral shadow begins to appear; 3. Moon enters umbral shadow; 4. 75 percent coverage of moon; 5. Near-totality; 6. Totality begins; 7. Middle of totality; 8. Totality ends; 9. 75 percent coverage of moon; 10. Moon leaves umbra; 11. Penumbral shadow fades away; 12. Moon leaves penumbral shadow.

This eclipse is notable because it takes place just hours before the December solstice, which marks the beginning of northern winter and southern summer. The last Dec. 21 total lunar eclipse occurred in the year 1638. (Number-crunchers quibbled for a while over whether that one counted as a solstice eclipse, due to shifts between the Julian and Gregorian calendar, but the current consensus is that it does indeed count. The next winter solstice eclipse is due in 2094.)

The timing of the solstice is a coincidence, but it does mean the moon will be riding high in the sky — which should enhance the viewing experience.

The last lunar eclipse, back in June , was merely a partial blackout. Total eclipses of the moon are actually less common than total solar eclipses — that is, if you don't count faint penumbral lunar eclipses. But while the sun's totality is visible only from a narrow track of territory, usually in a remote area, total lunar eclipses are theoretically visible from an entire half of the world at once. Weather permitting, more than a billion people could see tonight's phenomenon.

Now how cool is that?

"Actually it's a little less cool than people are making it out to be," Neil deGrasse Tyson, director of the Hayden Planetarium in New York, told MSNBC. Tyson pointed out that the eclipse proceeds slowly, starting with the first contact of Earth's shadow at 12:29 a.m. ET. From start to finish, the 12 stages of the eclipse go on for about five and a half hours. "I don't know how many people are going to stay awake in the cold, winter night to watch the thing," Tyson said.

The best strategy is to get a glimpse at the full moon every once in a while, then find a nice dark place to keep watch starting at about 2:35 a.m. ET (which would be a reasonable 11:35 p.m. PT for West Coasters). You can see the moon go dark, catch sight of the smoldering reddish glow, and then go back to bed when you've seen enough. At 3:53 a.m. ET, the moon comes out of Earth's shadow, which is another highlight of the event.

There's no need to drag out a telescope: Lunar eclipses are best appreciated with the naked eye, or a good pair of binoculars.

But what if it's cloudy? The weather outlook is not that great for much of the country tonight. (Consult our weather page to check the conditions in your neck of the woods.) Well, there's always the Internet.

NASA is planning to stream live Web video of the moon as seen from Marshall Space Flight Center in Alabama. The embedded video coverage will be accompanied by a Java-enabled Web chat with NASA astronomer Mitzi Adams from midnight to 5 a.m. ET Tuesday. Another lunar expert at Marshall, Rob Suggs, is taking your questions in the same chat forum from 3 to 4 p.m. ET today.

NASA has set up a Flickr group for lunar eclipse photography, and NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory will feature one of the Flickr photos as official JPL computer wallpaper. You can bet that will also offer some great eclipse pictures after the event.

Image: Lunar eclipse
Akira Fujii / Sky & Telescope
Akira Fujii captured this record of the moon's progress dead-center through Earth's shadow in July 2000 by aligning his camera on the same star for successive exposures.

JPL is also offering what it's calling an "I'm There: Lunar Eclipse" social-media campaign for eclipse-watchers. Check out the campaign's Web page for details on what to do and what you'll get. If you're sending out updates via Twitter, include #eclipse and @NASAJPL in your tweets and they just might show up in the live comment stream.

In addition to the eclipse, the night sky offers plenty to look at, including the Ursid meteor shower , a bright Jupiter in evening skies and a bright Venus in morning skies.

The moon's next brush with totality comes next June 15, but North Americans will miss out. West Coasters should be able to spot part of the next total lunar eclipse on the schedule, on the morning of Dec. 10, 2011, until it's interrupted by moonset and sunrise. The next good opportunity for North America comes on April 14-15, 2014. Check out Sky & Telescope's Web site for further details.

To learn much, much more about eclipse lore, click on the links below:

This report is an adapted version of a Cosmic Log posting. Connect with the Cosmic Logcommunity by hitting the "like" button on the Cosmic Log Facebook pageor following's science editor, Alan Boyle, on Twitter (@b0yle).

© 2013 Reprints

Data: Inconstant moon

What causes a lunar eclipse?

Photos: Month in Space: January 2014

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    Slideshow: The Year in Space (Brian Peterson / The Bismarck Tribune via AP) Back to slideshow navigation
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