Total Eclipse of the Moon

This is a post by Rossa, with embellishments by James Higham.


Are you aware that a Lunar eclipse and the Winter Solstice are to coincide on 21-12-10, at 6:33 a.m.?  Make sure not to miss it.

How often do you get to witness an event that has not been seen since the year 1378? Actually, there seems to be some contradiction about how many years it has been since a full lunar eclipse coinciding with the Solstice.   This article says 372 years.   And the next time it is supposed to happen is in 2094.

Then there’s this one, which suggests 456 years, if you base it on GMT.  So you pays your money and picks your choice!

It will be seen in its totality mainly in the US and in Europe around Moonset. For those that can see it, the moon will likely appear as a deep coppery red, like this 2003 eclipse photo below.

This is a major event astronomically and astrologically as the totality lasts for 72 minutes and there are other planetary objects lining up to watch the show.

An astrological view

The Full Moon lunar eclipse on December 21st is the first eclipse in the new Sagittarius-Gemini series. The Sun at 29 degrees Sagittarius and the Moon at 29 degrees Gemini form a mutable T-square with Jupiter and Uranus, both back in late Pisces after their brief foray into Aries over the summer.

As you can see in this diagram from Astropro, Pluto, Mars and Mercury will be conjunct the Sun (top left) opposite the Moon with Earth right in the middle between them. Jupiter and Uranus are in Pisces (bottom left) forming the “leg” to the T-square. The Square in Astrology is created by a 90º angle between points in the Zodiac.

NASA’s view

The last lunar eclipse of 2010 is especially well placed for observers throughout North America. The eclipse occurs at the Moon’s descending node in eastern Taurus, four days before perigee.

The Moon’s orbital trajectory takes it through the northern half of Earth’s umbral shadow. Although the eclipse is not central, the total phase still lasts 72 minutes. The Moon’s path through Earth’s shadows as well as a map illustrating worldwide visibility of the event are shown here. The timings of the major eclipse phases are listed below.

From first to last bite, the eclipse favors observers in North America. The entire event can be seen from all points on the continent. Credit: F. Espenak, NASA/GSFC.

Penumbral Eclipse Begins: 05:29:17 UT
Partial Eclipse Begins: 06:32:37 UT
Total Eclipse Begins: 07:40:47 UT
Greatest Eclipse: 08:16:57 UT
Total Eclipse Ends: 08:53:08 UT
Partial Eclipse Ends: 10:01:20 UT
Penumbral Eclipse Ends: 11:04:31 UT

At the instant of greatest eclipse (08:17 UT) the Moon lies near the zenith for observers in southern California and Baja Mexico. At this time, the umbral magnitude peaks at 1.2561 as the Moon’s southern limb passes 2.8 arc-minutes north of the shadow’s central axis. In contrast, the Moon’s northern limb lies 8.1 arc-minutes from the northern edge of the umbra and 34.6 arc-minutes from the shadow center. Thus, the southern half of the Moon will appear much darker than the northern half because it lies deeper in the umbra. Since the Moon samples a large range of umbral depths during totality, its appearance will change dramatically with time.

The entire event is visible from North America and western South America. Observers along South America’s east coast miss the late stages of the eclipse because they occur after moonset. Likewise much of Europe and Africa experience moonset while the eclipse is in progress. Only northern Scandinavians can catch the entire event from Europe. For observers in eastern Asia the Moon rises in eclipse. None of the eclipse is visible from south and east Africa, the Middle East or South Asia.

The December 21 total lunar eclipse belongs to Saros 125 a series of 72 eclipses in the following sequence: 17 penumbral, 13 partial, 26 total, 9 partial, and 7 penumbral lunar eclipses. Complete details for the series can be found at:

The view from the United States

A similar lunar eclipse in Nov. 2003. Credit: Jim Fakatselis

From Science @ NASA, they write: Everyone knows that “the moon on the breast of new-fallen snow gives the luster of mid-day to objects below.” That is, except during a lunar eclipse.

See for yourself on Dec. 21st, the first day of northern winter, when the full Moon passes almost dead-centre through the Earth’s shadow. For 72 minutes of eerie totality, an amber light will play across the snows of North America, throwing landscapes into an unusual state of ruddy shadow.

The eclipse begins on Tuesday morning, Dec. 21st, at 1:33 am EST (Monday, Dec. 20th, at 10:33 pm PST). At that time, Earth’s shadow will appear as a dark-red bite at the edge of the lunar disk. It takes about an hour for the “bite” to expand and swallow the entire Moon. Totality commences at 02:41 am EST (11:41 pm PST) and lasts for 72 minutes.

If you’re planning to dash out for only one quick look -­ it is December, after all -­ choose this moment: 03:17 am EST (17 minutes past midnight PST). That’s when the Moon will be in deepest shadow, displaying the most fantastic shades of coppery red.

Why red?

Example: Image via Wikipedia

A quick trip to the Moon provides the answer: 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.

Back on Earth, the shadowed Moon paints newly fallen snow with unfamiliar colors–not much luster, but lots of beauty.

This lunar eclipse falls on the date of the northern winter solstice. How rare is that? Total lunar eclipses in northern winter are fairly common. There have been three of them in the past ten years alone. A lunar eclipse smack-dab on the date of the solstice, however, is unusual. Using NASA’s 5000 year catalog of lunar eclipses and JPL’s HORIZONS ephemeris to match eclipses and solstices, author Dr. Tony Phillips had to go back to the year 1378 to find a similar “winter solstice lunar eclipse.”

Author: Dr. Tony Phillips | Credit: Science@NASA


Rossa mentions 1378 as a possible date for the last time this occurred – a total eclipse on the winter solstice, remember.  Well, a bit of fishing around and we have this for 1378:

One, two and  The War of Chiogga

Lyndon H. LaRouche, Jr., The Coming Fall of the House of Windsor:

The currently ending 500-year cycle in European history, which came to the surface during the Fifteenth century, has been determined by the emerging conflict between the two leading forces within European culture during that century. On the one side, there were the forces of the Golden Renaissance, centered around such figures as Cardinal Nicolaus of Cusa and the 1439-40 Council of Florence. On the opposing side, was the re-emerging power of the Venice-centered European aristocratic and financier oligarchy. … All European history since the Fifteenth century within Europe and globally, has been dominated by the cultural conflict between the radiated influence of the Renaissance and the opposing, Venice-launched force of the so-called ‘Enlightenment.’

And these factors:

1378 is a Triangular Number.

1378 is a 231-gonal Number.

1378 is a Centered Nonagonal Number.

In the year 1378 AD “Halley’s Comet” visited the Earth.

Also, why was Chaucer sent to Milan in 1378?

There is the beginning of mercenary armies:

Also known as Giovanni Acuto, Sir John Hawkwood (born in 1320 and died in 1394) was the captain of English mercenaries operating in Italy during Chaucer’s day.

A member of the Compagnia Bianca (the White Company, known for its shiny armor), Hawkwood gained notoriety for leading night raids and his men were greatly feared (and admired, by some). Instead of remaining loyal to any particular ruler, Hawkwood gave his services to anyone who paid him enough.

Chaucer met with Hawkwood and the Milan despot Bernabo Visconti during a trip to Lombardy in 1378, although the exact purpose of the mission remains uncertain. For more on Sir John Hawkwood, see David Wallace, Chaucerian Polity (Stanford University Press, 1997), pp. 33-40.

And not forgetting The Revolt of the Ciompi.  Auspicious times – the beginning of the Schism and the rise of the Venetians seemed the most important.

4 comments for “Total Eclipse of the Moon

  1. Rossa
    December 20, 2010 at 21:03

    This is a good site for all the info on times for the phases of the eclipse. Depending on the weather we should see a fair amount of the action.

  2. Rossa
    December 21, 2010 at 07:32

    Very little cloud cover so managed to see the whole thing from 6.20am. Totality at 7.15am and still “gone missing”. Sunrise here about 8.20am.

    Venus very bright and stationary in the sky. She has been retrograde for a couple of months, now stationary and about to go direct again. Lighting up the Southeastern sky.

    And 2 major earthquakes in Iran….and 5 volcanos active at Kamchatka east of Russia!

  3. December 21, 2010 at 17:53

    It snowed all night in Salt Lake, and is still snowing. We haven’t even seen the sun for three days, let alone the moon.

  4. December 21, 2010 at 18:41

    Ditto with me here – wasn’t able to see anything.

Comments are closed.