Did you get a chance to see the total lunar eclipse last night? If you were in North America, had a clear sky, and you were up during the wee hours, it was a special gift, falling as it did on Solstice.
Some families exchange gifts on Winter Solstice to celebrate the return of daylight. This day marks the shortest day of the year for those of us in the Northern Hemisphere, and the start of winter. To be precise, the Winter Solstice occurs when the sun is at its furthest from the celestial equator.
Earlier in the evening, just before they went to bed, we showed our kids the full moon as it hung low in the sky, straight off our front porch.
We set out our coats and boots, so we wouldn't be fumbling around later. I set the alarm for 2:30 a.m. When it went off, I surprised myself by jumping out of bed and running outside for a quick peek. I decided then to wake up our 7-year-old to come and take a look. This is what we saw--the thinnest slice of bright moon just before the total eclipse.
By now the moon was very small and high in the sky, and I wondered whether she would be impressed. She was very enthusiastic and when I asked if she knew what a lunar eclipse was, she recited back to me what her dad had explained to her earlier: that the moon doesn't shine on its own; that it reflects the light of the sun back to earth; and that when the earth's shadow falls on the moon just right, the shadow covers it up, or 'eclipses' the moon. We also talked about how this was the first eclipse to fall on the Winter Solstice in nearly 400 years.
She went back inside to get warm, and then I brought her out again when the eclipse was complete. The moon was still visible as a dark brown ball.
She went back to bed, this time for good, and I stayed out a little longer to take a few more photos. Here is what the moon looked like through my lens, pretty much the size it appeared to the naked eye. This photo has not been edited or altered.
Here's the same photo, enlarged this time.
I went back in and set the alarm again, but when I went out a bit later, the clouds had rolled in and the show was over.
We wondered later why the moon appears reddish during a total lunar eclipse. The answer is that some faint sunlight is still hitting the surface of the moon. As that light passes back to us through the earth's atmosphere, the dust-filled air acts as a filter and and scatters the blue and green parts of the spectrum. The reddish light of the spectrum is what reaches our eyes. It's the same reason that sunrises and sunsets cast a reddish glow.
I hope you had a chance to see the eclipse last night; if you did, feel free to share your story with us! Also, if you were able to take some photos, however blurry (it was quite hard to capture!) please share them on the TMG flickr pool.
Last, here's NASA's eclipse website with lots of information, including the dates and times of future lunar and solar eclipses. For each event, they include world maps so you can see whether it will be visible from your country.