It was a much bigger event than the recent Pineapple Express that slammed into the West Coast. On Monday evening we got a triple whammy: a total lunar eclipse of a full moon on the winter solstice. The last time those events coincided was in 1638.
No surprise that both Facebook and Twitter were all over it. With such musical references as “Total eclipse of the heart” and “It’s a marvelous night for a moondance” being posted by my social networking friends, there was no way I was going to sleep through this slice of history. My late evening’s entertainment choices were either sitting through another sappy Falalala Lifetime holiday movie or watching an outdoor spectacle that hadn’t occurred in 372 years. The moon won over the tube.
According to SPACE.com, there were 12 stages in the event that commenced on the evening of Dec. 20 and spilled over into the 21st. It actually started at 9:29 p.m. PST on Monday, with the moon entering penumbra. I donned my stargazing apparel about an hour later, heading out in a down jacket, fingerless gloves and stuffing my feet into well-worn sheepskin slippers. Looking up in the semi-clear sky high above our house, there she was, the full moon — now entering what is called umbra.
For the next 45 minutes I roamed around our front yard, catching glimpses of the moon as the fog and clouds forced a game of hide 'n seek. With my Canon G11 strapped around my neck, I clicked on those fleeting moments when Luna exposed herself. Was that just a cloud making a shadow, or part of the eclipse?
I flashed back to the 1950s, when a solar eclipse happened in grade school. Our class of fifth graders had been instructed not to look at the sun with our naked eyes or even sunglasses, for fear of going blind. Petrified of losing our eyesight, we willingly made our own little filters by placing glass pieces over a candle to blacken them with soot and safely look at the sun. No such preparations were needed for this lunar eclipse.
My moon watching continued, but the sky wasn’t on my side. I clicked off a few more shots as a big wall of clouds rolled in, shrouding Luna from view. For me, showtime was over, and I headed back into the house. The wind had picked up and it was getting colder; but tomorrow was the first day of winter, and the days would grow longer.
According to the US Naval Observatory, the next eclipse of the moon that falls on a winter solstice is Dec. 21, 2094. I’ll be 143 years old. Way past my bedtime, for sure.