Pleasanton Weekly

News - December 24, 2010

Longest (and darkest) night of the year

Full lunar solstice eclipse comes again in 2094

Last Monday night was not only the longest night of the year but a night of beautiful celestial activity.

During the lunar eclipse, the earth's shadow covered the full moon, creating a red shadow that was visible by the naked eye. For 72 minutes of eerie totality, an amber light played across much of California, throwing backyards and hills into an unusual state of ruddy shadow.

The eclipse began on at 10:33 p.m. Pacific time and took about an hour for the "bite" to expand and swallow the entire Moon. Totality occurred at 11:41 p.m.

This lunar eclipse was special because it fell on the date of the northern winter solstice. How rare is that? According to Geoff Chester of the US Naval Observatory, while total lunar eclipses in northern winters are fairly common, (there have been three of them in the past 10 years alone), a lunar eclipse smack-dab on the date of the solstice is unusual.

Chester inspected a list of eclipses going back 2000 years.

"Since Year 1, I can only find one previous instance of an eclipse matching the same calendar date as the solstice, and that was Dec. 21, 1638," he said. "Fortunately we won't have to wait 372 years for the next one. That will be on Dec. 21, 2094."

We hope Pleasanton Weekly staffer Amory Gutierrez who snapped this photo will have camera at hand to photograph that one. –Jeb Bing


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