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Monday, December 20, 2010

Stargazers Abuzz About Solstice Lunar Eclipse

Stargazers Abuzz About Solstice Lunar Eclipse:
Best viewing at 3:17 a.m. Tuesday according to NASA
(Posted on 12/20)
By Mike Lauterborn
ã 2010. All Rights Reserved.

Fairfield, CT – In some parts, they call it a “two-fer”, as you get two for the price of one. During the overnight span of Monday into Tuesday, North Americans will get a very special two-fer: a lunar eclipse paired with the winter solstice, the shortest day of the year.

In the wee morning hours between 2:41 and 3:53 a.m., the full moon will move into the earth’s shadow. The fact that the eclipse happens on the winter solstice is a true rarity. Though there’s debate about the date, experts generally agree that it last happened in 1638 – one year before the official incorporation of the town of Fairfield.

The Rolnick Observatory at 182 Bayberry Lane in Westport will bear witness to the event, noted Dan Wright, a member of the Board of Directors for the Westport Astronomical Society. The 35-year-old facility will be open specially from 1 a.m. to 3 a.m. for any stargazing fans to visit and brave what Wright predicted would be “breezy and very cold” middle-of-the-night conditions. He advised, “Dress warm… really warm… and if you have binoculars, bring them. Depending on demand, we’ll have several telescopes set up, but plan on being in the elements.”

Wright said skies will be clear for those wanting to watch what he termed “the clockwork of the cosmos.” The totality of the eclipse will be 72 minutes.

There’s much speculation and interest in what color the Moon will turn. Some say it will be dim and copper-colored. Others, like Wright, guess it may be blood red. Of course, it may be entirely impossible to see. Wright said, “It really depends on the amount of aerosols in our atmosphere. The more dust, the redder the moon.”
This is because the moon will only be illuminated by light passing through the earth’s atmosphere.

If you miss this eclipse, said Wright, “The next lunar eclipse is just three years away here in North America. And you won’t have to wait another 372 years to see another eclipse on a solstice as there’s one predicted for December 21, 2094.” For his money though, he was feeling a lot more confident about catching this current eclipse.

Despite the chilly temps, a few hardy locals plan to take in the heavenly show. Christine Mangone of Black Rock, recognizing that she won’t be alive for the next solstice lunar eclipse, said, “This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. Since I am an early bird, I am going to try to get up at 4 a.m., grab a big mug of coffee and go out to St. Mary’s to see it. I was out this morning at 6 a.m. and the Moon was incredible.”

The eclipse, according to a NASA website, actually begins at 1:33 a.m. At that time, Earth’s shadow will show as a dark-red “bite” at the edge of the Moon. It will take about an hour for the bite to expand and swallow the entire Moon. The site advised that if you’re just planning on taking a quick peek, to do so at 3:17 a.m. “when the Moon will be in the deepest shadow, displaying the most fantastic shades of coppery red.”

Overnight temps, according to, were predicted to be in the low 20s, with a real-feel temp in the teens due to wind chill.

Fairfielder Chris Rieck posted an eclipse-related status update on his Facebook page: “Get the cocktails ready!! 2:41 a.m. tonight!” after noting’s announcement that the “Moon will turn into a reddish ball.” As an accompaniment to his libations, he planned to “crank Pink Floyd loud enough to wake the neighbors up.”

One thousand miles south, fellow Facebooker Grant Robin in Miami, FL, had also taken note of the event and planned to catch live footage being captured by WPBT-TV in collaboration with the Miami Science Museum. NASA is hosting a similar live feed of the eclipse, as well as a live chat. 

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