As the cosmic dust settles on the last eclipse of 2011, we are left with a trail of information about the significance of this celestial event.
Not only is this December’s full moon the last one of 2011 but it went out with a bang being the last showing of a Total Lunar Eclipse until 2014. Mark Thompson breaks down how a slight change in the moons orbital cycle is responsible for this and states “We will have lunar eclipses between now and then, but they will only be partial or even ‘penumbral’ when the moon will just skirt through the lighter part of the Earth’s shadow.”
With impossible sights came words equally as impossible to pronounce. A “selenelion” occurs when both the sun and the eclipsed moon can be seen at the same time. This gives way to a “syzgy”, which is a perfect 180° alignment of the sun, the Earth and the moon. Thanks to what some scientist call atmospheric refraction, objects will appear higher or bigger than their actual distance or size, making this ‘impossible’ observation possible. One Seattle tweeter tweets “So no #selenelion but at least I learned a cool new word and had fun trying by driving around Seattle like a tornado tracker.”
So why does the moon turn red? Simply and beautifully put by Jason Major from Universe Today – “The red tint of the Moon during an eclipse is caused by sunlight passing through Earth’s atmosphere, in effect projecting the colors of all the world’s sunsets onto the Moon’s near face. The vibrancy and particular hue seen depends on the clarity of the Earth’s atmosphere at the time of the eclipse.” However the least known details of Saturday’s event was provided by Nasa’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter as it boasted on Twitter about it’s one-of-a-kind view of the moon’s surface “SO excited for my “front row” seat for the eclipse Dec. 10th!” This was definitely the inside information that eclipse enthusiasts were looking for. Leave it up to @astroguyz to get the micro details on the eclipse and give us a play by play via Twitter.