While the Winter Solstice always brings the promise of new light and new beginnings, this year’s Winter Solstice promises to be even more interesting… for not only will December 21st be the traditional day of Yule, it will also be a Full Moon. And this month’s Full Moon will also be the time of the Lunar Eclipse.
It’s been nearly three years since folks in North America last saw a total lunar eclipse, and this one promises to be quite spectacular. Winter full moons are high in the sky, so this moon will pass almost directly overhead in the middle of the eclipse. And since this is a deep eclipse, the colors should be quite interesting.
Eclipses occur when the Sun, Earth, and Moon come into particular alignment with each other at special times of either the New or Full Moon. A solar eclipse occurs at the New Moon phase, while a lunar eclipse can only take place during the Full Moon. While there are three types of eclipses – partial, total, and annular; whether or not one can actually view the eclipse depends greatly on just where the observer is located on earth.
In a Lunar Eclipse, the moon is on the opposite side of the Earth to the Sun, thus traveling through the shadow of the Earth. This shadow is known as the umbra, and as the Moon passes through it, section of its disc are gradually dimmed. Since this is a total eclipse, the Moon will appear to go rapidly through its phases (crescent, half, full) until it reaches totality, and then it reverses the process as more and more of its face gradually returns.
Contrary to what one might think, it is actually rare for the moon to go black during an eclipse. Rather, it remains visible, taking on the reddish glow of “Earthshine” – the light which reflects off the Earth. Sometimes this color can be as bright and coppery as a newly-minted penny; at other times it can look chocolate brown or deep blood red.
Once feared as harbingers of doom, eclipses were blamed for everything from the death of a king to the destruction of crops; the maddening of livestock to the malevolence of war. Even today, they still fill us with awe and wonder, and many still believe that eclipses tie in with cyclical changes that are reflected on both a personal and political level. Indeed, eclipses often symbolize change and transition, and while they can indeed foretell that doom and gloom, more often they signal a need to prepare for the challenges which lie ahead of us, yet to also be open to those turning points which might have a significant effect on your life.
Depending on which part of the USA you reside, the Lunar Eclipse will begin either shortly before midnight on December 20th or just after midnight in the wee hours of December 21st. The eclipse has five distinct stages, and will take approximately four and one-half hours to go through all five stages. The totality stage, when the moon is totally eclipsed by the earth’s shadow, will last over an hour – from 1:41 AM to 2:53 AM Central Standard Time (adjust accordingly for your time zone). You don’t need any special equipment to see the Lunar Eclipse… although binoculars or a telescope can be helpful. It’s also helpful to get away from the city lights if you can – a short drive into the country can make a difference in being able to see not only the moon, but the sky surrounding it, which takes on its own appearance during the eclipse.
While there will be a lunar eclipse in June of 2011, it will not be visible in North America, and only those living on the West Coast will get a glimpse of next year’s December eclipse. The next Lunar Eclipse that will be visible in the entire continent won’t happen until April of 2014. So grab your chance now while you can, bundle up warmly, and head outdoors to celebrate this year’s Winter Solstice by gazing up at the magickal and mystical magnificence of the moon!
For more information on the Winter Solstice Eclipse, check out this site:
Special thanks to Anthony for sharing his astronomical and astrological information, which assisted greatly in the development of this post