Thursday, November 11, 2010

Upcoming Total Lunar Eclipse, December 20, 2010

Maybe it's too early to be writing about it, but December's lunar eclipse has been on my mind a lot lately. I have seen parts of total eclipses before, the 27 OCT 2004 eclipse (the night the Red Sox won the World Series, for you baseball fans), and the 3 MAR 2007 eclipse. I wasn't an astronomer at those times, just a little curious about our Moon.

At the time of the 21 FEB 2008 eclipse I was a student in Mike Appelhans's Astronomy 264 course at Purdue North Central. That class was when I fully rediscovered my love for space and astronomy. I was excited to view the eclipse, and possibly report to the class about it, but Valparaiso was dumped with nearly a foot of lake effect snow. It was snowing over an inch per hour during most of the eclipse time, so I didn't see any of it.

There is no guarantee that I won't have another blizzard to contend with next month. Assuming good weather, however, I want to make the most of this total lunar eclipse, since there won't be another until 14 APR 2014. I've read Sky & Telescope's article in the December issue, and was looking at the following websites:

More from the pages of December's Sky & Telescope, here are ways to make useful science observations during the eclipse.

I like the idea of crater timings, even if I don't get any scientifically useful data. My recent observations of lunar occultations, and events of the Galilean Moons were fun for me because they had a purpose, even though I wasn't greatly successful at them. Of course I'll try to time the four contact points of total eclipse. All of these observations will require concentration, and a minimum of distractions.

It's a late eclipse, with partial phase not beginning until after midnight Central Standard Time, but I'm curious to know what my fellow sidewalk astronomers on the West Coast would do. Are you going to have a private viewing? Alone, or with other astronomers? Or are you going to set up telescopes and invite the public or passersby to see? I would like join fellow astronomers in viewing the eclipse, but I think even if it were earlier, I wouldn't be interested in a sidewalk session. Maybe that sounds selfish, but I have spent many hours in recent months with my telescopes available for total strangers to view the Moon at nearly all phases, the Sun, every planet out to Uranus, an asteroid, stellar creation and death, our neighboring galaxy, and even orbiting spacecraft. Whenever I'm conducting sidewalk sessions, or star parties at Adler Planetarium, people always ask,"Is there something special going on tonight?" One of my usual replies is, "No, unless you believe that something special happens every night." I don't think it would be too much to ask to save this "special" event for myself and a few close friends.

Does anybody have any advice? What are your plans for the eclipse? Do you have great stories of the 2004 or 2007 (or earlier) eclipses? (Sorry, I don't really want to hear how perfect your sky was in 2008, while I was shoveling snow every hour just to keep up with the storm). Well, maybe you can tell me about 2008...


  1. Hi Paulie,

    I definitely don't think it's selfish of you to want to keep this special event for yourself and only share it with a few close friends! You do enough outreach for other deserve this special treat to share with Hillary and your close friends!!!

    As for me, I will be watching the total lunar eclipse on the 21st of December probably by myself. It's supposed to be visible after midnight. I'll make myself some hot cocoa or peppermint tea and go outside on my porch to watch the event with my binos handy.

    You go and enjoy it Paulie. You deserve this special treat! And don't you dare feel guilty for not sharing it with "strangers!"

  2. A public viewing for this eclipse is pretty much out of the question, with it the Moon starting to darken just before midnight Central Standard Time, and totality lasting from 1:41- 2:53 AM CST. The next total lunar eclipse with an early enough time for public viewing (if my quick conversion of Universal Time is correct) is September 28, 2015. Not including December's eclipse, there are three more chances for me to view one before then, so it looks like I will have a chance to see one privately before possibly going out for a public eclipse observation. But you are right: I shouldn't feel guilty for not wanting to share my first one with people who don't regularly watch the sky. Hanging out with other astronomers, even if they are not lunar observers, is different, and I hope I can find a group to observe with that night. If not, I will enjoy it alone, or with Hillary.

  3. Yes this will be a personal viewing even here in the west. It has been a long time since I have been able to share a lunar eclipse with the public.

    Enjoy it guys!!!!!!!

  4. WOW... I didnt know about this, could you please send me a reminder?

    thanks =)

  5. Jacki, I will try to send you a reminder email a few days before the eclipse. Thanks for reading, and clear skies!