NATURE NARRATIVES: Solstice to feature total eclipse

By Melissa Walker
       The winter and summer solstices have always intrigued me. The shortest and longest days of each year are important enough to garner mention on most calendars. Much more than just a date on a calendar, though, the solstices remind me that the Earth is proceeding on its journey around the sun, its circular pathway in our solar system.
       I had been anticipating the date of 2010's winter solstice, December 21, for many months when our December Sky and Telescope magazine arrived, heralding "December's Great Lunar Eclipse." On the same date as this year's winter solstice, everyone on the entire North American continent will be able to view a total lunar eclipse.
       According to the chart in Sky and Telescope, everyone in the Mountain Standard Time Zone (MST) will begin seeing the shadow of the Earth move across the face of the full moon at 11:33 p.m. Dec. 20. During the eclipse, the sun's rays that light the moon will be blocked by the Earth when the Earth moves between the sun and the moon. As the Earth's shadow slowly covers the moon, the night sky will become darker and darker, allowing hundreds of additional stars to become visible in what was previously a bright, moonlit sky.
       The total eclipse, when the moon is totally covered by the Earth's shadow, will begin at 12:41 a.m. (MST) on December 21 and will last for only 72 minutes. During totality, I will be watching through my binoculars for the reddish hues and subtle colors of the moon, a phenomenon caused by scattered sunlight around the perimeter of Earth.
       The last total lunar eclipse viewed from North America was almost three years ago and the next one won't be until April 14-15, 2014. I am crossing my fingers for clear skies on Monday night.

Walker, a long-time area naturalist, posts regular entries in her online blog at She has given her permission to reprint selected pieces in the Westside Pioneer