AH, let’s forget the dirty world of politics and let’s turn to our beautiful planet EARTH – and our SUN and our MOON.
On December 21 TWO events will be occurring: the winter solstice in the northern hemisphere and a total eclipse of the moon.
After December 21, the days (hours of sunlight) will start getting longer once again – so cheer up, guys!
On December 21 the sun will shine directly over the Tropic of Capricorn, south of the equator. On that day, there will be 24 hours of daylight south of the Antarctic Circle (66.5 degrees south of the equator) and 24 hours of darkness north of the Arctic Circle (66.5 degrees north of the equator).
While the earth rotates about the sun, it also spins on its axis, which is tilted some 23.5 degrees towards the plane of its rotation. Because of this tilt, the northern hemisphere receives less sunlight, creating winter.
On the winter solstice, the sun appears at its lowest point in the sky and its noontime elevation appears to be the same for several days before and after the solstice. That is the origin of the word “solstice” – Latin “solstitium”: “sol” or sun and “-stitium” of a stoppage.
Interestingly, people have celebrated the day around the world and throughout history. The National Geographic notes:
“Ancient Rome had a major festival in honor of Saturn, their god of farming, on the winter solstice. The solstice occurred around December 25 on the Roman calendar. About 1,600 years ago, Pope Julius I of the Catholic Church decided that Christmas should be celebrated on December 25, so that a Christian holiday would replace the ancient Roman one.”
AND this year, we also have a total eclipse of the moon. The eclipse actually begins in the wee hours of Tuesday (December 21) morning – not Tuesday night – at 1:32 a.m. if you are in Toronto (EST) – that would be 10:32 a.m. in Vancouver (PST) on December 20. So you would have to stay up late on Monday, December 20. By 2:20 a.m. in Toronto (EST) – or 11:40 p.m. in Vancouver (PST) – the Moon will be completely eclipsed. The eclipse ends at 3:53 a.m. (EST) – that is, 12:53 a.m. in Vancouver.
The last time the moon was totally eclipsed by the Earth’s shadow was on February 20, 2008. Do you remember seeing the moon that evening?
The SkyNews magazine says that the 21st Century has 86 total lunar eclipses – more than in any other century between 1000 and 3000 A.D.
Also, the maximum number of years in a row without a total lunar eclipse is three. On the other hand, a calendar year can contain up to three total lunar eclipses – the last such year was 1982 and the next is 2485.
I find astronomy totally fascinating. The word “astronomy” comes from the Greek word for star: aster. We get many words from that root: astrology, aster (the name of a flower), astronomical, asteroid, astronaut, asterisk and so on.
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