Lunar Eclipse, Winter Solstice Coincide This Tuesday
This Tuesday, the sun and moon will appear at their darkest as the lunar eclipse and winter solstice coincide for the first time in 456 years.
According to NASA, those in North America are especially well-positioned to see the lunar eclipse, a bi-annual event which occurs when the earth blocks the sun's rays from hitting the moon. however this is the first time in 35 months since a total lunar eclipse has been seen, and according to a meteorologist who spoke with NPR, the "best lunar show" until 2014.
The total lunar eclipse will begin at 1:33 am and last until 5:01 am EST, but the total eclipse portion lasts only 72 minutes, between 2:41 and 3:53 am. during this time the full moon could appear a bright red or blood orange hue.
Unlike the solar eclipse seen in June, lunar eclipses can be viewed anywhere on the night side of the Earth, and are safe to see with the naked eye.
SF Gate reports two Bay-area institutions hosting public gatherings to see the eclipse. The Chabot Space and Science Center in Oakland will be open from 9 pm to 2 am, and visitors can watch the eclipse through telescopes on its observatory deck. a guided, simulated eclipse will be shown at the planetarium. The Lawrence Hall of Science in Berkeley will be open from 8 pm to 2 am and will also offer a planetarium show, telescope viewing and explanations by astronomers.
Meanwhile the shortest day of the year in the Northern hemisphere, the winter solstice, also falls on Tuesday as the higher latitudes reach a point on the Earth's orbit that is farthest from the sun. on this day, the sun is is visible for the least amount of time (fortunately, the days grow longer from there on out).
On the flipside, as one commenter noted, it is also the longest day in the summer-facing Southern hemisphere.
But no matter which half of the planet you're in, the solstice marks the halfway point of the season you're experiencing based on the length of day and night.
In the days before the heliocentric theory was discovered, farmers celebrated the return of the sun on the morning after the long, dark night.
The winter solstice is especially significant for Wiccans, who regard the day as a spiritual transformation from darkness to light, the Montreal Gazette notes.
Editor's Note: This story was updated at 3:23 pm ET to clarify a misunderstanding about the winter solstice.