TOTAL LUNAR ECLIPSES
This is the first time in nearly 400 years a Total Lunar Eclipse has taken place in conjunction with the Winter Solstice. The last time was December 21st 1638 and such an event will not be repeated again until December 21st 2094. The official astronomical date for the Winter Solstice is December 22nd
A lunar eclipse occurs when the Moon moves through the Earth’s shadow, an event which only occurs when the Moon is full. During a Total Lunar Eclipse the Earth and the Moon are arrayed almost exactly in line, with the Moon and the Sun on opposite sides of the Earth. The last one occurred in February 2008. This Winter Solstice Eclipse, known as “Selenelion” or the “Horizontal Eclipse” – when the Sun and the eclipsed Moon can be seen simultaneously, showing above the horizon at opposite points in the sky, is a once in a lifetime experience.
DECEMBER 21ST 2010 TOTAL ECLIPSE
The Full Moon began moving into the Earth’s shadow about 06:32 GMT. The Total Eclipse got underway about 07:40 GMT and reached maximum at 08:17 GMT, lasting a total of 73 minutes, ending 08:53 GMT. The best views in UK were from the Northern skies, the Southern skies being totally obscured by heavy cloud cover. Also during totality the Moon moves through the Northern of the Earth’s shadow or “Umbra” so the Southern half was much darker.
MOON OF RED-FIRE
How bright a Total Lunar Eclipse proves to be is dependant on atmospheric conditions on Earth, as all the light that falls on the Moon has to first pass through Earth’s atmosphere. During this Winter Solstice this Total Lunar Eclipse the Moon turned a deep coppery red, in shades akin to Mars, and was much darker than normal.
Seen from the Moon, when the eclipse is underway the rim of planet Earth would appear to be on fire. This is the result of seeing every single sunrise and every single sunset in the world all at the same time. This creates an incredibly powerful light which filters through to the very centre of the Earth’s dark umbra, lighting it up with a copper-red glow. Consequently the Moon is transformed into a world of glowing ember red, sending colours the shade of fire dancing across the fallen snow of Earth.
Winter Solstice also known as “Yule” falls on the shortest day of the year and means “Stand-Still Sun.” It is one of the world’s oldest winter celebrations and the one on to which Christmas was attached around 1,600 years ago.
Predating probably even the solstice was the “Mediaeval Winter Festival of Apple Wassailing.” Involving the blessing of apples, songs, dancing and decorations…and a drink of cider to ensure their fertility, this festival was linked to nature’s themes of rebirth and fertility.
Druids gave Mistletoe, winter fruit cut from the sacred Oak Tree. This was a symbol of life during the cold, dark winter months. Traditionally the Yule Log, on the first day of Solstice was, for 12 hours through the night, burned to banish evil spirits and symbolise hope, and their belief in the return of the Sun. A belief also incorporated into Christmas celebrations as “The Birth of the Son.”
Ancient hunters revered and worshipped the Sun. Norsemen viewed the Sun as a wheel changing the seasons. It is likely the word “Yule” was derived from the word “wheel” (houle). At Mid-Winter Norsemen shared stories around roaring bonfires and drank sweet ale.
“Stonehenge” is the perfect marker for both Summer and Winter Solstices. “Newgrange” in Ireland which is 5,000 years older than the Egyptian Pyramids is an ancient round structure designed by it’s builders to receive a shaft of sunlight at Winter Solstice dawn, deep into its Central Chamber. “Maeshowe” on the Orkney Islands North of Scotland operates similarly, receiving a beam of the setting Winter Solstice Sun.
Many Mediaeval Cathedral Churches were also built to be Solar Observatories and astronomers used them to predict the dates for Easter. Consequently they were also built into cathedrals and churches throughout Europe. they received a stream of sunlight through a hole in the roof to trace a path on the floor known as the “Meridian Line.”