While total a total eclipse of the moon is not rare, tonight Alaskans will experience an event that has occurred only once before in recorded history.
The last time a total eclipse of the moon occurred on the winter solstice was in 1638.
. The eclipse-which reaches its peak at 11:17 pm-will turn tonight’s full moon into an other-worldly orange ball in the night sky.
The solstice marks the first day of winter and the shortest day of the year in the Northern Hemisphere. And, while the timing is off a bit for Alaskans-the actual "total" portion of the eclipse occurs on Monday-the eclipse cycle continues on into Tuesday-which is solstice day.
What will happen is that the earth will come directly between the sun and the moon, thus casting its shadow across the face of the moon. Because of the dynamics of light, the moon will appear a funky orange instead of being a black shadow.
Alaska’s eclipse will begin at 9:33 p.m. It will take about an hour for the earth’s shadow to totally swallow the moon. The total eclipse itself will last 72 minutes. And then all indications of the eclipse are over and it becomes history by 1:01 a.m. Tuesday.
Here’s a bit of advice from the folks at NASA-If you’re planning to dash out for only one quick look-it is December, after all-make your dash at 11:17 p.m. That’s when the Moon will be in deepest shadow, displaying the most fantastic shades of coppery red-the color being the result of the sun’s rays passing through the filter of the earth’s atmosphere and setting the moon aglow.
But, if you can spare the time, or decide to venture out in the cold more frequently, it is worth the effort to do so, as you’ll witness the spectacle of the earth’s shadow creeping across the face of the moon.
According to NASA’s website, a solstice day total lunar eclipse is extremely rare. Geoff Chester of the U.S. Naval Observatory inspected a list of eclipses going back 2,000 years and found only one previous instance of an eclipse matching the same calendar date as the solstice. That was Dec. 21, 1638.
Though a ways off yet, earthlings won’t have to wait 372 years for the next one, Chester said. The next total lunar eclipse on the winter solstice will be in 2094.