Monday, December 20, 2010

Lunar Eclipse offers Second Reason to Toast Longer Days Tonight

Unfortunately, the weather doesn't look like it's going to cooperate for our own backyard science pub tonight.

But you should crack open a beer anyway, and step out back tonight if you're up. Maybe you can catch a glimpse in a cloud break.

The Statesman says that the eclipse
will begin at 10:33 p.m., with the total eclipse hitting at 11:41 p.m. and lasting about an hour. The eclipse will end at 2:01 a.m. Tuesday....

This particular eclipse is rare in that it occurs during the winter solstice, which happens at 11:38 p.m. The last time a lunar eclipse happened on Dec. 21 was 1991; the next one will be 2094. The last total eclipse of the moon visible from the United States took place on Feb. 21, 2008; the next will be April 15, 2014.

Weather's always a problem, not surprisingly. In 1895 and 1906 residents could try to watch the lunar eclipse. Like tonight, on September 3rd, 1895, it was cloudy; but on February 8th, 1906, skies were clear.

Here's a couple of reports from the Oregonian. The overheated description of the 1906 one is especially funny.

The "Failure" of 1895.
The Eclipse an Opaque Failure - The lunar eclipse came off last night according to the almanacs, but the only evidence of the occurrence of the phenomenon obtained by observers in this vicinity was the inky blackness overhead between 9:30 and 10:30 P.M. The sky was somber with clouds nearly all day, and they appeared to become more dense as evening fell. Not a star could be discovered anywhere within the usual radius of an observer on the Oregonian tower. The moon's rise was dimly discernible from the greater light in that quarter of the sky, usually traversed by the satellite. The commencement of the total eclipse itself was evidenced by the sudden opaqueness of the whole sky, which continued during the period of time which the astronomers had calculated the eclipse to last. There were very few observers on the streets. An occasional glance at the clouded sky was sufficient to convince the most curious that the spectacle was hopelessly invisible here.

The success of 1906.
So far as the residents of Portland and the surrounding country are concerned, Madame Luna could not have chosen a more auspicious time than last night to shroud her face in the shadows of the earth. A cloudless sky gave to all an opportunity to watch the total eclipse throughout in all its splendor. Its unsurpassed beauty was sufficient to rivet to the sky the attention of each person and it made not the slightest difference whether he possessed the slightest knowledge of the fundamentals of astronomy.

Even before the first uncertain shadow suffused the lower portion of the moon's disc, the street and yards of the city were full of people gazing skywards.

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