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Lunar Eclipses

Don Wyeth

Lunar Eclipses

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2 mins
December 7, 2021

My good friend, Chad Thompson of Madison is an excellent photographer. One of his most impressive collections of photos is his group of astronomical subjects. (see photo) As some of you may know, there was a partial lunar eclipse that was visible in the United States this past November 19. It had the notoriety of being the longest partial eclipse “… since the 15th century, around the time Machu Picchu was being built.” earthsky.org. We will have to wait until February 8, 2669, for another eclipse of similar duration. 

Historically speaking, around the world, from China to the New World, it was typical for early civilizations to believe that both the sun in the moon were being swallowed by demons or mythical animals. Many rituals sprung up from this belief. As a result, the people would beat drums or make other kinds of ruckus to scare the demon or animal away. I believe the early Chinese used fireworks to accomplish this in the past; a tradition that still goes on today.

This partial lunar eclipse that occurred this last November had what is called a near-perfect alignment with Earth. For this to happen the Moon has to be exactly the right size to block the sun. But, “[u]nlike a total solar eclipse, a partial eclipse does not entirely block the sun's light, so it doesn't get as dark outside as it does during a total eclipse.time.com. Additionally, what do you see will be directly determined by where you are standing on Earth at the time of the event.

Because the orbit of the Moon around the Earth is not a perfect circle, when a full Moon occurs at apogee, (the point in the orbit of the Moon at which it is furthest from the Earth, roughly about 400,000km away), it is considered what is called a micromoon. The point of the Moon’s orbit closest to Earth is called perigee. As the Moon appears larger, in this case, it is called a super moon.

Eclipses repeat in cycles The longest partial lunar eclipses of the 21st century are listed here for your edification. earthsky.org

November 19, 2021: 21,693 seconds (6 hours 2 minutes)

November 30, 2039: 21,609 seconds (6 hours 0 minutes)

October 9, 2489: 21,557 seconds (6 hours 0 minutes) 

December 11, 2057: 21,532 seconds (5 hours 59 minutes)

December 22, 2075: 21,464 seconds (5 hours 58 minutes)

Happy sky watching, or as Jack Horkheimer: Star Gazer of astronomy fame reminded us, “Keep looking up”. Peace.

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Don Wyeth

Passionate and intelligent columnist from Madison, WI.

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