December 10th’s Colorful Lunar Eclipse

This year's astronomical calendar included a total lunar eclipse on December 10th — and, given that another wouldn't occur until April 2014, observers were more determined than usual to see it.

Totality from California
From Simi Valley, California, December 10th's totally eclipsed Moon hung just a few degrees above the western horizon. The southern half (lower left) of the disk, nearest the umbra's outer edge, is relatively bright.
J. Kelly Beatty
The geometry wasn't very favorable for North America: everyone east of a line from Arizona to Hudson Bay missed out, and those in the west needed to get up before dawn. But the event was nicely placed in an evening sky for all of Asia, Australia, and the Pacific — and reports received by Sky & Telescope suggest that most observers in those regions (with the exception of southeast Asia) got to see it.

John Beyrau had a good view from Helena, Montana, where the predawn temperature had plunged to 1°F. "There was a slight ice fog in the area, which caused some light scattering," notes the self-described Curmudgeon of the Wild Frontier. "Such fogs are common in the Helena Valley when the temp gets down to 10° or less at this time of year."

Other observes had no such worries. "I saw last night's [eclipse] from Wailea Beach, Maui, under warm and relaxed conditions," reports German eclipse-chaser Jörg Schoppmeyer, who also witnessed last month's partial solar eclipse from South Africa. "The eclipse was a bright one; all parts in the umbra were easily visible at all time." (I'd sure like to have Schoppy's travel budget!)

December's eclipse from Maui
December 10th's total lunar eclipse was widely viewed around the Pacific Rim. Jörg Schoppmeyer captured this sequence from the Hawaiian island of Maui.
J??rg Schoppmeyer
The eclipse was "a welcome sight in Sydney," comments Aussie Sharon Grey, "not least given the unexpectedly clear skies for a few hours in an otherwise unremittingly sodden stretch of recent weather." But thunder and lightning rolled in at mid-totality farther south in Melbourne. "No eclipse visible at all," laments Alex Scutt. "Disappointing — though we did have success in June with a very deep early morning lunar eclipse."

Meanwhile, an international group of solar eclipse-chasers had gathered in India for a conference, timed in part to catch Saturday's celestial act. From a mountain camp near Ranikhet, Daniel Fischer, one of the attendees, had a great view. "Despite a little haze even at 1,800 m altitude, the stars and Milky Way around the eclipsed Moon were a sight to behold."

I would have missed this eclipse entirely from my home in Boston, but as luck had it I was visiting family and friends in the Los Angeles area this weekend. Although clear skies were forecast, things didn't bode well Friday evening when I looked up to find a beautiful, yet disquieting 22° halo surrounded the nigh-full Moon.

Fortunately, all that cirrus had moved on by dawn, and we gathered outside in time to catch the last bit of lunar limb slip into umbral shadow. At second contact the Moon was just 8° above the horizon, and I'd wondered whether totality would render it too dim to make out in the gathering light. Instead, it glowed pleasantly in the sky like a coppery coin, framed by the horns of Taurus above and by distant trees below.

Events during December's eclipse
During December 10th's eclipse, the Moon (in Taurus) skimmed just inside the southern edge of Earth’s umbra, or shadow core. Universal Times are given for key events.
Sky & Telescope illustration
The color and brightness were influenced by the Moon's far-southern path through Earth's umbra. This rendered the cratered southern highlands brighter than the already-dark maria that dominate the lunar disk's northern half. Also, it's been a while since large amounts of volcanic ash have erupted, so Earth's high-altitude atmosphere is relatively clear.

How about you? Were you able to see the eclipse? Post a comment below, and you can share any photos you recorded with other S&T.com viewers by adding them to our online photo gallery.

Coming up: May 20th's annular eclipse of the Sun, which will be visible along a track from Southeast Asia and Japan to the Far West states.

9 thoughts on “December 10th’s Colorful Lunar Eclipse

  1. Will

    At 7 am MST, I was outside with the camera, and I saw a faint reddish glow, and my first reaction was that the Moon had been ruined by clouds, and while there were some thin wisps around, (and unfortunately in front of it), I looked at the magnified image in the camera’s viewfinder, and it was a beautiful sight to witness, I managed to capture some pretty good photographs before it set behind a house.

  2. Chris

    Well, it wasn’t Maui, but I had a very good view of the lunar eclipse from Redondo Beach, Calif. The temp (estimate) was about 48 degrees. I set up my compact 80mm Celestron refractor/spotting scope on a walkway above the beach, accompanied to my left and right by quite a few photographers and binocular observers. Beatty’s description is spot on; as the moon dropped into the haze and the sun creeped toward the eastern horizon, it became quite difficult to see. All in all, a gorgeous sight worth waking up early to see.

  3. Bob Holderness

    My wife, Donna, and I saw the lunar eclipse from Beal’s Point in Placer County, California. A shade before 6am, PST, as we watched it, a shooting star raced by in an arc, starting to the left and above the moon and ending below the center of the moon. Wish we had had a camera on it. I wonder if anyone caught it?

  4. kaushik

    watched it from my house terrace in chennai,india.it was awesome view ,lucky the weather was clear ,we missed the june eclipse so it was great to catch this

  5. Ian Frazer

    When the alarm went off early Saturday morning, it was with little hope that I checked the sky – the forecast had been for "mixed clouds". Sometimes I am -so- happy when the weather forecast gets it wrong. I dashed out with warm clothing, the tripod, and my trusty Pentax K20D w/ the 450mm lens.

    I had a great hour or so from 5:25am through to 6:35 when I got just too cold to stand it anymore. But I have 100+ images of the eclipse from about 1/2 way covering the moon through to full cover! Clear open skies the whole time.

    Just after I got home the clouds rolled in about 6:45 & it rained the rest of the morning.

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