Montana News

Dec 21, 2010 11:12 AM by Adam Bell (Bozeman)

Why was the moon red during the eclipse?

Winter was welcomed with a rare sight as the sun, earth, and moon all lined up, creating a lunar eclipse that began late Monday night and continued into early Tuesday morning in the Montana sky.

The moon started to block the light between the sun and the moon late Monday night with the total eclipse starting right before 1am. The eclipse lasted about an hour, at which point the moon turned red as the moon entered the Earth's shadow.

Pete Martins, a solar physics researcher at MSU in Bozeman, explained, "The reason is the same reason as why the sky is blue. The little bit of sunlight that reaches the moon is actually deflected by the earth's atmosphere. So the little bit of light that reaches the moon, is the red light that came through, and the blue light is thrown out, red and blue are opposites of course."

A lunar eclipse itself is actually not that rare. According to Professor Martens, we could catch as many as two or three lunar eclipses each year. What makes this event rare is that it happened on the same day as the winter solstice, which officially happens at 4:38 pm on Tuesday.

The last time there was a winter solstice and a lunar eclipse on the same day was back on December 21st in 1638 at the Greenwich Meridian. This was not the case in the U.S., as the eclipse happened on the 20th, and the solstice occurred the following day.

Solar eclipses, on the other hand, are much more difficult to catch, as the moon's shadow covers such a small percentage of the earth as the moon passes between us and the sun. Though rare to see, there is an opportunity for us to catch one, right here in Montana. We just have to wait until August 21st, in the year 2017.

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