M. SCOTT MORRIS: Moon to turn 'eerie red or orange color'

By M. Scott Morris/NEMS Daily Journal

We’re coming up on the winter solstice, the longest night and shortest day of the year.
That long night will be darker than usual.
According to my handy-dandy calendar, Tuesday will have a full moon.
But according to Mighty Daily Journal photographer Thomas Wells, the moon will be eclipsed.
“I’m thinking about making coffee and hot chocolate and getting the kids out to watch it,” Thomas said.
The other day in my e-mail, I got this little breakdown from Dave Maness, supervisor of the Sharpe Planetarium in the Pink Palace Museum in Memphis:
“The evening of Dec. 20 will begin with a big, bright full moon rising at sunset. By 12:32 a.m. the moon will begin to darken on the left side. That darkening will spread until it nearly covers the moon. At 1:41 a.m. the moon totally enters Earth’s shadow.
“Unlike a solar eclipse where totality can last just a few minutes, totality for this lunar eclipse will last for about one hour and twelve minutes, ending at 2:53 a.m.
“There is one other difference between solar and lunar eclipses; a lunar eclipse is perfectly safe to look at with human eyes.”
Even with the heads-up from Thomas and Maness, there’s still a chance I’ll sleep through the eclipse. If so, I’d expect to wake up with a tinge of regret for an opportunity lost.
An eclipse on the solstice is a rare reminder that we’re all on the same rock together, hurtling through space at unreal speed. We’re part of a cosmic clockwork that’s well beyond our control.
If I’m awake early Tuesday morning, I’ll think about good people born thousands of years ago. They didn’t have Thomas or Maness to clue them into the fact that, yes, the moon will disappear and, no, you don’t have to worry.
This is also from Maness’ e-mail:
“Eclipses have caused fear and dread through the ages. What did it mean to loose the object whose light helped chase away the demons of the night? Some stories tell of peasants banging pots together to chase away a dragon swallowing the sun or the moon.”
By the way, the moon won’t really disappear during the eclipse. Maness reported it’ll take “on an eerie red or orange color, with occasional shades of blue or gray.”
Still, that would’ve been an odd experience on a cold, dark night in antiquity.
If I bundle up and go outside to see the eclipse, no doubt the neighborhood’s streetlights will inhibit my viewing pleasure. Astronomers call it light pollution, a modern-day scourge for people who admire the night sky.
But think how those orange streetlights we take for granted could’ve eased anxieties about the moon’s fate, if they’d been available so many years ago.
Maybe the kids and I will bang pots and pans together in honor of our predecessors.
More likely – and in honor of our neighbors – we’ll be sleepy and quiet, and let the universe do the work.
M. Scott Morris is a Daily Journal entertainment writer. Contact him at (662) 678-1589 or scott.morris@djournal.com.

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