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Lunar eclipse features something not seen around here since 419 AD

Lunar eclipse features something not seen around here since 419 AD
Photo courtesy Flickr user Marianne Perdomo.. (Creative Commons 2.0 license.)

I'll be providing live updates via Twitter @ScottSKOMO tonight and funnel reports of sightings and where it might be clear enough to see it.

The moon is set to put on quite the show over the Pacific Northwest Monday night into Tuesday morning as we get a total lunar eclipse -- and our longitude is in a prime viewing location.

But did you know there will be something unique about this particular eclipse?

The moon will be at its highest point in the sky while eclipsed since Dec. 18, 419 AD.

According to Dr. Dale Ireland of Silverdale, it's because the moon crosses the local meridian, due south, during the eclipse and the sun is just a few hours from Winter Solstice, its furthest south point along its ecliptic path in the sky.

That means the moon is at its highest point in the sky at 66.6 degrees above the horizon and coincidentally, it'll be eclipsed at that time. in 419, it was 66.8 degrees high, and I'll bet even though that was probably farther away from the solstice, Earth's minor rotational wobble is such that 1,600 years ago that it accounted for the fractional difference.

The eclipse begins at 9:29 p.m. PST Monday with the peak of the eclipse set for 12:18 a.m. Tuesday morning. It'll be all over at 3:04 a.m.

The moon will be traveling from east to west 66 degrees up from the southern horizon -- so 2/3 the way to straight up. As for weather, it's looking marginal with some showers around, but cross fingers!

According to Spaceweather.com, which quotes an official with the U.S. Naval Observatory, this eclipse marks the first time that the eclipse has been on the same date as the winter solstice since Dec. 21, 1638. (Eclipse peaks just after midnight PST on Dec. 21, while winter begins at 3:38 p.m. PST.) The next time we'll have a lunar eclipse on the same date as the winter solstice is Dec. 21, 2094.

You can get more info on the eclipse at Science.nasa.gov