The Winter Solstice for 2010 is Tuesday, Dec. 21, marking the first official day of winter.
This year is special in that a full lunar eclipse will coincide with the 2010 winter solstice.
Unfortunately it will remain very cold across much of the U.S. (and quite cloudy), and the roughly 3.5-hour eclipse doesn't get underway until 1:33 a.m. EST (10:33 p.m. PST).
A lunar eclipse occurs when the sun, Earth and moon are in alignment, and the Earth's shadow falls across the face of the moon. The moon isn't blotted out from the sky, but takes on an otherworldly red cast. "The moon takes on this new color because indirect sunlight is still able to pass through Earth's atmosphere and cast a glow on the moon," according to NASA. "Our atmosphere filters out most of the blue colored light, leaving the red and orange hues that we see during a lunar eclipse. Extra particles in the atmosphere, from say a recent volcanic eruption, will cause the moon to appear a darker shade of red."
The early and late stages of the eclipse aren't very visually impressive, though, and NASA recommends viewing the cold winter solstice lunar eclipse at 3:17 a.m. EST (12:17 PST) for the best shot of enjoying the reddish appearance of the moon in full eclipse.
Or, just wait until April 15, 2014, when the next lunar eclipse visible from the United States will occur, at a warmer time of year.
The Winter Solstice marks the beginning of winter, and the shortest day of the year. The good news, for those who feel that tug of depression and the yen for sunlight after weeks of arriving for work before daybreak and leaving again after nightfall, is that every day after the solstice is a bit brighter and longer. (Maybe colder, but at least you've got more sunlight.)
Because of the earth's tilt on its axis, Northern Hemisphere winter coincides with Southern Hemisphere summer. The word "solstice" comes from a Latin word meaning "a stoppage," which referred to the way the noontime sun's elevation in the sky remains constant for several days around the time of the solstice.
Enter your city or zip code to get your local temperature and air quality and find local green food and recycling resources near you.