Lunar eclipse and winter solstice to coincide, first time since the year 1378

A similar lunar eclipse in Nov. 2003. The Moon may appear coppery red. Credit: Jim Fakatselis.

How often do you get to witness an event that has not been seen since the year 1378,  over half a millennium, 632 years ago? Of course, weather will make or break the viewing, and it appears the much of the west coast of the USA will be socked in with a significant winter storm at that time.

click to enlarge

Here’s the USA forecast for cloud cover. Blue is clearest, gray is cloud cover.

For those that can see it, the moon will likely appear as a deep coppery red, like this 2003 eclipse photo at left.

From Science @ NASA, they write: Everyone knows that “the moon on the breast of new-fallen snow gives the luster of mid-day to objects below.” That is, except during a lunar eclipse.

See for yourself on Dec. 21st, the first day of northern winter, when the full Moon passes almost dead-center through Earth’s shadow. For 72 minutes of eerie totality, an amber light will play across the snows of North America, throwing landscapes into an unusual state of ruddy shadow.

The eclipse begins on Tuesday morning, Dec. 21st, at 1:33 am EST (Monday, Dec. 20th, at 10:33 pm PST). At that time, Earth’s shadow will appear as a dark-red bite at the edge of the lunar disk. It takes about an hour for the “bite” to expand and swallow the entire Moon. Totality commences at 02:41 am EST (11:41 pm PST) and lasts for 72 minutes.

If you’re planning to dash out for only one quick look -­ it is December, after all -­ choose this moment: 03:17 am EST (17 minutes past midnight PST). That’s when the Moon will be in deepest shadow, displaying the most fantastic shades of coppery red.

Solstice Lunar Eclipse (map, 550px)

From first to last bite, the eclipse favors observers in North America. The entire event can be seen from all points on the continent. Click to view a world map of visibility circumstances. Credit: F. Espenak, NASA/GSFC.

Why red?

A quick trip to the Moon provides the answer: Imagine yourself standing on a dusty lunar plain looking up at the sky. Overhead hangs Earth, nightside down, completely hiding the sun behind it. The eclipse is underway. You might expect Earth seen in this way to be utterly dark, but it’s not. The rim of the planet is on fire! As you scan your eye around Earth’s circumference, you’re seeing every sunrise and every sunset in the world, all of them, all at once. This incredible light beams into the heart of Earth’s shadow, filling it with a coppery glow and transforming the Moon into a great red orb.

The moon passed through the center of the Eart...

Example: Image via Wikipedia

Back on Earth, the shadowed Moon paints newly fallen snow with unfamiliar colors–not much luster, but lots of beauty.

This lunar eclipse falls on the date of the northern winter solstice. How rare is that? Total lunar eclipses in northern winter are fairly common. There have been three of them in the past ten years alone. A lunar eclipse smack-dab on the date of the solstice, however, is unusual. Using NASA’s 5000 year catalog of lunar eclipses and JPL’s HORIZONS ephemeris to match eclipses and solstices, author Dr. Tony Phillips had to go back to the year 1378 to find a similar “winter solstice lunar eclipse.”

Author: Dr. Tony Phillips | Credit: Science@NASA

h/t to WUWT reader “Ray”


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I look forward to it , i can remeber seeing the solar eclipse in 1984 and it was a sight.

George E. Smith

Well you only ever once get to observe ANY event. Events NEVER occur again for those who missed them.
So I missed the 1378 event; I must have been doing something else that day.

jack morrow

I barely can stay up to midnight for the new year and it would be almost impossible to set an alarm to get up to witness this event.


“Dec. 21st, the first day of northern winter”: why is such a daft usage so popular in the US?

A lunar eclipse can be extremely beautiful at times.
I observed the eclipse November 2003 pictured in this article, with a telescope and a webcam, creating a live webcast. From the still pictures, I later made
this animation of the Lunar eclipse 08-09 Nov 2003
Go out and have a look if you can. No telescope needed. A red lunar eclipse is most beautiful seen with the naked eye.


Thanks for the tip. The kids will love that if they’ll get up and dressed in the middle of the cold night! Probably will be another long, long wait to see that coincidence again.

In Australia Summer starts on the 1st of December and the other seasons on the corresponding 1sts of the months.

Cynthia Lauren Thorpe

My Thanks to Dr. Phillips, to Ray and to Anthony…! I’ll be using as much self-control
as is possible to wait (so, I’ll use that time to figure out ‘when’ this eclipse happens in the skies south of Adelaide. The ‘picture’ that the ‘moon view’ brought to mind was awesome, indeed! My mind has ‘been there a bit’ (ie: ‘The Little Prince’, that guy who lives on the moon with that rose in an upside down beaker…? …which – Truth be told, I STILL don’t ‘get’ to this very day…it was kinda like ‘Flatland’, to me, you know?)
But, the imagery provided here… “standing on a dusty lunar plain looking up at the sky. Overhead hangs Earth, nightside down, completely hiding the sun behind it. The eclipse is underway. You might expect Earth seen in this way to be utterly dark, but it’s not. The rim of the planet is on fire! As you scan your eye around Earth’s circumference, you’re seeing every sunrise and every sunset in the world, all of them, all at once. This incredible light beams into the heart of Earth’s shadow, filling it with a coppery glow and transforming the Moon into a great red orb.”…is awe-inspiring stuff.
It was especially interesting to me…as an intercessor, Scientist-Wanna Be (with a little s, that’s ‘me’…) and, a Shepherdess over 800-plus ‘cross-bred sheep’…(hahaha… are there ANY other kind, she laughingly asks….?) ’cause it just so happens to be yet another of the satanists ‘high holy days’, as well.
During ‘their events’ globally…….. their…..’sabbat festivals’ as they call them… (those which have eyes to see and ears to hear, let them take notice) where they engage in all sorts of ‘fun’, such as ~ oral, and anal (but, that’s not sex, so……let’s talk about what the definition of ‘is’, is…right?) orgies in supposed ‘glorification’ to their ‘god’, (decidedly LITTLE ‘g’…ah,hum…) So ~ while folks, such as myself, are face down and hearts up in prayer over the total 24 hours of these decidedly obscure obscenities,
those of you who read this post can now ‘see’ yet another in a plethora of reasons why I enjoy frequenting ‘Watts Up’.
And, that’s exactly why I don’t claim omniscience (see??? ‘omni-science’??? get it…?
yet another reason why Science is under attack, guys… ’cause you either are an enlightened ‘observer’ of Glory or… learn to say that YOU create the Glory on your own… The ‘ego’ thing, sadly….but, lest I continue to digress and lose the ‘lot’ of you…which would be SO VERY SAD…) I’ve gotta say that I NEVER EVER thought that by dropping by this site, I’d learn to so very easily love so many Individuals (definitely capital ‘I’!) that frequent it, as well.
Be Blessed and Be Watchful, k? ha-ha-ha…ho-ho-ho… ’cause JUST like Glenn Beck said at that Wilmington, Ohio thingie… (I’m paraphrasing, here…) …when you read the word ‘Santa’… what OTHER word can it ‘turn into’??? (Yeah……most folks were doin’ the normal one you ‘see’ now………but, remember, Beck has a sense of humor like most of us do……. So, he wrote……..” ‘Santa’= ‘Obama’!!!” hahaha hohoho….. and the whole audience laughed and laughed!!!
Oh!!! One ‘last gift’ before I go to check the critters, as it’s 10am here in the Southeast… Just CHECK OUT ‘FOR YOURSELVES’ the name (which I LOATHE
to say, as ‘they’ always want to ‘speak things into existence’ but, for YOU GUYS I’m making a learned exception……… Here goes: “BARAK HUSSEIN O-BAMA” go on……………RESEARCH (you guys are into that, right?!) what each of those words mean and I PROMISE you’ll be calling him good ol’ Barry Soetoro from now on. (MY suggestion??? NEVER say those words together, jus’ DON’T DO IT. An’ if you think I’m nutz……then, at least before passing judgement……. RESEARCH what each of those words actually means…..tut, tut, tut, right….? hahaha…big ears an’ all……
God Bless You Guys……’ happy hunting. I, for one, am gonna go learn about the earth being a ‘great ball o’ fire’……!
C.L. Thorpe


The redness depends to some degree on the amount of volcanic ash in the earth’s atmosphere, which of course alters the redness of our sunsets. One might be able to make a guess about future weather, using this hint about the amount of ash in the atmosphere. Perhaps this is what has led to a certain amount of lore regarding the eclipsed moon being an omen of future events. I think in Shakespere’s Macbeth there is some reference to a “bloody” moon, baleful in the sky during an eclipse, and I once saw an eclipsed moon which was surprising drab and grey, (though I can’t recall what sort of luck it fortold.)

Ulric Lyons

Total Lunar Eclipse, 21st December 1638.
Ref; The Sky Astronomy software by Bisque.

Earle Williams

That reminds me I need to RSVP to an invitation to an eclipse watching party.
One minor correction: that’s a forecast of cloud cover for the contiguous 48 states. The USA covers a tad more real estate than that. You can see the sky cover forecast for my home state and the remainder of the USA by going to the NOAA link here:
Then click on Go to Region just above Washington State and you will find Guam, Hawaii, Alaska, and Puerto Rico.

Clouds + winter solstice + no sun = “really, really cold,” right?
“Because the Only Good Progressive is a Failed Progressive”

jack morrow

Thanks Carsten!


Thanks Anthony,
I think Rudolph (the Red-nosed Reindeer ), might argue with the science as presented.
You know, Rudolph “with his nose so bright…”, probably thinks it’s his fault the moon is red.

George E. Smith says: “So I missed the 1378 event; I must have been doing something else that day.”
Yeah, you were busy not experiencing not existing but don’t worry you’ll get to not experience not existing again… unfortunately. [:)]

Ulric Lyons

There are not even near a whole number of Lunations in 632 years (7816.742),
so there cannot have been a Lunar eclipse in 21.12.1378.

Scott Covert

A Lunar eclipse is when the moon goes behind the Sun, right?
…just kidding.
Sounds cool!

John R T

We on the Isthmus appear to be in the total eclipse area.
This family may head for Turrialba Lodge, over 3000 meters elevation: should be good opportunity for exploring our new camera. Photos, maybe, for the great crowd here.
A thoughtful Advent to you each. regards, John

Cynthia Lauren Thorpe

Hey, Guys! Here’s that ‘sulfuric sunset’ I promised!!! Prayerfully, you’ll be able to open it and share it on this ‘red moon’ talk! I took the photo the night after you alerted me
that the last Asian eruption would send ‘beautiful sunsets’ to Australia.
Hope this works! I’ve been tryin’ to send it to you for 3 weeks……. it was my step-daughter that just came in to do this……..all kudos to Fiona!
Cynthia Lauren Thorpe

Ulric Lyons

It took me all of 15 minutes to work out that the last Lunar eclipse at a winter solstice was in 1638, from the 93yr cycle of eclipses :-
It is really not on for the solstice 1378 :-

Werner Brozek

“LibertyAtStake says:
December 17, 2010 at 3:57 pm
Clouds + winter solstice + no sun = “really, really cold,” right?”
The sun is not visible anyway around midnight in North America. It is the moon that is in the shadow of the earth.

Jason J.

[snip – take your ad hom comment outside ~mod]

Dave Springer

South central Texas is the only gray spot for 500 miles or more in any direction. At least it’s light gray. A broken sky would still be fine. With the way this winter is going we might even have snow on the ground that night. Florida too! Who’d a thunk it possible.


Ulric, is there the possibility of date shifting due to the “Old Style” Julian calendars in use in the 14 th century versus the “New Style” Gregorian calendar of later centuries?
As far as I know, the Gregorian calendar didn’t have widespread acceptance until the middle of the 18th century, but that doesn’t mean it wasn’t in use in some places prior to that, as it was developed and “issued” by 1582, although it took ages to become more or less universal.

John from New Zealand

Does this mean the greenie earth worshippers will be dancing around the campfire in their birthday suits?

Bob Buchanan

Well this will be EXTRA special since the 21st is my daughter’s birthday!


I observed and photographed our last total lunar eclipse 3 years ago on a beautiful winter night. I’ve been looking forward to this very momentous day and keeping my fingers crossed for a clear evening, I’ll even take -30 in trade for the view.


Cynthia Lauren Thorpe says . . .
Oh, never mind. I’ve never read such an incoherent rant.

Phil R

And the next day is my birthday, and then Christmas. Pretty cool.

Phil R

Bob Buchanan says:
December 17, 2010 at 6:53 pm
Well this will be EXTRA special since the 21st is my daughter’s birthday!
And happy birthday to your daughter! Hope you are both in an area that you can see it.

David Ball

Even a picture of the full moon can bring out the odd ones, ……….. Mods please delete initial post, thank you.

Mr. Alex

Wikipedia mentions that this “will be the first total lunar eclipse to occur on the day of the Winter Solstice (in the Northern Hemisphere; Summer in the Southern) since 1638.”


Ulric Lyons
RE: Different dates for the lunar eclipse:
This was posted on another forum:
In 1638 (vs. 1554), the total lunar eclipse occurred on December 21st, while in 1554 it occurred on December 9th. The one in 1554 occurred on the Solstice, though, and the one in 1638 occurred many days after.
How’s that?
The Julian calendar had gone out-of-sync with the seasonal calendar by about 11 days. So the one in 1554 was on the Solstice; the one in 1638 was not.
Posted by: Ethan Siegel | December 17, 2010 7:38 PM
The one in 1554 (December 9th) was not a full moon. Full moon 1554 was December 21.

The sites I used were:
Here you will get information about the specifics of the eclipse.
This is the JavaScript Lunar Eclipse Explorer. This can be used to calculate the local circumstances for all lunar eclipses from any location (and for times past and future).
There is a companion site for SOLAR eclipses, too:
Biloxi, MS, appears to be under some amount of cloud cover on that day. So hoping that the forecast is wrong.

Larry in Texas

At least north Texas looks clear for that early morning. Good! I may get to take my one quick look. It’ll be cold for sure, but this eclipse sounds pretty cool.

Another interesting web site, including photography tips, is MrEclipse
Shows some interesting photos of past lunar eclipses.

Cynthia Lauren Thorpe

Geez, Anton… getting too used to ‘twittering’, huh?
I mean, it’s fine if you don’t enjoy my writing…….but, mebbe you should just read a bit more slowly…?
I dunno. Which part of ‘my rant’ didn’t you…….’get’?
Maybe there’s too much background noise…..I invite you to try it again. There are some REAL pearls in there, kiddo… But, heck. At 53 and happy……. I don’t need everyone to love me…sniff…sniff…
Keep Smilin’ my friend, a happily lucid farmer’s wife
Cynthia Lauren Thorpe

Ulric Lyons

@Alchemy says:
December 17, 2010 at 5:44 pm
It is 21.12.1638 new style date, 135,870 days ago. The old style date would be different, but it was still the Solstice.

Thanks for the information as this is an event I won’t miss. The winter solstice is something I celebrate every year as the days finally start getting longer again afterwards. An event that annually calls for the opening a bottle of champagne. This year will hopefully have a visible lunar eclipse in Kamloops BC, but need to find an estimated cloud cover map for Canada. Doesn’t look too promising if one extrapolates the Washington state cloud cover northwards but should at least be able to see a red glow through the clouds if they’re present.

Adam Gallon

Good reason for me to get up early and try to catch some of it before it sets.
(Assuming it’s not snowing like anything!)


The graphic indicate the eclipse visible at moonset in the UK. Moonset on the 21st is 08:11 am, but I’m wondering if it means moonset at 08:55 am on the 22nd?

Ulric Lyons

@ES says:
December 17, 2010 at 11:26 pm
“The one in 1554 (December 9th) was not a full moon. Full moon 1554 was December 21.”
A Lunar eclipse has to be at full Moon;
No Lunar eclipse on the winter solstice in 1554.

There’s another interesting curiosity not mentioned here.
The Galactic Equator currently intersects the Ecliptic at the solstices (1999 best match I think) and the Galactic Centre lies very close to the winter solstice point of intersection.
For those interested in astr****y there is more, but here is not the place to discuss – just to note that Newton and Kepler would have had no problem.

First time since 1378! This proves it had to be caused by the industrial revolution. 😉

Ulric Lyons

@ES says:
December 17, 2010 at 11:26 pm
The 1554 Dec 9th Lunar eclipse was partial, not total.
The 1554 winter solstice was 12.12.1544, 166,550 days ago.

Ulric Lyons

Lucy Skywalker says:
December 18, 2010 at 3:41 am
2048 actually. Its just a curiosity.

Jimmy Haigh

There is an excellent onling planetarium at:

Ulric Lyons

Correction: The 1554 winter solstice was 12.12.1544, 166,550 days before this solstice.

dearieme says:
December 17, 2010 at 3:08 pm

“Dec. 21st, the first day of northern winter”: why is such a daft usage so popular in the US?

I’m not sure exactly what you’re criticizing. The daftest thing I see at first look in it is they generally mean “the first day” to be the first full day. The solstice is a moment, and according to the USNO, important moments are (in UT):
2010 2010
Perihelion Jan 3 00 Equinoxes Mar 20 17 32 Sept 23 03 09
Aphelion July 6 12 Solstices June 21 11 28 Dec 21 23 38
2011 2011
Perihelion Jan 3 19 Equinoxes Mar 20 23 21 Sept 23 09 05
Aphelion July 4 15 Solstices June 21 17 16 Dec 22 05 30
So here in my EST, astronomical winter begins on Dec 21 at 1838. In time zones east of Greenwich, the solstice is on Dec 22, err 22 Dec. So everywhere, saying “Dec. 21st, the first full day of northern winter” is indeed a daft thing to say this year.
The US and most NH (Northern Hemisphere, not New Hampshire) climatologists consider winter to begin on Dec 1 and spring to start on Mar 1, but us NH folks (New Hampshire, not Northern Hemisphere) often beg to differ, as winter ends with the start of mud season (followed by a brief spring, then black fly season).
BTW, before anyone asks why there are fewer than 365.2564 days between perihelia, I think the answer is that the Earth/Moon barycenter (ignoring some tugs by the other planets) is 365.2564 days but the perihelion is the Earth’s closest approach, not the barycenter’s closest approach. Just another reason to hate barycenters. 🙂
Also, as for why the earliest sunset in north temperate zones was a few days ago, see – it’s a function of the tilt of the Earth and the eccenticty of the Earth’s orbit .

Pamela Gray

The redheaded goddess cave will be offering early service as well as the usual 11:00 service. Donut hour afterwards. Offerings are encouraged. If you have a grant to study global warming, now would be a good time to put it to good use, as there is very little warming to study at the moment. But on to the important matters at hand. I promise I will make the moon appear again, but only if the offerings please Gaia. And please note, as for warming up the planet again, telepathic news from Mother Earth indicates a sacrifice is demanded. One greenie, frozen solid, per AGW research agency, is the suggested sacrifice. Leave it at the alter and I will take care of the rest.