Science Wednesday: Season’s Greetings for the Eclipse

Each week we write about the science behind environmental protection. Previous Science Wednesdays.

By Aaron Ferster

While yesterday was the solstice and the “official” start of winter, it’s been feeling like the season got an early start around the Washington, DC area this year. It’s been cold.

I don’t think it got much above 25 degree the night before last in my neighborhood. So naturally, sometime just before 2:00 a.m., my wife and I roused our two daughters out from beneath their covers and marched them outside into the frigid night air.

Time to watch the moon disappear.

No one complained. We watched wide-awake as the stunning bright yellow of a giant full moon slowly gave way. First just a small slice of the Cheshire-cat-like moon slipped away. Then, as the sliver of darkness advanced, a brownish red hue spread across what was left of the moon. A holiday light show in the night sky. Slowly and steadily, light gave way to shadow.

As we stood outside all bundled up, we chatted about the spectacle that was unfolding, and how long it’s been since there was a full lunar eclipse this close to the winter solstice. (1638 was the last time, according to an expert cited in The Washington Post.)

There were more than a few bleary-eyed people on the train platform the next morning, and my daughter reports that nearly every kid in her class rose their hand when the teacher asked who woke up to watch the moon disappear.

There is something universally appealing about watching such a natural spectacle. I like to believe that the lunar eclipse is, in essence, a science story. It was another opportunity to get outside and note how science and the environment unite us by peaking our interest and giving us a common story to share with our kids, neighbors, and coworkers.

Were you one of the many people watching the lunar eclipse the other night? What other science and environmental stories do you think you’ll remember from 2010?

Share your experiences and thoughts in the comments below.

And happy holidays!

About the author: A dedicated night-owl, Aaron Ferster is the lead science writer in EPA’s Office of Research and Development and the editor or Science Wednesday.

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