Two Total Lunar Eclipses in 1982

In a rare event, there were two lunar eclipses in 1982: July 6 and December 30. Learn more able lunar eclipses and what viewers were expected to see.


| May/June 1982



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A lunar eclipse can cast a variety of beautiful colors onto the moon.


PHOTO: MOTHER EARTH NEWS STAFF

Not just once, but twice during the second half of this year, North American stargazers will be treated to an amazing natural phenomenon. In the early morning hours of those special days, the full moon will slowly become obscured by the shadow of the earth, and — as the lunar eclipse becomes total — a deeper night will fall over the already darkened sky.

On July 6 and December 30, viewers can follow a curved dark stain as it moves steadily across the surface of the moon, causing the orb to take on a luminous, coppery glow (and the surrounding stars to seem brighter). Many Americans haven't had a chance to witness a total lunar eclipse since 1975, although some westerners did see one on September 6, 1979. (At that time the moon set too soon for people on the eastern seaboard to enjoy the event.)

This year, however, should be a real treat for moon watchers. While the United States is scheduled to have clear views of two lunars in the coming months, the Eastern Hemisphere has already experienced one, in January. Furthermore, 1982's eclipses will be of unusually long duration: The winter event will keep the moon in total phase for a respectable 61 minutes, and the July eclipse will be total for an incredible 106 minutes!

 

What is a Lunar Eclipse?

Of course, eclipses of the moon are not nearly as dramatic as are total solar eclipses, but the lunar events do have an eerie, intriguing quality that makes them among the loveliest sights in the heavens and they're occurrences that have had important places in history, as well. Many ancient peoples were terrified by the unusual and sudden discoloration (or disappearance) of the full moon, and Columbus is said to have used his foreknowledge of a lunar eclipse to awe the natives of the New World. Furthermore, Ben Franklin was so anxious to observe one of the astronomical oddities — even though it occurred during very inclement weather — that in the process he discovered the rotary motion of hurricanes!

 

Most folks now, of course, understand that lunar eclipses take place when the earth's shadow falls over the full moon as our planet comes between that satellite and the sun. Why, then — you might well ask — isn't there a total eclipse every month during that lunar phase? Well, our satellite's orbital path is tilted in respect to the plane of the earth and sun, so — in most months — the moon passes slightly north or south of the earth's shadow, escaping full coverage.





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