What is Indian Summer?

The story behind Indian Summer, astronomical events of fall 1993, fall leaves and Abraham Lincoln.

| October/November 1993

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    The beautiful, flame-bright colors of falling leaves is one of the many splendors of autumn.

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Astronomical events during the fall of 1993.

Three upcoming events in October and November are so intriguing that I won't apologize for allowing them to dominate the following paragraphs. The first is this November's total eclipse of the Moon—an eclipse for the entire country to finally enjoy. The others are the annual (and ever-popular) changing of leaf color and the somewhat confusing period known as Indian summer.  

An Eclipse for All America

How many of you witnessed the total lunar eclipse of last December or the one last June? Unfortunately for those in the West, the former was visible in its entirety only in eastern parts of the United States. The June eclipse, on the other hand, was an extremely West-oriented affair (only Hawaii got a full serving of it). So I tell you with great delight that on the night of November 28, 1993, the entire United States will finally get a chance to see a third—and probably very different looking—total eclipse of the Moon.

I saw last December's eclipse and know that it was one of the rare, very dark lunar eclipses that occurs after the Earth's atmosphere is clogged with ash or sulfuric acid haze from a major volcanic eruption. (You'll probably remember that this was the handiwork of the June 1991 blast of Mt. Pinatubo.) By the time the June 1993 eclipse occurred, the Pinatubo haze had significantly abated. But because the Moon passed more centrally through the Earth's shadow, the eclipse was still not very light.

That's why I'm so eager to see November's eclipse; the volcanic veil should be even further thinned, and the Moon will be crossing closer to the southern edge of the Earth's shadow, or "umbra:' It's more than likely the Moon will remain easily visible; in fact, it will probably shine a cheerful orange or pink—with perhaps a few eerie dark patches—throughout the eclipse.

The accompanying timetable lists the times at which the most dramatic effects of the eclipse can be seen. The light shading of the "penumbra," or peripheral shadow of the Earth, is usually not detectable until it's about halfway across the Moon's face. Every total eclipse of the Moon is unique, so this is one event you shouldn't miss. Hopefully, skies won't be so overcast where you live that they hide the Moon on the big night. Unfortunately, if you miss this one, you're out of luck—no total lunar eclipse will be visible from anywhere in the world again until April 4, 1996, when only the eastern United States will get a look.

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