Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Red Moon at Solstice

Last night while I slept something happened that has not occurred in several hundred years. I have found different dates online for the last time Earth experienced such an event, depending upon where you live in the world I suppose. But, the most recent date is 1638. The next time it will occur in the US is 2094.

The event was a
total lunar eclipse on the Winter Solstice. This is a significant, rare astronomical occurrence. According to Jennifer, it means big things astrologically too. But, I usually let her fill me in on those details.

It has always fascinated me that the relative sizes of the Earth, the Moon, and the Sun allow for total eclipses. Think about it. The Sun is about 93 million miles away, the Moon is about 240,000 miles away. And yet
the Moon can near-perfectly blot out the Sun on certain occasions. The Sun happens to be about 400 times the size of the Moon and is almost 400 times the distance of the Moon from the Earth. If there is a case to be made for divine intervention in creation (which I don’t think there is personally), then it has this interesting coincidence to suggest support of such a perspective.

The same is true for the Earth. When it moves between the Sun and the Moon our planet’s shadow is cast across the Moon’s surface slowly turning it a dark reddish color. I have seen lunar eclipses before but early this morning I didn’t make the effort to go outside and see it for myself. I slept. It was just as well, we were under cloud cover at my house and
nothing of the night sky to could seen anyway.

Still, astronomical events like this not only reveal to me the wonders of Space but also the wonders of Time. The last time this happened
Galileo suffered from persecution by the Church for his scientific (i.e. blasphemous) observations about the actual workings of space. This was at the beginnings of our current science versus faith debate. Even though Galileo was a believing Christian, there is no tolerance for science where contradiction with orthodox religious doctrine is concerned. It was religion that fired the first shots in the debate as science had no ill-intent toward faith other than the will to more accurately interpret the workings of the universe.

It is noteworthy to point out that, by coincidence, Galileo went blind in 1638. So, the great astronomical pioneer never saw what was evident to so many in the wee hours of this morning.

Be that as it may,
a lunar eclipse is a wonder to behold. Witnessing the Moon in a seemingly unnatural reddish hue accentuates that things are not as fixed in the universe as they may seem to us. Everything is in flux and motion and we are by no means the center of anything within the vastness of space.

It is interesting to note that, prior to 1638, there has not been a lunar eclipse on the Winter Solstice in the last 2,000 years, yet the next one will occur just 84 years for now. Maybe, like humanity itself, the universe is speeding up. But, in truth, the universe is filled with really meaningless coincidences. The timing of the next Winter Solstice lunar eclipse has nothing to do with the apparent expansion of the universe. Our minds naturally have the persistent human habit of connecting similarities and infusing them with significance.

It doesn’t really matter to me, however, that the universe is not designed with humanity in mind. I am content to live within my human boundaries and allow my mind to extend beyond such limitations, through my hopes, aspirations, and rational understanding to touch the physical immensity with my limited means. And most of all to appreciate that there are wonders to be known and cherished in the heart of space…even as I slept on this Winter Solstice. Acknowledging the shortest day of the year and knowing that from this day until June’s Summer Solstice the Earth’s natural motion will bring the Sun higher in my view of the sky. As we have journeyed into the darkness these past months, now more light shall return.

Happy, peaceful, Solstice. Welcome Yule!

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