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Eclipse is a once-in-a-lifetime event

Staff writer

Other than some thin clouds, conditions were great for watching a lunar eclipse early Tuesday morning, Skip Sieger of rural Marion said. Temperatures were tolerable, his home shielded him from the wind, and he didn’t have city lights interfering with his view.

He and his wife, Eileen, turned their gazes almost straight up to watch as Earth’s shadow passed over the moon. The eclipse began about 12:30 a.m. and obscured the moon completely by about 1:45 a.m.

But even when the entire moon was in Earth’s shadow, it was visible with a red hue. The red was a result of sunlight bending through Earth’s atmosphere in the same process that makes the sky red at sunrise and sunset, Skip said.

An eclipse coinciding with the winter solstice is a rare event, Eileen said. The last time it occurred was 1638.

Skip has been an avid stargazer as long as he can remember.

“I just always enjoyed it since I was a kid,” he said.

He has subscribed to astronomy magazines for about 40 years, he estimated.

Coincidentally, their daughter, Lesley Allen of Greenville, Ill., was born at the peak of the Perseid meteor shower, Aug. 12, 1975. Because of that, they have made a family tradition of watching the meteor shower each year on her birthday.

The astronomical event that captured public interest the best in Skip’s memory was the 1986 appearance of Halley’s Comet, which will be visible again in 2061.

While Eileen peered at the eclipse through a pair of binoculars, Skip watched through a telescope and explained that weather can play a big role in stargazing. Of course an overcast night makes it impossible, but even thin, hazy clouds scatter light from celestial objects and make them blurry.

Winter is the best season for stargazing in terms of what is visible, but the cold prevents most people from seeing the most spectacular sights, he said.

The winter chill wasn’t enough to dissuade Skip and Eileen from seeing a once-in-a-lifetime event.

The next total lunar eclipse visible in North America will be April 14 and 15, 2014. The next total lunar eclipse on the winter solstice will be Dec. 21, 2094.

Last modified Dec. 22, 2010

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