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American Museum of Natural History Hosts Winter Solstice Party on Monday, Dec. 20

The American Museum of Natural History’s Hayden Planetarium invites visitors to preview the stars of the winter season, and the total eclipse of the Moon which takes place early the next day, during its Winter Solstice Party on Monday, December 20 from 6:30-8 pm. Parts of four continents will be treated to a view of a total lunar eclipse early on the morning of December 21, and Hayden Planetarium astronomers say the view from New York will be the best of its kind until the year 2014.

Join astronomers Steve Beyer, Joe Rao, and Ted Williams, as well as members of the Amateur Astronomers Association of New York, as they prepare prospective eclipse watchers for the lunar show on the final full night of the autumn season. The evening’s festivities will include hot cocoa and, weather permitting, observations of celestial objects through telescopes and binoculars on the Rose Center for Earth and Space’s Arthur Ross Terrace. There will also be a simulation on the dome in the Hayden Space Theater of this year’s winter solstice eclipse using the world’s most advanced star projector, the Zeiss Mark IX.

A total lunar eclipse occurs only when a full Moon, the Earth, and the Sun are in a direct line that allows the Earth’s shadow to fall on the face of the Moon.  In the New York area, the eclipse will officially begin on December 21 at 12:29 am as the Moon begins to enter Earth’s outer, or penumbral, shadow.  But viewers will not notice any dramatic changes in the Moon’s appearance until 1:33 am, when the partial phase of the eclipse begins and the Earth’s dark shadow–called the umbra–starts to slowly creep over the face of the Moon.  At 2:41am the eclipse will reach totality, but sunlight bent by our atmosphere around the curvature of the Earth should produce a coppery glow on the Moon.  Totality ends at 3:53 and the Moon will completely emerge from the umbra to return to its full brilliance at 5:01 am.

Unlike an eclipse of the Sun, an eclipse of the Moon presents no hazards to the viewer.  No precautions to protect the eyes are needed.  The last total eclipse of the Moon seen in New York occurred on February 20, 2008, and there will not be another until April 14, 2014.

NOTE: Winter Solstice Party admission is $15; $13.50 (Museum members, students and senior citizens). Tickets can be purchased online here.

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