Monday, 7 January 2013

In 1630 Tycho Brahe is the most important astronomer of his day. Johannes Kepler is a peer, working immediately under the influence of the master. It is Kepler's Rudolphine Tables that predict solar and lunar eclipses. Most famously, it is Kepler who first logs a supernova, although it would be centuries before this superb observation would be fully appreciated.

On the third week of December 1638 there occurred a total lunar eclipse of a full moon. It was witnessed by:
  • Pope Urban VIII
  • King Charles 1st of the United Kingdom, whose delegation was in negotiation with the Ming Dynasty for a vast range of trade rights. 
This eclipse was predicted by Keppler's follower Jeremiah Horrocks. Horrocks  would be the greatest living astronomer to document it although sadly Horrocks had less than 4 years to live.

Three Hundred and Seventy Two years later, on Dec 21 2010 I was a witness to the first total lunar eclipse to occur on the day of the Northern Winter Solstice since 1638. Something witnessed by Horrocks, but not Brahe und Kepler. And, as the previous winter solstice full moon eclipse occurs every several centuries, the next lunar eclipse to occur on the Solstice until sometime in the mid 21st Century.

My regular readers will recall that I made the following fb posting...
"Tonight I witnessed Luna surrounded by a ring made of 4 pairs of her star-sisters. Even Venus came rising over and gave her a kiss. Other stars formed perfect grid patterns around her. The Universe has shone me a huge piece of its puzzle."

While witnessing it I felt like I was witnessing the clockwork of the universe. I could actually hear it whirring (just what they say about Auroras borealis and australis)

I know now that a large part of what I witnessed is called the Winter Hexagon. It is the natural celestial alignment during that time of year. every year. The difference was that with the lunar eclipse blocking the moon, the geometry of the stars was emphasized. I am particularly impressed that Orion's "belt" has rotated 30 degrees and has transited the constellation median. (That is, it's on the wrong side)

Thanks to Uncle Bob for the Winter Hexagon image

Shout out to the winter hexagon

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