French Language Blog

Éclipse lunaire (Moon Eclipse) et Solstice d’hiver (Winter Solstice) Posted by on Dec 22, 2010 in Vocabulary

Pendant que j’écris ces lignes (While I am writing these lines), two natural phenomenons are occurring in the same time dans notre ciel (in our sky), and the last time this cosmic coincidence happened, it was almost 400 years ago!

Back then, Europe was still plunged into the so-called Guerre de Trente ans(Thirty Years’ War); there was no such a thing as les États-Unis d’Amérique (though the embryonic concept that would later inspire les Pères Fondateurs, or the Founding Fathers, had already existed then in the form of the Massachusetts Bay Colony); the French King Louis XIV, the future “Roi Soleil” who, ironically enough, spent most of his lifetime la tête dans la lune(literally “his head on the moon”, as in “daydreaming”), was a new-born of two months, and Harvard University and l’Académie Française were then brand-new enfant institutions!

The first of these phenomenons is a common one, since it happens chaque année (every year), and is called le solstice d’hiver (the Winter Solstice in English.)

The solstice d’hiver happens when l’inclinaison de l’axe de la Terre (the tilt of the Earth’s axis) is at the farthest point from le Soleil (the Sun.)

Great explanation of the solstice (Sol=Soleil + stice= station) and more en Français.

The second phenomenon, less common of course, is the one of l’éclipse lunaire, meaning the Moon eclipse.

From here you can understand easily that the éclipse lunaire takes place when les trois planètes (the three planets) happen to be on la même ligne (the same line), or at least almost the same one.

What’s actually special about the moon eclipse is that, unlike l’éclipse solaire(solar eclipse), you can view it from virtually any point of the Earth—provided it is at night, of course!

It is also important to distinguish between two important areas in an éclipse lunaire , and that is l’ombre (or the “umbra”) and la pénombre (the “penombra”), as you can see from the picture above.

So, pour récapituler, these two phenomenons, the solstice d’hiverand l’éclipse lunaire did not occur in the same time since 1638, and such coincidence will not happen again before the 21st of December, 2094!


* Quelques mots-clés

Le  Soleil: The Sun

– La Lune: The Moon

– Solstice d’hiver: Winter solstice

– Éclipse lunaire: Moon eclipse

L’ombre: (Literally “the shadow”)The umbra

La pénombre: the penumbra


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