Tom Ross: Borrow a trick from Chris Columbus |

Tom Ross: Borrow a trick from Chris Columbus

Book a romantic sleigh ride for Wednesday and view the eclipse

If you failed to impress your date on Valentine’s Day, there’s a can’t miss opportunity Wednesday night to make up for your romantic shortcomings. Don’t delay; the chance won’t come again until 2010.

Get busy and book a sleigh-ride dinner for Wednesday night. You’ll bundle up under heavy wool blankets and marvel at the winter landscape as a nearly full moon rises over the Park Range. Sleigh bells will jingle, and you will cuddle.

As you settle in for a hearty meal in a rustic log lodge, consult your wristwatch frequently. At 7:56 p.m. Mountain Standard Time, lean in close to your date and promise her that if she will agree to sneak out onto the porch for a lingering smooch, magic will take place. Promise that you will make the moon turn deep orange.

Alternately, if you are feeling particularly bold, inform your date that the amount of passion in the kiss will determine how saturated the color of the moon will be.

At precisely 8:01 p.m., the moon will fall completely under the earth’s shadow, but it won’t appear black because the reflected light coming through the earth’s dusty atmosphere will cast a semi-transparent reddish tint to the obscured moon. The tint is orange to red because the particulates in the atmosphere filter out the blue light waves.

Your date will feel his or her pulse rise, and you will be in like (Errol) Flynn.

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This tactic of predicting lunar eclipses to make an impression on others can be traced back for centuries. Chris Columbus resorted to predicting a lunar eclipse on the beaches of Jamaica during spring break 1504. In this case, Columbus’ motivations weren’t amorous. Instead, he was trying to persuade the natives to restore his food supply. The locals had been friendly a year earlier when Columbus set anchor on his leaky ship in St. Anne’s Bay. But the crew was so ill behaved, the locals cut them off.

Columbus was in possession of astronomical almanacs that were used to reliably fix his latitude. They also gave imprecise dates about when lunar eclipses would occur.

The timing of his showdown with the locals was fortuitous – he was confident he had a shot at demonstrating that he was tight with God. Columbus boldly predicted that if the locals did not become more compliant again, the supreme deity would display his displeasure by removing the moon from the heavens.

When the moon faded in the sky and turned a dusky red, the Jamaicans became fearful and repentant. They beseeched Columbus to restore the moon in the sky.

The almanac also provided Chris with a trump card. He knew the full lunar eclipse would last less than an hour and was able to use that knowledge to put the moon back in the Caribbean sky at his command.

The Old Farmer’s Almanac calculates that at Steamboat’s latitude of 40:28:38 N and longitude of 106:50:43 W, the moon will rise above the horizon at 5:37 p.m. Wednesday. You’ll want to add a few minutes to allow Earth’s satellite to clear the Park Range. I can’t give you an estimate because the closer you are to the mountains, the later the moon appears above them.

Relax, you have plenty of time to get home from work and change into your sleigh-ride clothes, according to the National Aeronautics and Space Administration. The moon will begin to go into partial eclipse at 6:43 p.m. and won’t be in full eclipse until 8:01 p.m., where it will remain until 8:51 p.m.

You’ll still be able to step out onto the porch and see a partial eclipse of the moon until shortly after 10 p.m.

The next total lunar eclipse visible from North America will take place Dec. 21, 2010. You might want to go ahead and book a sleigh ride in advance.

– To reach Tom Ross, call 871-4205

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