Vincent Safuto’s Weblog

Notes and observations

The night of the eclipse

The ancient people must have been terrified.

Who knows how many times people quailed in fear as something awful seemed to happen to the moon. That reliable nighttime beacon on rare occasions seemed to be turning dark, then red; sometimes partially and sometimes completely.

Today, we are modern and aware of what’s happening, but it’s awe-inspiring nonetheless.

On Monday night-Tuesday morning, I shared the wonders of the recent lunar eclipse with friends in Gainesville. They live in a beautiful house west of the city, and I arrived shortly after midnight.

It was a bitter cold night, but with no wind at least, and we were all bundled up. Their warm house was a refuge when the cold got to be too much.

Above us, the full moon shone brightly and there were a few stars visible. It’s the winter, so the absolutely spectacular show of Orion and his dogs, as well as the familiar winter constellations of Gemini, Auriga and Taurus, was muted somewhat.

But then, right on time, a part of the moon seemed to darken a bit. Soon, a line of darkness became apparent, and it slowly marched across the surface of the moon. Suddenly, the fainter stars began to show themselves. It took a while, but eventually the moon was completely in the Earth’s shadow and it had turned orangy-red. The most apparent effect was that it was like the moon wasn’t there. The light had been turned down and suddenly, it seemed like the wonders of the winter night sky were available.

With my trusty Celestron 7×50 binoculars, I sought out M44 in Cancer, M35 in Gemini, a cluster in Canis Major and my old friend, M42, the Great Nebula in Orion. And, of course, the moon, now eclipsed and dark. How frightened people must have been in ancient days.

Eventually, we retreated to the house with totality still happening and went to work on some photos for the Gainesville Sun’s website. I left the house at 4:15 a.m. and the moon was coming out of eclipse, and part of it was bright again. I drove home to my condo in Gainesville, came in, turned the heat up high (it was 33 degrees outside) and uploaded the photos of the moon to the web before hitting the hay at 4:45 a.m. I had to be at work Tuesday night, so it was important to sleep.

I got up around 12:30 p.m. and felt so awesome. I had seen a total lunar eclipse, the most recent of several I have seen. In my bucket list is seeing a total solar eclipse and the solar corona. Someday, I tell myself. Someday.

But in the meantime I have the fond memories of a fun night with wonderful friends, watching the moon go dark, and then emerge back into the light.

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December 23, 2010 - Posted by | Living in the modern age, Observations with Vinny | , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

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