What a show last night, a complete lunar eclipse in a completely clear sky! I’ve always enjoyed astronomy, but the eclipses and comets seem always to hide behind clouds, or appear only in Europe, or occur at four AM on a school night. Yet yesterday was perfect viewing from start to end.
I stood on my hilltop, the house and fields in silvery moonlight. Minute by minute the light faded, the moon a vanishing crescent. As the moon dimmed, the Milky Way appeared. Reaching full eclipse, the entire moon glowed rusty red. I watched this Martian globe for an hour, all quiet. Then the celestial mechanics reversed, the red glow faded, the silvery moon returned, waxing larger and brighter.
The was the “harvest moon,” a term from the early 1700s, for the full moon closest to the fall equinox. It was also a “super moon,” a name of modern coinage, occurring when the moon passes nearest to Earth, about 20,000 miles nearer than its average distance. A “super moon” appears slightly larger (about 15% bigger) and significantly brighter (reflects about 30% more light). Finally, it was a “blood moon,” another modern term, describing the rusty lunar glow during full eclipse.
An eclipse, of course, occurs when Earth passes directly between sun and moon, casting Earth’s shadow across the moon. The red glow results from the scattering of sunlight shining through the fringes of Earth’s atmosphere. We see the same phenomenon at sunrise and sunset, except that last night the light shone upon the moon and reflected back to Earth. A NASA scientist described it almost poetically: “You’re basically seeing all the sunrises and sunsets across the world, all at once, being reflected off the surface of the moon.”
I took many photographs through my telescope. They’re pretty good, though the best view was simply to stand in the quiet night and watch.
(All pictures taken by the author. Note, the optics of my telescope reverse the moon’s north-south axis, so the superior edge in the photographs is, in reality, inferior. If you enjoy these posts, please subscribe; just scroll to the bottom and click ‘Follow this Blog.’)