Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Lunar Eclipse: Totally Awesome

Being in Asia, we were perfectly situated for the total lunar eclipse of August 28, 2007.

We raced back from Denpasar to be at home in time for moonrise, and were aghast at the gathering of clouds to the east. After, what -? - 30 days of clear evenings, we suddenly see the heavens poofing over in the direction of the moonrise. We were scheduled to get about a 10 degrees south of due east moonrise, but it was all cloudy-looking over that way. We could see the "thumb" of Lombok Island, but nothing else.

While my hubby ran around gathering up the Celestron telescope, I sat on a campstool out by the surf, braving the ocean breezes with a sarong around my shoulders. I just sat there looking at clouds barely tinged by the west's sunset. It was getting depressing. Suddenly, I spotted the moon behind all the clouds. It was a little higher than I was expecting (it was, by now, close to 7 pm), but it was already in the penumbra, red as Mars, veiled by heavy rain clouds.

With binocs, you could see the utter roundness of the thing... just amazing, and pretty soon it actually started rising above the clouds. As we fumbled with the Celestron, the moon headed for a thick cloud, but by the time it was about 20 degrees in the sky, the clouds disappeared. Our only possible obstacle was a nearby palm frond hanging down.

Well, we got that big old fella in the sites of the telescope and spent the next hour just watching. Our night watchman turned on a security light and we said, "no, don't! Come over here and look at this!" He watched and laughed (us sadly inexperienced foreigners who have never seen an eclipse of the moon), but he liked looking through the Celestron, too. We told him to go get the cook and his helper, and so those guys came down to look, too. The cook called his kids, who came to watch, too. It was all a big science class field trip! The coolest part of this whole eclipse, in my opinion, was watching it slowly end. The sight of the sun "dawning" on the lower (to our eyes, here on the equator) part of the moon was just beautiful! The red pinking up at first, and then craters becoming clearer... we could actually watch the sun hit the ridges and craters differently.

After the eclipse was passing, and the moon resembled a grinning jack o lantern without eyes, we turned the telescope up to Scorpio, above our heads, where Jupiter floated, his bright Galilean moons in line. That means four of the seven or eight satelites of the big gas giant. We could make out a blue line and the big red spot. The planet and his little moons looked like they were just out there in their own little realm, minding their business, rotating in line and doing what planets and moons do. It was sooo beautiful. Cosmic is a great word. It was truly cosmic in both senses.

By the time we sat down to vegetable curry, we still took a few peeks up at the moon, with eyes only. It was funny to see it with a big bite out of it, like a cookie, not at all like a moon phase. At the end, the moon looked like a ball of dough which someone had pushed in at the top... just a dark little dent up there. It was cool!

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