Monthly Display - February 2018
Back in 1985, I witnessed a total lunar eclipse on a clear night, and I recorded some of my observations in a notebook. I have now used Stellarium (a computer program for displaying the positions of the stars, planets and other celestial objects) to look at that date and time, and found that it backed up my observations.
An entry from my notebook:
I am standing on the beach path at about 4 am in the morning, watching the moon being eclipsed by the Earth’s shadow.
It is a clear night, quite cool of course. There is a good feeling about seeing such an event. Last night before bed, I noticed how bright the full moon was. It seemed the brightest I had ever seen it. Now, just a few hours later, there is hardly any of that bright face left.
When I first saw the moon this morning, it was only covered a little.
There is a soft spread of reflections on the water, directly below the moon. Unfortunately, the pale light being reflected off the sea is a little too dark to distinguish anything other than a spread of light. I can’t make out individual facets of glistening light.
I can see the constellation, “Scorpio”, higher up in the sky, looking down towards the Moon.
Drawings from my notebook:
Screen captures from Stellarium,
with the location at Adelaide, the date at 5th May 1985, and time at 4:31 AM:
Scorpio looking down at the Moon, just as I had recorded it in my notebook:
Reconstruction of the eclipse, based on a Stellarium image:
There is only a very thin and small piece of the moon’s face left now. If I am not mistaken, there is a pale red glow hiding behind the brightness of the sunlight still there. Yes, I am sure now, and the stars seem a little brighter now too.
It feels ‘unreal’ to gaze into the night sky so simply and watch an event unfold like this. I can see the Milky Way stretching out across the sky – the huge hemisphere of viewed space that is so mysterious.
The waves pound and as I look at the marvellous tones of the sea and the sky, and their slightly darker area of contact, I notice about a half a dozen seagulls (or terns?) flying north just out along the sea. Why would they be flying at this time of the night?
I can see just a very thin edge lit up on the moon now. Soft dull whitish at the bottom, blending with a dull reddish glow towards the middle of the moon.
I don’t know whether it is just my imagination, but the water quietened considerably for about two minutes. Maybe it was just a coincidence, but the effect of seeing the eclipse early in the morning is a very powerful experience.
The sky, it looks old, unchanged, huge.
Those birds flying along silently in formation are amazing. Do they too detect a special event?
Now there is just a dull pinkish glow on the bottom side of the moon. Now it’s even duller. Some of the stars have a much brighter intensity.
It’s getting very cold.
The moon eventually went a very even dull pinkish brown – basically flat over the whole surface.
Then the top right hand edge began to lighten. About this time, the sky began to lighten with the coming dawn. The sky became bluer and lighter.
As the moon’s top edge lightened, the bottom of the moon seemed to darken (it seemed to my eye that the tone of the shadow was overpowered by the brightness up top). The bright light was a pale brownish pink, nothing too dramatic. Then the moment came when a thin strip of what looked like full sunlight appeared. I realised a little later that it still contained a bright orangey red glow. It was like a silent rejoice to 2001.
The sky had lightened up a bit more, and become more blue. It complemented the moon’s colours and glow well.
It was about 6:20 am when I got back home, and the shape of sunlight on the moon’s face was getting more substantial all the time. The dawning sky helped to make the spectacle something to remember; something to help one think of what was happening, and to try to imagine the comparable sizes of the Earth and the Moon; and maybe to try to comprehend the magnitude of distances involved; and form an ‘outside’ look at the Sun, the Earth and the Moon in alignment.
I can remember the splendid feeling attached to the coming of sunrise. The increasing light, and detail; the cool breeze and dry sound through the beach grasses. And of course, the coldness and the pride of being able to wait around patiently watching the spectacle amid a daily routine of dawn (which was probably enjoyed more than the rare vision of the eclipse; I guess it means more to me).
Monthly Display - February 2018