May 28, 2020

April 2014- Life in the Astro-Blogosphere: Tales of Lunar Totality

A time exposure of lunar totality shot on ye ole film.

(Photo by Author).

Eclipse season is neigh for 2014 this coming week, with the first of two total lunar eclipses for 2014. Lunar eclipses are always the big ticket astronomical events for any year, and the total lunar eclipse occurring on the night of April 14/15th 2014 is sure not to disappoint.

Sure, lunar eclipses may not be as sexy or sought after as their solar eclipse cousins, but they still have lots to offer. You don’t need special equipment, not even those geeky black cardboard glasses, to watch a lunar eclipse. Plus, the whole hemisphere of the Earth facing towards the Moon gets to enjoy a lunar eclipse, unlike the path of solar totality, which always seems to cross Outer Mongolia or some remote deserted South Pacific isle. And lunar totality is a long and stately affair, unlike the frenzied handful of minutes offered up by solar totality.

Some cultures, of course, feared lunar eclipses over the years, and some, judging by the mounting lunacy surrounding the tetrad of four total lunar eclipses that we’ll be treated to in 2014 and 2015 and the supposed tales of the “Blood Moon” swirling around ye ole web, still do.

But we’ve come to see lunar eclipses as an old friend, greeting us at different junctures in our life in both time and space.

One of my earliest memories was awaking at our campsite at Eagle Lake, Maine on Labor Day weekend 1979 to catch sight of an early morning eclipse. This was the first of what would later be many lunar eclipses I would meet with in the early morning hours in a lifetime of astronomy.

I upped the ante a bit by sketching the frigid lunar eclipse of December 30th, 1982. I built a special “projection stand” out of scrap wood, which enabled me to project the disk of the Moon onto a table from my 60mm Jason refractor and draw the shadow of the Earth. This acquainted me to another challenge of astronomy; freezing hands, which I warmed intermittently over my dad’s stove as the eclipse progressed.

I drifted away from astronomy a bit as I joined the USAF and headed to my first two tours in Japan… would you believe that I once caught some shut-eye in the back of a maintenance van on the flightline, only to awaken to an early morning eclipse? Still, it’s fun to be surprised by such a sight, as perhaps our Neolithic ancestors were, oh so long ago.

The total lunar eclipse of November 29th 1993 was my first “serious” lunar eclipse that I viewed after my return to astronomy, and represented my first primitive attempts at astrophotography. I’ve never missed one since, that is, if I happen to find myself on the correct half of the Earth and the sky is clear. These days, I’m doing photos, video, observations and the coming total lunar eclipse of April 15th, 2014 will probably see us live webcasting the eclipse for the first time, a far cry from those first sketches on a chilly northern Maine morning.

But we have one more goal in mind, and that’s to complete a 54 year triple saros observation of lunar eclipse, known as an exeligmos. And when, might you ask, will we complete our own personal exeligmos? Well, said December 1982 eclipse was part of saros 134, and we witnessed the last eclipse in this same series from Italy in 2001… if we catch the January 21st, 2019 eclipse, then the circle is complete. Sure, there’s no true scientific value to such an observation, but it does demonstrate how eclipses link us to our past and the clockwork universe around us, both personally and as a species…

Don’t miss the April 15th eclipse and a chance to start your very own exeligmos odyssey!


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