Things to do when you can’t sleep: liv


liv : Watch an eclipse

What are the odds?  Clear sky, a full moon and a total lunar eclipse.  At intervals I glimpsed the bite progressing across the moon, while I tried to go back to sleep.  Eventually it was too much for me and I stuffed myself into leggings, someone else’s socks, and another someone else’s furry slippers, and ventured out half an hour before totality.

It was a night for multiple optical devices: the curve of the shadow was more obvious naked eye; the moon looked its reddest through binoculars; and the detail of the eclipse’s progression was most visible through the telescope.  As the last sliver of moon slid into shadow, true darkness fell.  Indignant crarks from a pheasant were answered from across the field, and they talked across me for a time, though whether they were also suffering from sleeplessness or complaining about the second nightfall is impossible to guess.

The coppered moon glowed dully. In between admiring looks at it, I went cluster hunting with binoculars, and enjoyed the Pleiades and Hyades, M35 sitting like a football in the toe of Gemini, Praesepe in Cancer, and the clumps and streams which decorate the interior of Auriga.

At last the shadow began to slip away, and the moon looked very odd.  The disc of the earth’s shadow is wider than the arc of the moon’s usual terminator, so it doesn’t form the normal-shaped crescent as it moves, and the edge is fuzzy where the terminator proper would be sharp.  Moreover, the umbral edge revealed a strip of moon without shadows, because of the full moon, unlike the long black exaggerated shadows always seen near the true terminator.  There are lots of good images on the web, for example this from the Spaceweather gallery (taken by Jeremy Gilchrist) which looks very like the view from my front garden.

The moon grew back, the Milky Way retired into the widening lunar glow, even the first magnitude stars dimmed, and I retreated to a chilly bed.

2 responses »

    • Indeed. The moon became very dark – if there had been street lights, I’m not sure the eclipsed disc would even have been visible. Given my miserable record with seeing eclipses, I’m still surprised I was able to observe this one.

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