By Ann Finkbeiner | December 20, 2010 | 5 Comments
UPDATE: I woke up, looked at the clock, then looked out the window at the moon — no eclipse. “They must have gotten it wrong,” I thought. I looked at the clock again, saw I had misread it, and realized with a little shock of joy, they never get this wrong. Other phenomena of nature — snowstorms, earthquakes, tornadoes, visits by relatives, hurricanes — are unpredictable and easy to get wrong. Eclipses are more like sunrise and sunset: ancient physics and beacons of certainty in this uncertain world. The eclipse went as predicted.
Tonight: 11:41 p.m. Pacific time, 2:41 a.m. eastern time, toward daybreak in Europe, the earth will begin to completely eclipse the moon. I know this only because I got a press release from Sky & Telescope, a magazine for highly serious amateur astronomers. The editors at Sky & Tel are also highly serious — they wear t-shirts with comets and have asteroids named after them – and this press release is full of passion and poetry.
They point out that on the side of the earth facing the moon, the eclipse happens for everyone at once: “We’re all looking at this together,” they say. They explain that the ancient Greeks noticed that the earth’s shadow on the moon was curved, and took this to mean that the earth itself was round. (Those ancient Greeks were impressive; I would never have figured out the shadow was the earth’s, let alone that the earth must be round.)
The editors advise that as the eclipse progresses, you notice that “a second, deeper night is falling,” they say, “a night within night,” and if the sky is dark enough, suddenly hundreds of new stars appear. And when the eclipse is total, the moon darkens and reddens, its light reflecting “all the sunrises and sunsets around the Earth at the time,” they say, and it glows “like a luminous rotten orange.” The Book of Revelations says it turns to blood.
The editors return to pragmatism and offer a complete timetable of the eclipse for everybody in the U.S. I return to my normal practices — I don’t think I’ve ever quoted a press release before. And you? Go look at that eclipse. Otherwise, what good is poetry?
top moon: chb1848
moon + night sky: Michael Pereckas