Eclipsed

Posted by Michael Bakich
on Monday, September 28, 2015

“It’s like a finger pointing the way to the Moon … Don’t concentrate on the finger, or you’ll miss all that heavenly glory.” — Bruce Lee, Enter the Dragon

Indeed, our lunar eclipse soirée on the shore of Lake Michigan provided a bit of lunar glory plus a lifelong memory for all who were there. I had sent out an invitation a week ago to co-workers, family, and friends, inviting them to a “picnic under the shadow.” After the email went out, for six of the seven days leading up to the event, skies over Milwaukee were remarkably clear.

The photographer took this composite of the Super Moon total eclipse September 27, 2015, from the Trinity River Corridor near downtown Dallas. It features Reunion Tower, the Margaret Hunt Hill Bridge, and the Dallas skyline. // Thomas A. Wideman
Not so on eclipse day. Heavy clouds obscured the Sun throughout the day, so what chance did even a Super Moon have to peek through? As it turned out, a 100 percent chance. Despite the meteorological naysayers, I kept looking at the sky. 4 p.m.: Cloudy. 5 p.m.: Cloudier. 6 p.m.: Hmm, is that a little brightening toward the west? 6:15 p.m.: Totally clear! We were good to go.

So, my wife, Holley, our friend Julianna Tancredi, who was visiting from Chicago, and I quickly gathered some food, drinks, blankets, and chairs, and headed to the spot I had designated on the lake shore.

Within a few minutes, our friends Mark and Nova Czarnecki joined us. During the next hour, more people came by, including three of my co-workers, Associate Editors Korey Haynes and Eric Betz, and Astronomy magazine’s Art Director, LuAnn Belter, all of whom brought family or friends.

Holley had made antipasto sliders, which proved to be a big hit. We also brought cheese and crackers, soft drinks, and bottled water. Too bad we didn’t have time to make a dessert. Not to worry, though. Korey brought a huge batch of homemade Moon pies. Oh, yum! Yep, as the Moon’s visible surface shrank, my visible surface definitely expanded.

The excitement ratcheted up a notch when the Moon started to change. We first noticed a gradual darkening on its left (eastern) side. Then, right on schedule at 8:07 p.m. CDT, the Moon entered Earth’s dark inner shadow, which astronomers call the umbra.

We all watched the gradual progression of the umbra across the Moon’s face for the next 64 minutes. And we easily saw why, some two and a half millennia ago, people knew Earth was round because of the shape of its shadow on our satellite during an eclipse.

With the onset of totality, the high contrast between the lit and unlit sections vanished and color appeared. It definitely was not the bright orange or copper I had expected. Although some orange hues were visible, browns and tans dominated throughout. During the event, the Moon didn’t pass through the center of Earth’s shadow, so both a dark side and a lighter side were visible. That said, the Moon’s illumination was more uniform than not. Again, that was something unexpected.

One fun observation we all enjoyed during totality was to watch how the Moon’s slightly brighter region crept around from the lower left (east) to the upper right (west) edge as our satellite traversed Earth’s shadow.

This eclipse seemed reasonably dark to me. Brian Skiff, a friend and an astronomer at Lowell Observatory in Flagstaff, Arizona, confirmed this. He estimated the brightness of the eclipsed Moon at mid-totality to be magnitude 0.8. That put it halfway between two stars visible nearly overhead, Vega (Alpha Lyrae) and Deneb (Alpha Cygni).

I want to extend a huge “thank you” to everyone who stopped by. Although I would have enjoyed the eclipse even if I observed it alone, it was way better to share it with friends.

 

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