Above: Chart of the eclipse from NASA.
Last evening I was treated to an incredible natural event, a total lunar eclipse. I have seen these before, but not under the ideal conditions of last night; clear sky, no wind and an unusually bright full moon displaying itself for its admirers to gaze on.
Here in Calgary, Alberta the full moon rose in the northeast and first appeared low just above the horizon. Gradually it became higher above the horizon as total darkness fell and by this time was sparkling clear. The night sky filled with stars that shone even through the city lights. At about 6:40 pm local time (Mountain Daylight Time) the lower left edge of the moon began darkening. Over the next sixty minutes the darkness gradually veiled the full moon. By 8:00 pm the sky was completely dark and the moon was entirely obscured with the shadow of the Earth. Above the moon appeared the bright star Regulus and to the lower left Saturn shown brightly. Using high-power binoculars I was able to see the eclipse in all its magnificence. Before the moon was covered the mountains and plains of the moon were able to be seen in amazing clarity. The total eclipse lasted almost an hour.
As I continued to watch in awe, the veil slowly lifted until the full moon was shining brightly in the crystal clear sky once again. I am sure I will see more lunar eclipses in my lifetime, but this one will be hard to beat. Conditions were just perfect, even with city lights interfering to some extent. I live in the extreme northeast quadrant of my city so lights were not a major factor. (Above: NASA photo of last night’s eclipse at totality.)
Lunar eclipses occur when the moon passes into Earth’s shadow is blocked from receiving all of the sun’s rays. Because it still receives indirect sunlight through Earth’s atmosphere it doesn’t go totally black. Usually the veiled moon appears slightly reddish or brown depending on how much dust and cloud cover are in the atmosphere. Last evening it had a reddish hue from my vantage point. This was the last total lunar eclipse until 2010. In 2007 there were two, but only one was visible here and cloudy conditions prevented ideal viewing.
The other treat for stargazers was the appearance of the second brightest star in the night sky, Regulus from the constellation Leo.
This star is about 77.5 light-years from the Earth and is 33 times larger than the Sun, our star. The light my eyes saw last evening had taken that long to reach me. That is simply incredible. If that wasn’t enough Saturn appeared to the left of the moon. It too was shining brightly, but of course not blinking since it is a reflective object. Regulus being a star was blinking.
Today reflecting on this event I feel honored to have been able to see nature’s grandeur displayed for us here on Earth. Many take this for granted, but by doing so they are missing a grand show.