1 or 2 minutes before totality
2 or 3 minutes after totality
30 minutes after totality
August has been a windfall for opportunistic amateur skygazers. Close on the heels of the Perseid meteors, we were treated yesterday to the longest lunar eclipse since the year 2000. The people on the West Coast of the US lucked out in the cosmic ballet, for in these parts, the moon was still sufficiently high up in the sky to be seen from almost anywhere. I awoke when the partial eclipse had just begun outside the window. Dressing hurriedly in the dark, I was able to slip out quietly and drive to a remote unilluminated parking lot about 10 minutes before totality set in. One cannot expect company on these mostly solitary adventures, and so I was surprised to find a gentleman who had come there with his telescope and video camera to escape from the cloudy skies of Millbrae; both of us had picked that lot on a whim. I knew that it wasn’t the best place, but if I had driven any further, I would have missed the pivotal transition.
Note the significantly richer shade of amber in the last picture; that picture is from the middle of the total eclipse phase. The Man in the Moon is more difficult to discern during the eclipse, and the surface is dominated by the Ocean of Storms, the largest of all the desert maria. The imagination runs wild at such times, and one can see anything from an embryo in an egg to the head and neck of a dinosaur in the moon. It boggles my mind to think that this has been happening for thousands of millions of years and that our ancestors must have watched eclipses with fear and curiosity from the mouths of their caves. Like insect wings and fallen leaves preserved in amber across millenia, there is most probably something preserved in our genetic code that predisposes us toward being swayed by celestial events.
The eclipse was special for another reason: it coincided with Raksha Bandhan – an Indian festival which celebrates the bond between brother and sister. A few thousand miles away in Georgia, my sister had set her own alarm clock and had awakened to watch the eclipsed moon swimming low in the West. It is nice that, many years removed from our first frustrated attempts at seeing things in cloudy skies, she is still zany enough to do that sort of thing.