Partially eclipsed Moon

Dale Ireland watched the October 17, 2005, partial lunar eclipse from Silverdale, Washington. He snapped this photo at 5:24 a.m. Pacific Daylight Time using a Nikon D70 digital SLR camera and a 1,000-mm f/8 telephoto lens.

Courtesy Dale Ireland.

Some things are utterly predictable. Chaos may rule human affairs ("chaos" simply refers, mathematically, to any situation where tiny causes have large effects), but the celestial spheres operate with a reliability and precision, at least in certain circumstances, that is truly otherworldly.

Such thoughts may have been going through the minds of many skywatchers who saw the full Moon skim through the edge of Earth's shadow on Monday — before sunrise as seen from western North America, and in the evening as seen from the western Pacific Rim.

One who was watching was Bruce McCurdy in Edmonton, Alberta. "The onset of the penumbral phase was heavily clouded," he writes, "but by 5 a.m. [MDT] it was obvious something was happening, and from then on the broken cloud actually added to the show, displaying frequent purplish-orange haloes near the Moon. By [first umbral contact] at 5:34, to the naked eye the Moon looked just a little out of round, like the left edge had been sliced clean off. Clouds were scudding by from the northwest.

"That they take their sweet time is one of the things I love about lunar eclipses; one really has time to ponder the cosmic clockwork being revealed. . . . just me and my thoughts, adrift in a sea of serenity. It was one of those mornings when I awoke with my head full of music — real music, the Allegretto movement from Beethoven's 7th: magnificent, majestic, magic, music for the spheres. As it glided inexorably through Earth's shadow to this stately if imaginary accompaniment, the Moon was joined in the southwest by brilliant Mars, the Pleiades, and the Winter Hexagon. During the partial phase I serendipitously observed both a brilliant Iridium [satellite] flare and a decent pass of the International Space Station, each in the southwest as well."

And people wonder why look up from this troubled world to do astronomy.


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