Sunday, December 18, 2011

Lunar eclipse

6:10 a.m.
Our local paper reported that there would be a lunar eclipse on Saturday, December 11, 2011. The total eclipse was to occur between 6 and 7 a.m. The report said that the event would only be visible if you were at a relatively high elevation or at the coast because the moon would be so close to the horizon at the time of the eclipse. Over coffee on Friday my friend, JoAnn, and I decided to meet at the top of a hill (Fountaingrove) that's 800' according to Google and is near both of our houses. I got up at 4 and looked out the window to see if the sky was clear. I could easily see the beginning of the eclipse just below the canopy of the Valley oak in our backyard. It was hard to imagine that the moon would be very close to the horizon in only two hours. JoAnn, thinking similar thoughts, called me at 5:45 to say that she could see it from her yard, too. We considered meeting at her house to watch but decided it would be more fun to go up the hill as planned.
6:35 a.m.
It was 35º F (2º C) so I dressed warmly, packed my binoculars and sketch gear and scraped the ice off of my car windows before heading out. JoAnn and her family were already parked when I arrived. We were near an area designated as an open space with some homes on the other side of the street. A young German shepherd was roaming about and seemed very excited to have company. The eclipse was well under way and I got out some paper and a pen to begin sketching, using a nifty head lamp I'd bought for just such an occasion. I seemed to be having a hard time seeing the moon and commented to JoAnn about it. We both tried looking through binoculars but that made it worse. It was past 6 and it was our understanding that the moon was supposed to get bigger as it neared the horizon and turn a strong red color. Oh, and be fully eclipsed. My first sketch showed the moon way too big. The actual size appears above the sky. As we watched the moon sank lower in the sky and grew harder and harder to see. As the sun rose and the sky grew lighter we were able to see that a thin haze of clouds hovered low in the sky, causing the eclipsing moon to look hazy and blurred. The moon did get a bit bigger as it went lower but it never seemed to be totally eclipsed. At about 6:45 we decided that a nice warm breakfast sounded a bit more interesting than the fuzzy, eclipsed moon. I took one last look, cranked up the heater in my car and went home to eat breakfast then  had some fun coloring my sketches from memory.

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