Tonight we had a treat in Edmonton, one that was shared with most of the country. Clear skies, and a rare sight of a total eclipse of the moon. This eclipse was also marked by a “red” moon, caused when earth’s atmosphere bends the sunlight into the earth’s shadow and onto the moon to create a reddish hue.
I missed the first part of the eclipse since I was at work, but as I was driving home eastward at about 5:30, I could see the shadow of the earth almost ready to overtake the moon completely, with a curved sliver at the bottom all that remained. By the time I arrived at home the total eclipse had just started, and for the next fifteen minutes or so the moon was just a dark shadowed ball surrounded by a faint glow of light. With the naked eye it didn’t seem very red, but it was incredibly beautiful nonetheless. For the next hour and a half I kept tabs on the progress as the eclipse completed, watching from the shelter of my front entrance.
It was not the first time I’d had the privilege of seeing this marvelous phenomenon. As a child, I remember my father waking us all up well after midnight to watch a lunar eclipse. We traipsed out to the backyard in our pajamas and jackets, where he had set up the telescope. Yawning and shivering in the cold night air, only barely awake, I recall being awed by the wonder of seeing the moon gradually disappear from sight, only to gradually re-appear several minutes later.
This scenario has been repeated several times through the years, any time there was a partial or complete lunar eclipse, and a clear sky. We also had the rare privilege of seeing a total solar eclipse one year. My father brought home chunks of welders glass so that we could all watch this wonder safely. I treasured the picture we took that day – a diamond ring in the sky – created when the moon moved in between the earth and sun to create a perfect circle inside, surrounded by the brilliant glow of the sun that sparkled at one corner. I recall the eerie feeling when the sky became completely darkened at midday for a few moments, and the sense of awe, knowing the rarity of what I was seeing, thankful for being in the right place at the right time.
We spent many hours in the backyard, peering through the telescope, as my father taught us the different planets, their moons, and the constellations. These experiences developed in me a lifelong interest in astronomy and heavenly bodies.
My daughters have inherited this fascination with the sky. From the time they were small, I repeated the lessons my father had taught me about the eclipse, taking them outside to watch on those special and rare occasions. As they grew older, this wasn’t always easy. The last lunar eclipse, several years ago, I stood on the snowy front sidewalk in chilly freezing weather, trying to persuade my youngest to join me to watch this miracle. She protested initially, preferring to watch the season premiere of a favourite sitcom – but finally relented and put on her coat, hat, and gloves, and we cuddled and shivered as we shared the marvel together. Last night my eldest called her sisters to remind them that we all should watch tonight’s eclipse, and she, like me, spent almost an hour outside in below zero weather, monitoring its progress.
As I watched the shadow of the earth pass over the moon, I mused about what it must have been like centuries ago in a simpler, less-technologically savvy world. What must have gone through our ancestors’ minds watching this amazing phenomena? How would they have explained it? I felt a profound connection with a long ago time and place and a sense of deja vu overtook me. Our world has changed so much, and our lives have become so very different – yet the planets continue to move as they always have. The earth sometimes passes between the sun and the moon, and the moon sometimes blocks the sun. The eclipse is timeless.
Watching this incredible evidence of the earth’s movement, things came into perspective for me. All the troubles I had dealt with at work during that day didn’t weigh on me quite as heavily, and the many stressors that have been wearing me down recently seemed less important somehow. No matter what is going on in our lives down here below, the earth keeps rotating and moving in its orbit around the sun, and the moon keeps circling in its orbit around the earth. To stand outside and watch that movement occur is an experience almost too wonderful for words. I felt very small in the face of it.
What struck me as odd was that we were the only ones in the neighbourhood outside watching – I had always assumed that everyone had the same sense of amazement at seeing this natural phenomena. Sadly, this is not the case. For many people, the thought of taking a few hours to step outside and stop and watch a lunar or solar eclipse pales in comparison with watching the Hollywood version of the event. Or perhaps they simply never learned to appreciate what a wondrous event an eclipse truly is.
The Universe Today – Special report: Total lunar Eclipse, November 8-9, 2003.
Debbie is a native Edmontonian, and a single parent with four daughters. She has worked as a professional musician for most of her life, and has enjoyed a rich variety of life experiences – with many more to come! Debbie is working towards an eventual doctorate in psychology, and currently serves as the president of the Athabasca University Students’ Union.