Astro Bob: Chasing Tuesday's colorful total lunar eclipse
Some got to stay put to see the eclipse. Others had to travel. I share my impressions and seek yours.
It's so much easier when eclipses are delivered on a silver platter right to your door. But I'm so glad I made the 2 1/2 hour drive to witness this last total eclipse until 2025. I hope you got to see it as well, hopefully without having to drive.
My location was overcast, but cloud maps and forecasts indicated a clearing would open in north-central Wisconsin on Monday night, Nov 7. Amazingly, the meteorologists nailed it. I picked the town of Chetek, Wisconsin, as my destination and used the satellite view on Google Maps to puzzle out a safe, out-of-the-way place to watch the eclipse. That turned out to be a public boat landing on the Red Cedar River just a couple miles off the main road.
I studied Google's street-view images so closely before arriving that when I got there I recognized landmarks even in darkness — as if I'd come this way many times before.
The sky stayed mostly clear until shortly after totality, when the valiant moon finally succumbed to approaching clouds. Certain things about an eclipse stick with you. Like the change from a fully moonlit landscape where you can see your shadow to feeling as if a cover were pulled over your head. For me this transition happened more quickly than I had anticipated despite taking 68 minutes by the clock.
Orion was my guide, as he is on so many nights. Diminished by moonlight, the hunter was little but bare bones. But as time slipped by until only a silver sliver rimmed the reddened moon, he produced a club, shield, sword and even flaunted a cloak made of stars, the Milky Way.
Cameras often intensify colors of astronomical subjects because they accumulate light rather than see things in real-time as the human eye does. The images included here come close, but the real colors were soft and muted. I first noticed a faint orange shading when about half the moon had passed into Earth shadow. Shortly before and after totality, the little bit of sunlit moon shone brightly along the edge of a smoky, brownish-orange globe.
During the first about 15 minutes of total eclipse, the west-facing lunar edge glowed pale yellow, with the rest of the disk a dim, rusty, reddish brown. On the 5-point Danjon scale (0 = very dark eclipse; 4 = bright eclipse) I gave it a "2," meaning that the eclipse was neither particularly dark nor bright. What was your impression?
The moon appeared much fainter to my eye at mid-eclipse, when it passed deepest into Earth's shadow, and then gradually brightened as it ambled to the other side of the umbra. I especially enjoyed watching the brighter rim, the part of the moon closest to the shadow's outer edge, "roll" from right to left along the lunar circumference during the 86-minute-long totality.
Watching the moon's top (east-facing edge) re-emerge into sunlight at totality's conclusion was a stunner. As the light returned, you could actually see the moon move in real time with just your eyes. For a brief minute or two, its circumference resembled a ring, topped with a white sapphire of returning sunlight. Incredible. Fifteen minutes later, clouds swallowed up the remaining show. Such is life.
Was it just me or did the moon appear small during the total eclipse? It didn't physically change of course, but losing all that sunlight made it look puny compared to normal full moons. Please share your impressions and photos on my Facebook page Astro Bob's Astronomy for Everyone . We'd love to hear from you.