Set the alarm for the eclipse of the moon.

It’s not a very common occurence. In fact it’s probably the only recorded occurence  to date – last night I set my alarm for 5.15am to look at a lunar eclipse. As you may have heard by now if you are a regular reader (hi mum), I like my sleep, so I don’t just get up at 5am for any old thing.

I’ve never made any special effort to see an astronomical phenomenon, but I think that, like most of my generation, I hold a grudge against Haley’s Comet . When I was a kid I’d pictured Haley’s Comet much as someone in medieval times might have done – as some huge and awesome planetary body zooming overhead, so huge that it would take up half the sky as it went past, with long tales that streamed behind it as it went by. Probably making a loud noise as well. Perhaps something along the lines of a Led Zepplin tune – my aural imagination hadn’t quite worked out the finer details.

As it turned out, in 1986 it was at the outermost part of its orbit, and,  at least from my family backyard, it was no more exciting than staring into the sky and spotting that the washing needed to be taken off the clothes line. I felt ripped off. So last night’s lunar eclipse offered partial reparation. It was time to make an effort to see some spectacular astronomical phenomenon, and it was a good chance to do so. I had the house to myself, so I wouldn’t be bothering anyone except the cat, who would no doubt be very excited to find that the day had got off to such an early start!

Haley's Comet

Haley's Comet - disillusioned an entire generation.

So I googled the lunar eclipse to get the lowdown on times and directions. According to all the boffins writing about it online, (obviously I count myself as one, since I was reading about it)  it was going to be especially  spectacular because all the volcanic ash in the atmosphere at the moment would cause it to be blood red. Blood red. Not scarlet, not crimson, but blood red. That sounded worth seeing. It sounded eerie, like an ominous sign straight out of Macbeth! (though I don’t recall any blood red moons in Macbeth, but it seems fitting, so if you do,let me know.)

The eclipse was to start about 3.23am but was apparently best to view around 5.22am. I couldn’t quite work out what direction it was in, nor how high in the sky, which was a nuisance, as that could have helped me decide if it was even worth getting up for. Given the lack of 360 degree views of the horizon from our inner suburban home, I wasn’t sure I’d actually be able to see it at all unless I went outside. Even then I might have needed to head out in the car to get a better vantage point. I wasn’t sure I had reached that level of eclipse mania where I’d be willing to go that far to see it, at 5am, in temperatures of probably about 2 degrees. So the whole early rising thing seemed to have a high level of “not even worth it” risk factor. 

Still, I stuck to my guns. When the alarm went off at 5.15, I was spared the bone-chillingness that would have been involved if I’d had to go outside to look for it. I woke up, peeked through the curtains of my bedroom, and there was the moon, or a glowing orange slice of it anyway, hanging in the sky above the rooftops of our neighbors’ houses, perfectly placed for a clear view from my bedroom window!  A made-to-order eclipse! How handy!

It wasn’t blood red, but a golden orange. A section of it was glowing orange, the rest was still in the darkness of the earth’s shadow. I pushed the curtain a little and got back in bed to look at it from that warm vantage point. The world was dark and quiet and the moon was glowing orange. I thought I would watch it for a while, in the hope that it would become blood red….but unfortunately, it was slow viewing, and (no surprises here) – I fell asleep.

Lunar Eclipse over Melbourne

The Lunar Eclipse over Melbourne

So I didn’t see the blood red moon that today’s papers describe, but I’m glad I got a peek at that weirdly glowing, orange moon. Looking at the photo above, it was as if I could see the orangey part at the bottom, but the rest of it was, at that time, still in shadow.

An orange moon doesn’t have quite the same ominous sound about it as a blood red one, but still, eclipses – there is something kind of eerie about them anyway. I’m glad I saw it.

So there, Haley’s Comet!

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