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Saturday, March 03, 2007

The Eclipse!

To properly read this post you must click the "play" button thing in the right sidebar, under the heading "Iguana Music". I updated it just for this post.

So tonight is some sort of Lunar Eclipse or some such foolishness. We humans have come a long way in our time on the planet. We no longer think that the moon turning red is some sort of horrible sign - we know it is because the Earth is blocking out direct sunlight on the lunar surface. But the moon is not dark because Earth has an atmosphere, and that atmosphere scatters and refracts the sunlight. The refracted light strikes the moon, and is reflected back to Earth. So during the lunar eclipse, the moon turns red. Kind of like how the sunset is red.

Not because some supernatural being is telling us he/she/it is pissed off. No need to start the human sacrifices, or some animal burnt offerings. Just kick back in a lawn chair, sacrifice a beer or whatever your favorite eclipse beverage happens to be, and the moon will return to its normal color is short order. As soon as our planet gets the hell out of the way and stops blocking the sun. How rude! Blocking all the moon's sunlight without even asking. Like a fat guy at the beach when you are trying to catch some rays.

Anyway, it is worth looking at. On the east coast, the moon will rise already into the eclipse. So all of us in North America will miss a portion of this eclipse - you have to be in Africa, the Middle East, or Europe to catch the whole thing.

Those on the West Coast will probably miss the entire event. Sorry! Better luck next time. Lunar eclipses are fairly common - at least more common than solar eclipses so hang in there - you will see one eventually.

What amazes me the most is that so few people bother to catch events like eclipses and comets and stuff today. I will make a thingie out of cardboard to watch even a partial solar eclipse, and weather permitting I watch lunar eclipses too. Is everyone so darn busy that they can not look up for a few minutes every few months? Really. All sorts of crap is up there you know. Nebulas, star clusters, planets, galaxies, double stars, triple stars, double double stars (4 stars very close together), satellites, and so on.

When the comet Hyutake in 1996. The nucleus was so bright I could see it from my front yard in light polluted Miami. So one night I drove for a few hours out to the middle of the State, somewhere in the Everglades between Naples and Miami. The sky there is somewhat dark - or at least as dark of a sky as I can get to without going very far away. It was amazing. The tail of the comet seemed to stretch across the entire sky. It was worth the trip out to Big Cypress Swamp to see that.

I also went out to the swamp to catch comet Hale-Bopp. It was a perfect comet, but not nearly as impressive as Hyautake. Hale-Bopp's tail was a good deal shorter, but it seemed brighter. And you could see the blue ion tail with a pair of binoculars or a small telescope.

And if you were too busy to take a few hours out of your day to get out of town to a dark sky location to see Hyautake - well you missed it. You will probably never get another chance to see something like that in your lifetime. Nobody knew this comet was going to be here, it was discovered shortly before you could see it without a telescope. Same for Hale-Bopp. This is because Hale-Bopp has an orbit that brings it near Earth only once every 3 - 4 THOUSAND years. If you live to see it return, you will be one crusty old fart. I can not seem to find information about Hyautake's orbital period, but I seem to remember it is many thousands of years too.

So when something happens in the sky, if you miss it you miss it. Forever. Except for lunar eclipses. Those keep happening.

These sorts of things should be very popular. First off all, they are free. Looking at the moon does not cost any money. Looking at anything in the sky is free. There are probably astronomy clubs in your area that offer free public viewings on a regular basis. Members of such clubs often have very expensive telescopes that you can look through for - you guessed it - free.

You tell me - is there any better "family" activity you can take part in? The cost is free, the stuff in the sky is amazing, and what the hell you may learn something in the process.

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

i have no family, i went crazy after the last eclipse and wiped them all out.

a carboard "thingie"? THINGIE?????

Blogger The Lazy Iguana said...

Yes. A high tech cardboard thingie. What you do is take two pieces of cardboard, and tape them together at a 45 degree angle (more or less). Then you fix up a frame that keeps them together. This can be done with "pie slice" shaped pieces taped to the sides of the angled pieces.

Now all you have to do is lay the thing flat and punch a small hole in the angled piece over the flat piece. The sun shines through the hole, giving you an image on the flat piece.

A picture is a better way to describe the thing.

Blogger Daisy said...

We saw the lunar eclipse!

Blogger The Lazy Iguana said...

Excellent! I saw all of the last eclipse. It was pretty cool.

Blogger Fuzz said...

Saw the tail end of it. Made my daughter pause the video game to look.
Some years ago there was a solar eclipse. I took a welding helmet to work to see it. One of the guys I was working with was completely uninterested. He said he'd watch it on the TV news.

Blogger Cheesemeister said...

The one time I saw a comet I was pretty disappointed. It was all far away and dim and crap. Didn't have a high enough power telescope to make it worth my while.


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