Monday, September 28, 2015

Last Night's Moon

Super Moon and Eclipse, September 27, 2015

Painted before moon watching started, Crater Lake Natl. Park
When I realized, about four days ago, that we were about to have a very special celestial event, I kicked into gear.  I told Dale I really wanted to watch this combination Super Moon and full lunar eclipse.  I assumed we’d drive about twenty miles west, up into the hills and away from town, but he volunteered to go all the way to Crater Lake National Park, a good two and a half hours from home.  From there we would feel as though we were sitting on top of the world and would see the eclipse as soon as the moon rose above the horizon.

I quickly realize how little I know about astronomy.  It’s easy to find the time for moonrise and when the eclipse starts, when it is full, and when it ends … but where, exactly does the moon rise?  We need to park before the moon actually comes up.  This combination of events isn’t going to happen for another thirty three years. 

The moon rises in the east.  Right?  Well, sort of.  Exactly where in the east varies considerably on different dates.  Just this September the moon rose anywhere from 66 degrees to 114 degrees ( 90 degrees would be due east and the full compass is 360 degrees). On the night of Sept 27 the moon is schedule to rise at 88 degrees.   O.K.  That seems simple enough. 

But then Dale points out a compass points to magnet north, not true north.  We need to figure that into our calculations too.  Back to the internet.   It takes a bit of sleuthing but soon I know Crater Lake’s latitude is 42.9 and its longitude is 122.1 and that means our compass needs to be adjusted about 15 degrees.  That is how much it points east of true north. 

This sounds like a lot of fuss and bother, but when we finally are on top of Crater Lake’s rim we are thankful we did the homework.  Mt. Scott rises just to the east of Crater Lake and blocks much of the horizon.  Also the road dips and winds along the forested slopes around the lake.  Most pullouts are designed for viewing the lake, not the country to the east. 
At last we find the perfect spot.  A big pullout gives us a panoramic view to the east and south.  Dale’s compass calculations say the moon will rise to our left, but to the right of Mt. Scott.  I’m guessing the spot where it will rise is at least 50 miles from where we park.  We leave for the afternoon to take advantage of being in this beautiful country, and then return well before sunset.  I even have time to sketch ‘fir owls’ and then paint a cluster of pines.  ‘Fir Owls’ is my pet name for the big cones that sit on top of true fir branches.  They look like little owls up there.  More than once I’ve had to look carefully to make sure they are all really cones. 
Looking south from our parking spot.  Mt. Shasta is back there, but it doesn't show well.

Our parking spot eases into shadow long before the vast expanse in front of us does.  Over a hundred miles away Mt. Shasta still catches the late rays of the sun.  Here coolness takes over quickly.  The breeze has died and a stillness comes.  All is quiet except for a noisy family of Clark’s nutcrackers off in the distance.  Soon they, too, quiet down.  The sky above is clear; but there is a blue haziness near the horizon.  Wildfire smoke is still a part of our lives.
The moon rises on schedule – 6:50 PM. At first I think just imagine I see it.  A thin sliver of peach glows in the blue haze just above the horizon – right where Dale predicted it would rise.  The eclipse started over an hour ago.  Most of the moon is already in the moon’s shadow and just this thin strip of moon is visible. 

The moon is fully covered by the earth’s shadow at 7:11 PM …. But we can hardly see it.  The sky is still fairly bright;  haze and smoke blur what should be visible.  We wonder just how much of this eclipse we are going to be able to see.
Slowly, ever so slowly, our view improves.  The sky darkens; the moon rises above the murky horizon.  Oh my!  It glows red in that vast expanse of sky.  The moon in full eclipse is far darker than on a normal night, yet its distinctive face is still visible.  Stars sparkle near its perimeter.  The land in front of us has fallen into darkness.

We stay longer than planned.  It is hard to break away with that glowing red ball hanging in the sky above us.  We hoped to get back to the western rim in time to see if the moon’s light is strong enough to reflect on the surface of the lake, but by the time we get there the eclipse is ending.  A sliver of bright white moon is back, sparkling white on the surface of the lake.  

Time for us to start our long drive home. 

To determine moon rise, sunrise, etc:

To calculate the difference between true north and magnetic north: