Wednesday, February 20, 2008

April 13, 1968

It was spring semester of my freshman year at Rutgers University. Easter weekend rolled around and everybody on my dormitory floor headed home except for me and one other fella. I don’t recall why we were still there but Saturday night’s entertainment proved as good as any party. A total eclipse of the moon (also called an Umbral Eclipse) occurred Saturday night and we had ringside seats. We sat in the lounge of our dorm before a huge sheet of window glass that faced southeast and watched as the full moon rose in the clear sky and then slid into the shadow of the earth.

Armed with a pair of binoculars and a spotting scope we could see each feature of the moon darken as the shadow of the earth was cast upon the surface. (The binoculars proved better for viewing since the moon was in constant motion and the scope required constant adjustment to keep it in the field of view. With the binocs you could more easily adjust.) First the penumbra, the partial shadow of the earth, and then the umbra, the total shadow, glided across the surface. The moon went from being bright white to being a rusty red.

It took over an hour, but once the moon was red we got the munchies and headed out to one of the ubiquitous grease trucks parked over by the old gym for refreshment. Walking beneath the reddish light cast by the shrouded moon was eerie.

After making our purchase, we walked back to the dorm as the moon began o emerge from the shadows. First out of the umbra and then out of the penumbra.

From beginning to end took over three hours and everything was visible that night. The clear, cloudless skies that night were perfect for viewing the eclipse. In the years since, I’ve never been at the right time or place, nor had the cooperation of Mother Nature I experienced that evening forty years ago. (Jeez! Has it been that long?)

I’m hoping for another chance this tonight, but the clouds may obscure all or part of the show.

Lunar Eclipse Types (and Dates)

February 20, 2008 Lunar Eclipse

A Leap Year Red Moon Lunar Eclipse Tonight

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