Michael and I were going to Edwin Warner Park in Nashville for a total lunar eclipse the night of February 20, 2008. A group was meeting at the Nature Center. Snow was predicted, so we stayed in.
Michael was in Murfreesboro. I was in my apartment at Vanderbilt. The eclipse began at 7:43pm. I called my cousin. He looked out his window and said it did not look like a full moon. The eclipse was in its penumbral phase.
I went outside with binoculars. There were patches of clouds, but things looked good. The moon was in Leo between Regulus and Saturn. I saw the 3 together through my binoculars.
The moon was dark on the bottom of its left side. It looked like a cookie with a bite out of it. I saw features: Tycho, Plato & the foot with 3 toes. The curve of Earth's shadow struck me as the moon entered the umbra. The curve was well-defined, and I understood how ancient Greeks knew the earth was round. I could also see how less enlightened cultures made up weird stories. The Vikings told of a wolf devouring the moon.
The moon darkened, and I thought it might disappear. I thought there might be dust in the atmosphere. The partial phase was striking with half the moon inside the umbra.
The lit portion shrunk to a sliver on the moon's right side. A partial eclipse is more eerie than a total because of the contrast. During totality, a copper hue washes over the surface, minimizing the drama. I anticipated the moment when the moon would be totally inside the umbra.
A totally eclipsed moon remains visible because our atmosphere bends light onto its surface. Our atmosphere scatters light with short wavelengths. Long wavelengths like orange and red reach the moon. I imagined myself on the moon, watching Earth cover the sun.
Totality lasted 50 minutes as the moon traveled through Earth's shadow. During totality, Regulus and Saturn brightened as did all the stars. It was hard to see them because I was in the middle of Nashville. I called Michael! He was taking pictures. Totality is boring! It is the going in and coming out that titillates. Action resumed as the moon emerged on the far side of Earth's shadow. It lightened around the bottom rim. Suddenly, it was one-third lit, then half-lit. The moon looked like a snowman's head wearing a toboggan. The roundness of our planet was unmistakable. I sat on a bench in the courtyard and watched the full moon emerge as if nothing had happened. Clouds rolled in the instant the eclipse was over. Too late! I had seen one of nature's great spectacles!
The eclipse lasted 3 hours, 26 minutes and was visible across North America. Everyone on the night side of Earth could see it.
A lunar eclipse occurs every 6 months. It occurs when a full moon lines up with the earth & sun. There is not one every month because the moon's orbit is tilted 5 degrees.