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Eclipse-watching from Narnia…

Well, the weather co-operated, my phone’s alarm woke me up as planned, and I didn’t break my neck carrying a ton of equipment up the steep, ice-coated hill to Kendal Castle this morning, and I saw the total lunar eclipse! Reward, I think, for missing so many events “up there” recently because of bad weather…

At 5.50am this morning, wrapped up like Arctic explorers, and carrying en0ugh equipment between us to put Himalayan sherpas to shame, Stella and I set off for Kendal Castle, our chosen viewing location for the eclipse. Everything was silent, apart from our boots as we crump-crumped through the snow, first through Abbot Hall Park and then up the steep hill to the castle itself. Behind us as we climbed the footpath the Moon was a blindingly-bright silver-white orb – and ahead of us, Venus was blazing like a lantern. It was literally a breathtaking sight.

Finally at the castle we dumped our bags on the snow and took in our surroundings. beneath us the orange and blue lights of sleeping Kendal were glittering like the lights on a christmas tree that had fallen over onto its side, and the distant hills were glowing blue-white in the moonlight, the same brilliant moonlight that was making the snow all around us sparkle and dance. I stood there for a moment, drinking in the view, savouring it, thinking that if anyone had ever watched an eclipse from Narnia it would have looked exactly like this…

It didn’t take long to set-up the telescope and cameras, in fact we were done before first contact, and looking into the ‘scope at 06.15 we were able to see the left limb of the Moon was already darkening in advance of first contact proper. Right on time the left limb of the Moon was touched by an edge of darkness, and the eclipse had begun…

For the next half hour Stella and I – inbetween breaks to walk and stomp about a bit, clapping our gloved hands together for warmth – watched the Earth’s shadow creep across the Moon. Slowly, so slowly, covering up one familiar lunar feature and landmark after another. As the shadow advanced across the Moon the colours and shades within it shifted and changed, and hints of purple and even turquoise started to become visible…

A few passers by (all of them dog-walkers; Kendal Castle hill is like dog central at any time of day, even on a crisp and frosty dawn!) stopped to look in the telescope, and enjoyed what they saw before vanishing into the dark again.

Soon after 7pm we were joined by BBC Radio Cumbria’s reporter Martin Lewes, who had arranged to meet up with us at the castle to do an outside broadcast about the eclipse. When he arrived, carrying his small but mega high-tech broadcasting equipment, he told us that the temperature was minus ten degrees C, which I was actually pelased about because it meant I had a new Personal Best for cold eclipse watching: the coldest temperature I had watched a lunar eclipse in before today was minus nine…! 🙂

By now the eastern sky was starting to lighten, with a wash of gold dawn brightening behind the low clouds in that direction, and Venus was starting ton fade from view. The Moon was now dropping towards the north-west, and with half of its disc eaten away by the Earth’s shadow it looked like a Pacman in the sky…

Our first attempt at a live broadcast was cut short when we lost the signal with the studio, but we managed to get a few words out on air, letting the people of Cumbria know what we were seeing, and urging them to go and look for themselves.

Finally the Moon was completely inside Earth’s shadow, and hanging low in the north-west like a distant pumpkin lantern, or hot air balloon. Very low now, it was actually getting harder and harder to see as it dropped into the thicker atmosphere and murk above the hills and the lights of Kendal, but it was a beautiful sight, and for a while we forgot the bone-chilling cold and just gazed at the eclipsed Moon, savouring the subtle colours and the stillness of the dawn. We managed to get on air with a second broadcast, and told Radio Cumbria listeners what a magical view we had. More passers-by… well, passed by, and told us that they had seen other early risers around the castle, and beneath it, gazing at the eclipse and taking their own photos…

…and through the telescope the fully eclipsed Moon was a grey-pink ball, almost lost in the brightening dawnlight… and it was such a magical sight, and moment, that I wouldn’t have been surprised at all if I’d looked around then and seen Aslan striding towards me through the pink snow, mane and tail swishing, asking if he could have a look through my telescope…

With the blushing Moon now hanging just a hand’s width or so above the horizon there was time to take a couple more photos…

… but eventually we lost the Moon altogether – the sky was just too bright, and it was too hard to see it through the near-horizon mist and murk – so we packed up our  things and headed back down the hill, frozen, and tired, but delighted with what we had seen. Somehow we made it down the ice-encrusted steps leading down from the castle without slipping and breaking our necks, and were soon home, more than ready for a cup of tea and a sit by the fire.

So, we did it, we saw the eclipse, and judging by the reports and comments on Twitter, Facebook and across the internet, many thousands – probably millions – of people around the world saw it too. I am sure many of them enjoyed it just as much as we did, even if they didn’t have the Narnian surroundings or the Moonset conclusion.

Some people think lunar eclipses aren’t really worth bothering with. They think they are too slow, too ponderous, too dull. Last night I even read a Twitter comment by a hugely-popular and high profile US astronomer and broadcaster describing the forthcoming lunar eclipse as “boring”, comparing it to watching paint drying, and even urging his Followers to watch a time lapse video recording of it instead. Which appalled me, to be honest; I couldn’t understand how any astronomer – particularly an astronomer whose job it is, at least in part, to encourage people to look up at the sky, and see things happening up there with their own eyes – could actually discourage people from seeing an astronomical event for real. I wonder how many people who read his witty Tweets last night decided not to bother with watching the eclipse as it happened, and chose to just look at pictures and YouTube clips today? I wonder how many of them would have been telling their friends and colleagues at work today about the magical sight they saw in the sky last night? I wonder how many of them would have been inspired to go into a shop and buy an astronomy magazine, or go into a bookstore and buy a beginner’s guide to the night sky, if they’d watched the eclipse from their garden, or the park down the road, or even just out of their window?

Shame.

Because yes, lunar eclipses are slow. The view doesn’t change much from minute to minute. There’s no “wow!” moment when Something Amazing Happens. But they have a beauty all of their own, an eerie, other-worldly beauty, and watching one gives you – if your mind is open to such things – a real sense of the geometry of the solar system, especially the Earth-Moon system, as you see, with your own eyes, the shadow of our planet falling on another celestial body, stealing it briefly from our view.

So, for those people who made an effort to watch the eclipse, who have patience, who don’t need their celestial events to be “wham-bang!” Michael Bay special effects, who can appreciate the majestic nature of such a slow-motion event, who can appreciate the wonder and beauty of the night sky, it was a wonderful night, and one they’ll remember for a long, long time.

I hope you were one of those people! 🙂

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5 Responses

  1. […] Wiederholung der Mondphasen sondern auch ähnliche Finsternisse dabei. NACHTRÄGE: ein langer Erlebnisbericht aus Cumbria, kurioses Allsky-Zeitraffer-Video aus New Mexico und die MoFi im abendlichen Aufgang […]

  2. Thanks for this nice report! While clouded out (and in far decidedly geometrical conditions than you anyway), the eclipse actually turned into a frantic and exciting 3-hour affair, following several webcasts and Twitter feeds simultaneously. Having “eyes around the globe” – from Central Europe to Australia – was a good consolation prize: The best catches are are linked from this blog post, including this one here, of course.

  3. Lakeland Cam, a site I visit for my daily dose of Cumbria, caught the eclipse too, from Windermere, just to the west of you.

  4. I managed to shoot a short video of the full eclipse from the side of Lake Windermere, overlooking the Langdales. http://bit.ly/gwLMHI The moon was an amazing Orange colour. Like you I lost it as the sun rose and the cloud covered the moon. Martin

  5. […] can see the more pictures and the write-up Stu did about the eclipse on his website, Cumbrian Sky: Eclipse-Watching from Narnia. Astronomer Amanda Bauer took several images of the eclipsed Moon rising over Sydney, Australia, as […]

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