Monday, September 28, 2015


So did you see the lunar eclipse last night?

Marianne and I went down to the beach and sat on the sand, which turned out to be the the best way to do it.  The moonglimmer on the Atlantic was bright and broad at first. Then the eclipse began. At first it was simply a by-the-books darkening and dimunition of the lunar disk. But then, when the moon had slipped almost entirely into the Earth's umbra, the disk faded into visibility, reddish and evocative.  The ocean beneath it went dark.

As the moon drifted deeper into shadow it grew ruddier and more obviously spherical.  It looked a lot like the paintings of the Red Planet, back when the surface of Mars was known only in the vaguest and muzziest detail.

I could not help thinking of the ancient Greeks and the Babylonians before them and the now-forgotten peoples before them both, who studied the skies with only their unaided eyes and their native wits. They could see the moon recapitulating a full month's waxing and waning in the course of a few hours -- only in retrograde.  What could it mean?

Some of the moon's secrets could discovered by the ancients. But many more awaited the discovery of the telescope. There followed centuries of improvements in optics.  But the new discoveries were incremental until the second half of the past century when human beings went from squinting through telescopes to walking on the moon.

So many thousands-of-years-old questions were answered within my lifetime!  I could not help but wonder what questions, easily articulated today, must remain unanswered until, millennia hence, instruments unimaginable to us make their discovery possible.

Anyway, it was a good eclipse.  Despite the "supermoon" hype, it wasn't noticeably better than other lunar eclipses. I remember in particular standing in my back yard, some years back, staring at a reddening moon when Bobby next door came out to put a bag of garbage in the trash can. When he asked what I was looking at, I pointed to the eclipse.

"Get out of here!" he exclaimed.

So I am happy and so too, I hope, are you.


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