Half Moon, Half Meteor

August 28th, 2007

I stayed up later than I meant to last night. I meant to get in bed early, but it was around 12:30 am when I finally turned off the light– and then I had to make a conscious decision to close the latest work from Johnny D. Boggs and officially initiate closing procedures for my August 27, 2007 (even though the persnickety would say the 27th had already concluded).

Last night the boys and I had finished watching my new favorite movie– It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World and afterwards, as a reward to Isaiah for successfully conquering his attitude and completing his homework earlier we watched episode 3 of The Ribos Operation which, for those behind the curve in knowledge of televisual preeminence is the first of six parts of the Dr. Who story arc generally referred to as The Key to Time. Anyway, due to all that good TV (Perhaps that’s an oxymoron, but the consolation I have in the fact that we watch a lot of TV is that I am very picky to make sure that we get almost all good stuff– I mean look at what was on the schedule tonight!) they were up about forty-five minutes past their nominal school night bedtime of 8:30, but we had a good time.

The reason I had wanted both them and me to get into bed early was that I’d planned for the three of us to get up very early to witness the lunar eclipse that is only just concluding as I type these words with the rising of the sun.

I’d read some time ago of the eclipse and decided it would be great fun to drag the boys out of bed in the wee hours and haul them down to the wetlands preserve just across the Clark Bridge to watch the celestial unfoldings. Ruth had also read something about it and forwarded me the link via email a few weeks ago, but I think she’d forgotten about it.

So I’d planned to get them up and just after I had turned off the computer to go to bed (an hour or so after I’d meant to) I got a big glass of ice water to take upstairs with me as I always do, and then realized I’d forgotten to double-check the best viewing time for our time zone. Once again I rebooted the computer and about fifteen minutes later actually went up to bed.

Before I turned of the light I set my alarm for 3:20 am. Considering the abovementioned time of retiring, I hoped I would actually be wakened by it…

The alarm was up to the task, fortunately. When I woke up and quickly silenced the alarm (there wasn’t much chance of it rousing Ruth at such an hour, but I sure didn’t want to hear what she’d have to say if it did), I went halfway down stairs to peer out at the heavens through the window on the first landing to see if weather had scuttled my scheme but I was in luck. The window I was looking out faced north so I couldn’t see the moon, but I could see stars which was a very strong indicator that we were in business. A trip out to the back porch confirmed this and judging by the progress the eclipse had already taken I promptly went back upstairs and lay back down for about twenty minutes.

When the alarm once more shattered the thin bedroom silence found only in those hours rarely experienced, I was ready. I quickly switched it off and got dressed in the darkness. Next, after shutting our bedroom door, I turned on the hall light so it would lend just enough light to the boys’ room to allow me to get them out of bed and find their shoes without injuring myself by tripping over scattered toys.

I shook Isaiah gently and he awoke. When I briefly explained, he climbed down from his top bunk and began searching for footwear in the half-gloom (a non-trivial task in this room in broad daylight). Gideon, on the other hand, remained catatonic until I had gotten shoes on both his feet. The weather was warm and I figured we wouldn’t see anybody else so I let them go in shoes and pajamas. Gideon wasn’t thrilled about waking up at first, but when Isaiah explained what was going on he was excited. I carried him downstairs and we all hurriedly got in the van.

On our way to the bridge we could see the moon out window to our left. At this point it looked much like a sliver of moon usually looks except the points of the crescent were directed upwards instead of the to the side. Isaiah had noted the shape, but not its unusual orientation until I pointed it out. Also the remainder of the moon, now in shadow was much more visible than normal when occluded by the earth.

We found a good, secluded spot with as much darkness as can be expected so close to town and I parked and we got out.

“Look, boys, there it is! What do you think?”

“That’s pretty cool,” Isaiah responded.

“Dad, it’s part moon and part meteor,” was Gideon’s astronomical observation based on his three year old cosmology. Of course, with a brother like Isaiah, Gideon’s knowledge of space and science (at least space and science as his eight year old brother’s conception of the universe has characterized it) is advanced far beyond that of most three year olds. How many three-and-a-half year olds do you know who have a favorite planet? Gideon’s is Neptune because “it’s blue”.

I tried to explain to Isaiah just what was happening and why the whole moon was visible. He listened and tried to understand. I think he mostly did, but at that age the rigorous details of reality are just not as interesting as the fanciful flights of imagination the eight year old mind produces so much more quickly and richly than any adult can describe how things really work.

We sat and watched transfixed as the moon slowly glided into totality.

“It’s turning red,” Gideon whispered reverently with glee.
“You can almost see it moving,” his brother added.

Approaching TotalityTotality AchievedTotal Lunar EclipseThe Dim Orange MoonI tried to take some pictures, but my hardware just isn’t quite up to snuff for such things. The camera is very slow with not enough zoom, and since the exposures were so long I rested the camera on the top of the van and held my breath to try to minimize the motion of my hands. Nonetheless, I am kind of pleased with the results (not that they are impressive, but that at least you can tell I shot a picture of a dark, orange round thing instead of an imperceptible smear) I got considering the camera I used to take them. I don’t think anybody else could have done much better with a $150 camera and no tripod– at least not with two kids bugging them to come back over to join them.

After a few more shots I did go back over to join them sitting on the square cement slab covering the storm drain in the corner of the parking lot. Gideon climbed up on my lap and a few minutes later Isaiah did too. Sitting there looking at the beauty of this display in the sky, with both my sons quiet and happily excited, I’m not sure how I could have been much happier. The only possibility I can come up with is the fun we’ll have in a few years when little four-month-old Elsie is big enough to go along with us when we venture out into the darkness of the unpeopled hours to experience the glory of the universe.

Then the boys got cold and, beautiful as it was I knew the burnt hue of totality would persist for nigh to an hour mostly unchanged (an expanse of time the length of which would surely not have allowed everybody’s happy moods to continue unmarred), we decided it was time to go back home for the boys to catch a couple more hours sleep.

And for me to write these words.