You might think it odd, heading out to a party at 10 after six in the morning, but this was no ordinary college get-together. This was a lunar eclipse party.
Earlier in the week, when my Writing Poetry & Fiction professor Dan Schall told our class about the upcoming galactic phenomena, I had been indifferent. I had never been really into astronomy. But, as he went on to catalogue the wide array of optics he had collected in order to view the total lunar eclipse, a trickle of excitement wound its way around the perimeter of our long and crowded conference room table. Then a voice from the group suggested those of us who live on campus meet up that morning to watch the sky together.
I was hesitant to join in. The extent of my knowledge of astronomy had come from fifth-grade field trips to the local planetarium. I wouldn’t know what was happening in the sky or how to explain it. But, despite my worries, the ripple of enthusiasm reached me and I found myself nodding along with the rest of my classmates. I figured witnessing something like this as a group would be a cool way for us to get to know each other better. And maybe I could bring my camera and see if I could get any cool shots. What the heck. I opened my mouth.
At 6 a.m. that Wednesday morning, the sky was still dark and the early morning air propelled me briskly forward, but when I reached the field, it was completely deserted. I looked at my watch: 6:15.
Cool guys, cool.
Alone at the party, I turned on my camera and shifted my attention from the empty field to the busy sky. As morning began, the dark outlines of half a dozen clouds passed overhead. As numerous as they were, none encroached upon the moon or shielded it from my sight. The moon I saw sat center stage and practically radiated a warm, red light. It looked like some sort of distant planet that had suddenly joined our solar system.
Soon, the moon would be fully blocked from the sun by the earth. I stood on the top row of bleachers and mapped the sky with my camera, taking pictures from different angles, holding the camera in different positions, zooming in and out, and fussing with my ISO and shutter speed. I even pulled out my iPhone to take some pictures. But I still felt like I was too far away to get the perfect shot. I needed to get closer.
I spied a large slope at the back of the field and legged it, scaling the hill in record time. Just as the moon was in prime photo-taking position, I set up my camera and snapped. At this height, I was closer to the moon and could zoom in even more before the image got too blurry and pixelated.
It was such a cool, new experience and, in the end, I was glad I had decided to go. But, standing at the top of the hill alone with the moon made me wish I had my classmates there beside me. Lonely and cold now, I packed up my things and headed back down the hill. When I got back to my room, I did some research on what a total lunar eclipse was exactly and, while surfing the web, I learned another one will happen in the spring.
Now, as the oh-so-experienced astronomer I have become, I’ll be the voice next time convincing my classmates to come out and watch the sky with me.