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Sunday, December 11, 2011

Last Saturday's Total Lunar Eclipse Last Until 2014

Did you miss yesterday's (Saturday) total lunar eclipse? If so, you'll not get a chance to see another, at least from planet Earth, until 2014. I went out to the bird's nest overlook which overhangs Machtesh Ramon with my 10 year old companion, Ayelet. About 5:10PM we saw the moon emerge from totality with just a bare crescent of light showing, which made it look like a diamond ring. I also noted how red the moon appeared, a big surprise. For us the red was initially concentrated around the rim of the moon, giving the diamond ring a rose gold appearance. It was all breathtakingly lovely as viewed from overhanging the Machtesh, as a red sunset appeared behind us with evening star Venus brightly shining in the west. Above was Jupiter, casting his baleful glow down on us, while the red super-giant Aldebaran appeared to the upper right of the moon. As the eclipse ended it looked like a little boy wearing a dark kippah on his head. Is that the Boy in the Moon?

The reddened moon is caused by the earth's atmosphere acting as a lens and refracting the sun's rays around the intervening earth onto the surface of the moon. So, this reddening is caused by all of the particulate matter, dust, dirt, volcanic ash, clouds, fog and pollution in the earth's atmosphere. In effect, we are seeing simultaneously all of the sunsets on the earth at one time projected onto the moon.

The moon emerging from its full eclipse the night of December 10, 2011 (Photo by Charles Jones, Phoenix, AZ)

It was surprising to see the moon so dark on this full-moon night. As the moon emerged from its eclipse and rose in the sky, it shone with full brightness, blocking out all but the brightest stars. That's the full moon I know in the desert. The desert has an unearthly glow in this full moonlight. I like to take people out to the edge of the Machtesh and look out on it in the moonlight on these full moon nights. It is a view few get, as for most the Machtesh is a day time activity. Now I think of the Israeli Space X team competing to send a robotic satellite on the moon, roll 500 meters, and take photos. Will Israel be the third country in history to land on the Moon? That would give it a special glow, indeed.

- by Ira Machefsky

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