When there is a lunar eclipse, a.k.a. a blood moon, and the longest one of the century at that, do you go out to see it?
Can you have a (micro)adventure, take a chance for microexploration, with something so simple, in a landscape that you are more than used to?
Why Even Bother?
We have come a long ways from the days of old when an astronomical phenomenon like this was a wondrous event, and a horrible omen.
(Although, there were still predictions of apocalypse – all the funnier because they seemed to come out of the USA, where that blood moon was not even visible.)
With more light pollution, more excitement to be had by just unlocking the single device that is a smartphone, events like this have lost even more of their power.
At the same time, if only we engage with them, with knowledge and an open mind – and perhaps, as a bit of a challenge to our ability to find interesting places, to using and improving photography skills – there is quite an interest to it.
Just take it as the special opportunity for microexploration that it is. And a good approach to it, like that, makes it much more interesting.
Time… and Place
This lunar eclipse at least came at a nice time, beginning (here in Central Europe) just around the time of the moonrise around 10 pm and lasting until close to midnight.
The last lunar eclipse I had tried to experience only began at 3 am.
I had gone into the mountains to catch a more interesting view of it… and then clouds had promptly moved in just as the moon went into the Earth’s shadow.
This time, with my knee not in the best of conditions and the moon rather close to the horizon, I struggled with indecision for quite a bit.
Taking it as an excuse to go into the mountains was enticing, but chances of seeing only clouds and putting pressure on my knee that I should better avoid were a bit too uncomfortably high.
In the end, I decided to do what I would hardly ever have thought of doing if it were not for the microexploration spirit: To just take my bike and go to a point nearby, with a look over the nearby Neusiedler See lake.
Being used to that landscape and all its downsides – wind, mosquitos, hardly any features to break the monotony of it – it’s easy to overlook the upsides.
The views are wide, the eyes can roam, even the tiniest of hills is an adventure in the waiting.
My bike was finally repaired and not even purring like a kitten. It had become so quiet – no rattling from the chain, no squeaking from the brakes – it was slightly disconcerting in comparison to its state before.
I went to a place with an interesting view over the Neusiedler See lake, a village and a hill.
A vantage point a little up, and up on a bale of straw.
And I waited for the night to fall, the moon to rise.
Night did fall, slowly.
Lights in the villages around came on.
Airplane lights were clearly visible in the sky.
Some clouds seemed to linger, at least some haziness, but some stars seemed to come out as well.
But, where was the moon?
Night fell, technology failed.
I checked the compass direction towards the place the moon should be, East-South-East.
I downloaded an astronomy app. Moon in that same direction, still close to the horizon – maybe my vantage point was not so good and the moon was hidden by the few trees before me?
Mosquitoes were around me, more and more. Enough at a point that I unpacked my bivy and used it as a layer of protection, in addition to the rain jacket I had already put on just to keep the mosquitos at bay.
(As it would turn out, they had already bitten me in the ass quite a bit, through my tights. Who cares, where is the moon?!)
In desperation and out of interest, I went for the kind of photo I know can show many more stars than the naked eye sees… but there was still no moon.
A Pale Blood Moon over a Bright Landscape
Exasperated, I looked into the sky again. Out of the corner of my eye, more than anything, there was something.
Pale reddish dark disk… the blood moon.
It hid itself, well, not at all.
It was where it was, but my little technological wizardry had not told me the right direction/position.
It was just a bit more to the left, more directly east of where it had seemed to be.
With that lunar eclipse lasting so long, being so low – and the mosquitoes having had enough of a fill of my blood – I packed my gear up again and went on the path back home.
The moon above the landscape was easy enough to find now, pale as it is in its eclipsed state.
The landscape here is anthropocene enough, as becomes particularly visible at night, with all the roads and settlements and commercial structures that are lit up, to make any night sky observation much less impressive.
Blood moon and Mars below it were still visible nicely, all the more so now that I knew where to look.
Often enough, that was still a good reason to stop and take more photos, play with astrophotography, seek out images that could perhaps hold some special interest.
To Explore, Remember, Uncover
It was all just on the way back home and into bed, in a landscape I have spent years in.
Nothing to explore, nothing to discover?
Having just taught about nature and technology, seeing a lunar eclipse again while being better able to explain how it works is quite the interesting experience.
Being aware of language issues, puzzling over how conservative language remains, adds to the amusement: Why do we keep talking of the sun and the moon rising and setting when we know that’s not actually what is happening?
(After all, it’s actually the Earth turning us away from and back to the line-of-sight to these celestial objects.)
Having seen this landscape at night, and with such a special phenomenon, made for a different impression again. All the more so as it is a landscape I know well – but not at night and during a lunar eclipse.
(And on the bicycle with a headlamp.)
There is a lot to experience, discover, explore. Certainly, for us ourselves, directly, intimately.
And as the mosquito bites calm down, the experience remains and knowledge grows…