Tuesday, December 21, 2010

A Total Twitter Eclipse

History happened early Tuesday morning, with a total lunar ecplise coinciding with the Winter Solstice that marks the longest day of the year.
Courtesy of FortPhoto, Michael Menefee on Flickr:
http://www.flickr.com/photos/fortphoto/183865953/

This hasn't happened in 372 years - since the year 1638. Last time this dual happening of the astronomical occurred, my first American ancestor Bartholomew Hoskins would have still been around to observe it from the eastern skies of pre-colonial Virginia. And Galileo de' Galilei, the father of modern astronomy, was still alive and drinking wine in Italy.

Being a history-lover and occasional stargazer, I decided to observe this rare cosmic event. It's the first and last time this would ever happen in our lifetimes, so I wanted to at least try and see it.

As the prime viewing time was 3:17 a.m Eastern Time, I decided this would coincide perfectly with my late-night Blood Sugar test. The alarm-clock went off shortly after 3 a.m. and I brushed off the sleepiness to venture outside. My BG test came out at 295 mg/dL (thanks to some earlier wine drinking & snack-enduced SWAGing), and after a grumble and correction bolus, I put on a sweatshirt and coat and journeyed outside for the show in the nighttime sky.

Complete cloud cover, the thick kind that produces snow and very cold weather, dashed my hopes of seeing anything. Couldn't even tell where the moon might be in the sky, had I been able to see anything. This apparently wasn't isolated to Indy - the upper Midwest, Great Lakes Region, East and West Coasts, and even the nation's inter-mountain areas where blocked. So much for history-viewing, right?

Wrong.

This is the 21st Century, and we have tools that my long-ago ancestor from 11 generations ago just did not have back in his day - the Internet and Twitter.

Firing up the laptop, the Twitter-verse came alive with photos, descriptions, and videos of what others were seeing across the country and even the world. One woman in Tallahassee, Florida displayed some great photos on Flickr. NASA had a live video stream, courtesy of the Huffington Post online. A professional photographer in Seattle displayed a photo of the coppery-toned moon on his professional blog. And a fellow D-Blogger Khurt Williams over in New Jersey captured a video of this in a fun, entertaining way.

Apparently, some people hosted online and offline lunar eclipse parties. Some posted Facebook messages and Tweeted about it and newspapers and media outlets across the globe covered this. Reports say the full eclipse effect lasted about 72 minutes but was visible in some partial effects for a few hours, gradually darkening and looking like a "copper penny" as the moon turned a reddish, coppery or orange hue, sometimes even brownish. A camera aboard the International Space Station was able to catch several dramatic views of the eclipse from 220 miles above Earth.

These online images conquered the cloud-cover here in Indianapolis and elsewhere, giving the world a view into these historical events in a way that just didn't exist back in 1638. Now, maybe it was cloudly that night or maybe Bartholomew Hoskins just didn't care. But it's still kind of cool that we're experiencing the same type of celestial event that happened then, and we have a way to see it no matter where we happen to be looking to the sky.

What does this all mean? Well, I'm not a superstitious person, but it's intriguing what historical lore and legend tell us. The Persian king Darius III's defeat by Alexander the Great in the 331 BC Battle of Gaugamela was apparently foretold when the Moon turned blood-red a few days earlier. And an eclipse is credited with saving the life of Christopher Columbus and his crew when they were stranded without supplies on the coast of Jamaica. According to legend, Columbus looked at an astronomical almanac compiled by a German mathematician and realized that a total lunar eclipse would happen on Feb. 29, 1504. He called the native leaders and warned them if they did not help, he'd make the Moon disappear the following night. That warning came true, prompting the terrified people to beg Columbus to restore the Moon -- which he did, in return for as much food as his men needed. He and the crew were rescued on June 29, 1504.

So. there it is. How we're all connected and all that cool celestial jazz. I lived it up. Wonder what will happen the next time a total lunar eclipse coincides with the Winter Solstice on Dec. 21, 2094.

2 comments:

Ronnie the poor diabetic said...

Hmm a few things will probably have happened:
1. There was a diabetes cure in 2034
2. Man will have reached Mars in 2054
3. Pluto will be a planet again
4. We will have declared war on Saturn
5. The day will be 23 hrs a day
6. Galileo's ancestor will have left our solar system in 2079
7. I will be 112 and in my old stupor will miss this once in a lifetime event like I missed the last one 80 some years earlier.LOL

Jonathan said...

Very cool post - neat to think about where tech has brought us for participating in real-time. My mind jumped when you asked "what does this all mean?" to a popular internet meme....

What does this mean? It's so bright, so vivid. Lunar eclipse.. all the way across the sky!