On Friday, 27th July, we were fortunate enough to see a total eclipse of the moon. This eclipse is the longest total lunar eclipse of the 21st century.

The entire eclipse was visible from most of Africa, Europe, the Middle East and eastern Asia. Luckily for us in KwaZulu-Natal in South Africa, it was a clear and mild night. We decided to make an outdoor fire, both to roast some sweet potatoes and to keep us warm as we sat back to observe the eclipse, with the whole process taking about five hours.

1a Moon eclipse 2018

The rising Moon, as seen from our street, was dazzling

Clearly visible nearby the Moon was the planet Mars, the closest it has been to Earth since 2003. It can be seen in the above photo as a bright dot just to the right of the moon.

1b Moon eclipse

The brilliant Moon and the bright orangey dot of the planet Mars seen filtered through the branches of an acacia tree in our garden

2b Moon eclipse 2018

In the photo on the left the shadow of the Earth is starting to show on the lower side of the Moon, and by 20h24 the shadow is very apparent

2c Moon eclipse 2018

Nearly an hour after the first shadow on the Moon was seen, the Moon was reducing to a crescent of visible light. There was something awesome and primeval watching the slow process

2d Moon eclipse

Although the practical purpose of the fire that we sat around was to cook our supper and to keep us warm, the elemental quality of the fire added to the feeling of being in touch with something ancient and primordial. We could imagine humans from centuries past sitting round a fire and watching the night sky, and like us, on occasion marvelling at the rather magical sight of an eclipse

Perhaps it sounds corny, but we dug out Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon as an appropriate soundtrack to add to the sound of the calls of a nightjar.

With the naked eye (and on some camera settings) the Moon appeared to be redder than in my photos above, the red colour resulting from light scattering through dust particles in the atmosphere.

2e Moon eclipse

In this photo taken at 21h 30, although the Moon was in total eclipse, it was still visible to the naked eye (and captured by the camera setting I used for this shot) due to refracted sunlight illuminating it slightly. The Moon appeared to glow a delicate red, which is why such a Moon is dubbed a ‘blood Moon’.

2f Moon eclipse

Here is how the Moon looked (to my camera) at midnight, and by quarter-past midnight, the eclipse was almost over. By 01h30 the full Moon was back

2g Moon eclipse

Even after the eclipse was over, we continued to savour the experience, gazing sometimes into the flames and then raising our eyes to the brilliant Moon restored to its fully lit glory. We felt a kind of balance, a kind of restoration of perspective; we are so small and so transient.

Source: Astronomical Society of Southern Africa. Lunar Eclipse 2018. https://assa.saao.ac.za/lunareclipse2018/#seeWhat

Posted by Carol

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