Eclipse draws astronomy students and spectators
February 20, 2008 9:14 PM
Focused on the narrow band of sky between the horizon and the murky clouds, SF State astronomers set up on the roof of the Cesar Chavez Student Center to catch the rising of a total lunar eclipse on Wednesday night.
Though the ascending moon provided only five minutes of clear viewing before climbing into the clouds, the brief appearance won’t repeat until the next total lunar eclipse in 2010, according to NASA's website.
“We have spotted the moon!” said Chris McCarthy excitedly, watching the reddened disc rise from the horizon along with members of his astronomy 115 class.
Like a shadow puppet on a wall, a total lunar eclipse occurs when the Earth casts its shadow from the sun directly onto the moon. Some light still passes through the Earth’s atmosphere, but the moon will take on a unique red or orange glow during “totality,” according to NASA.
“It’s a cool connection to our human ancestors,” said Rachel Strickler, an astronomy grad student at SF State who described how past astronomers have long studied the phenomena.
“The last one was at ‘ridiculous o’clock’ in the morning,” Strickler said, “This one’s at a nice, civilized time.”
Students of astronomy 115 were asked to draw and comment on their observations tonight, but many, including 65-year-old Memphis A. Cepeda, felt the clouds were an issue.
“Given the fact that I can’t see much, I’m probably going to write about how astronomers through the ages have coped with this problem,” joked Cepeda, who teaches practical math at San Francisco City College and is taking the astronomy course for fun.
Many of those attending weren’t part of a class, including Sam Guntner and Casey Montalbano, both 18.
“We heard it was going to be wild,” Guntner said, “It’s not so wild.”
Though the weather made viewing difficult, binoculars provided by the astronomy department gave observers a better picture of the reddening moon as it emerged from the clouds toward the end of the eclipse at 8:20 p.m.
Until the repair of the Thornton Hall observatory's roof, Tim Brothers, observatory curator, said he will be using the astronomy department's portable telescopes for viewings in the quad. Open to the public, viewings are scheduled for every Monday and Tuesday at 7 p.m.
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