Yes, it was another global hashtag event, like #Pope FrancisinPhilly or (as I write) #facebookdown.
However, this was a natural occurrence that engendered some awe and wonder, even among my somewhat cynical Twitter friends, last night. We were told we would not experience another celestial happening like this until 2033. Considering that we might be too old or infirm by then to enjoy it – either that or pushing up the daisies – we decided to try to capture, and share, at least some of the excitement. This was the #SuperBloodMoon.
Firstly, I decided to tune in to the NASA live stream. I have a fascination with nerdy scientists (Neil DeGrasse Tyson, of course a bit of a media star, instantly pulled me in, just as the eccentric Englishman Patrick Moore did, decades ago). I confess, though, I was somewhat disappointed with last night’s feed. I had been hoping to see amazing images from various telescopes, or even the International Space Station; I follow several astronauts on Twitter, and their photos are always – dare I say it – “out of this world.” The NASA feed consisted mainly of chats (in pleasant NPR-type voices) with various other eminent scientists. I learnt quite a lot, and they did a good job in answering one of my questions on Twitter. But since most of their observatories across the United States had clouds hanging over them, there was nothing to see. The NASA peeps did a valiant job of connecting with Brazil, Guatemala and elsewhere, crossing the language barrier. It’s good that it wasn’t entirely U.S.-based and the intention was good; I guess, in the end, the weather let them down.
After a few clouds when the super moon was rising, the sky cleared and we had a pretty good view from our front yard. Our dog was a bit confused at my hopping in and out of the house with my camera, standing on the lawn peering at the sky, and then trying to focus. She’s not used to us wandering around the yard at night. I stretched my photographic skills to the limit (which, admittedly, is not very far!) while my husband wandered around, discussing (and inventing) mysterious lunar eclipse rituals that involved removing one’s clothes and hopping up and down, etc. This was not particularly helpful, but I managed to grab a few decent ones (photos, that is…)
Back on Twitter, a flood of extraordinary images came through: the Supermoon from all angles, posing beside lots of famous buildings worldwide (“Look! Here I am at the Eiffel Tower!”) as if it was going sight-seeing. I preferred the moon in landscapes, like the photos I am showing here; and those snapped with cell phones by my friends from their balconies in and around Kingston. The huge close-ups were impressive, but somehow I wanted to get more comfortable with this moon. I wanted to see it in its natural, earthly surroundings.
Response to the moon among my Twitter friends was mostly curious and enthusiastic, except for one or two “What’s the big deal” reactions. Someone said it was too much of a “mass market” event; she would rather the moon rose quietly, without any fuss and everyone in the world staring at it. Well, anything the slightest bit unusual is mass market in these Twitterized, Facebooked and Instagrammed times. I think I know what she means; still, to me it was a delight. But then, as I said before, I am always happy to sit at the feet of astrophysicists and lap up their words of wisdom.
Not only that. The Universe, and events like these, fill me with wonder. I cannot find a better way to describe my feelings, as a strange shadow in one corner of the brilliant moon crept across its silver face, silent as a ghost. Our world is filled with light and shadow; the slow invasion of the dark – our own planet’s shadow – made me shiver. The penumbra (what a beautiful word) moved surprisingly swiftly across the surface of our moon, until a tiny curve like a fingernail was left. Then it was gone. We discerned a very faint glow; then, the moon turned not blood red, but rather a murky brown – at least, that is how it looked to the naked eye. There was a shape. There was no light. This was something else. I wanted our familiar moon back.
I went back inside to the NASA people, who were still having trouble getting those visuals. For me, the best part was over. When I went out some time later, I saw a little ship of a moon, peeping through the leaves of our guango tree. “Oh good, you’re back,” I thought. All’s well with the Universe, again.
A little footnote: I studied Advanced Level Latin at grammar school in England (yes, I have a strong nerd streak in me, too), which included reading literature. My favorite, by far, was the wonderful “De Rerum Natura,” written by the first century Roman poet Lucretius (Titus Lucretius Carus, to give him his full name). Although he was not a great scientist (he was an Epicurean philosopher, who wrote beautifully) his sense of connectivity – an almost emotional response to what was going on in the heavens, to the changing seasons, and to various natural phenomena – resonated with me and perhaps influenced my love of nature in some way. Lucretius believed the moon shone with its own light; an eclipse, therefore, was due to a temporary shortness of light, soon to be renewed. If I was to watch the eclipse of the moon last night, without the benefit of all our brilliant scientists telling me otherwise, I would think just as Lucretius did, centuries ago.
The moon got tired of shining; her battery was low, so she hid behind its russet brown shawl, regenerating. Then, tentatively, she returned, just in time to shine us brightly to bed.
“There can be no centre
in infinity.” (Lucretius, De Rerum Natura)