It certainly isn’t often that I create such a lengthy post title, that’s for sure. But given how long it’s been since I blogged, this feels like a once-in-a-while sort of moment.
A moment where, apparently, I deviate from my previous posting plan and show you an image of the blood moon, when last I knew, I was supposed to be talking about black holes.
Yeah, I know. My last post, written over a year ago (sorry!), was about what the movies get wrong about black holes. And the post that would have followed naturally from that one, which somehow got delayed for what feels like an eternity, was supposed to be about how to search for black holes throughout the universe.
Don’t worry, we’re still gonna get to that. Presumably in my next post.
However, there is a lunar eclipse coming up in less than a week, and I wanted to take the opportunity to review the science of an event I’ve already blogged about before. This way, I don’t need to spend quite as much time talking about the actual eclipse, and I can fill you in on why the freaking heck you missed out on science posts for a whole year and three months.
And can I just say, it feels really good to slip back into my old writing style? It’s odd, in a way—part of me wants to change things up a bit, as if I’m fearing some kind of judgment. I guess that’s just the effect the last year or so has had on me.
First, thank you guys so, so much for sticking with me. My monthly views have barely sagged at all since I last published a post back in February 2021, and I am so grateful that you didn’t give up on me, even while I had basically disappeared from the internet!
Second…the reason I disappeared, the short version at least, is mental health.
A lot of 2021 feels like a blur to me. Same with 2020. And same with several specific phases of my life before that—middle school, college semesters, etc. The important thing is that in the very tail end of 2019, I “met” my boyfriend.
(And I say that in quotes because I had already known him and admired him a lot as early as 2012, but we barely knew each other back then.)
It’s no coincidence that I posted very sporadically between 2019 and 2021. The bulk of the posts on this blog were written in 2017 and 2018. After that, I’m not surprised to see that according to my annual stats, I published only 11 posts in 2019, 6 posts in 2020, and 14 in 2021.
To make a long story short, in 2019, I dropped out of the university I was attending—purely for mental health reasons. I was pursuing an astronomy degree, literally my life passion. My academic pursuits had nothing to do with leaving school.
Then, like I said, in late 2019, I met my boyfriend, Charlie—and he changed my life.
The past few years have been a whirlwind of self-discovery and recovery. Charlie helped me realize a lot of the past issues that had been affecting me, and I’ve come to realize that (1) I have most likely been misdiagnosed my whole life, leading to nearly two decades of stigma, bullying, and depression, and (2) I actually have legitimate trauma, as indicated by my new therapist’s diagnosis of PTSD.
I’m not asking for pity. I don’t want to be treated any differently. You guys have been the most wonderful audience for over eight years now and I don’t want any of that to change. I just want to pay you back for your generosity by telling you why I’ve been gone so long. And I want to be open with the only people in the world I feel confident with right now…
…which brings me to the story of the tail end of 2021.
Charlie and I spent four months living with THE worst human being I have ever personally known. (No, not a biological relative, definitely not one of my parents—but the details there aren’t really mine to tell.) While those four months were absolute hell on Earth for me, they were illuminating. Charlie and I came back to California with closure and understanding we didn’t have before. Not to mention, for me at least, a healthy dose of trauma heaped on top of what I already had to deal with.
(As a result, I’ve lost a lot of my former confidence in interacting with other humans. This blog is one of the few places where I still feel safe.)
So then I spent the beginning of 2022 trying to put the pieces of my life back together. And that’s where the good news begins. I got my first full time job, working as a Warehouse Associate at Amazon, and with that came health insurance and a ton of other awesome benefits that will spur me forward as I pursue my goals.
There’s even a distinct possibility of tuition assistance, so finishing my Associate’s degree in Physics isn’t that far off a dream—I can imagine achieving that next year at the latest. Hey, after the crap I’ve had to deal with throughout my life, finishing my Associate’s of Science in Physics at 24-25 isn’t too bad.
While I’m working on my associate’s degree, I hope to begin launching my AstroTours freelance business, something I hope to tell you guys more about as my plans become more concrete. But in short, while it’s important to me that Science at Your Doorstep remains FREE forever, I want to monetize my in-person astronomy community outreach.
That way, once I resign from Amazon to pursue my Bachelor’s, I’ll still be dragging in some hefty chunks of money on the side. And my amazing boyfriend has told me he wants to support me all the way.
While I pursue my Bachelor’s of Science in Astrophysics (maybe at Cal Poly Pomona???) I’ll be doing my best to be as competitive a student as possible. The goal is to snag myself one of those Ph.D. programs that pay your whole way because you’re just that competent. And then if I can just get tenure as an astronomy professor, it’ll be smooth sailing the rest of the way to my dreams…
So, since things in my life are finally looking up so much, I can finally spare the bandwidth to do things I used to enjoy—like stargazing! And it’s a perfect time to be getting back in the “saddle,” so to speak. (As a former equestrian, I just had to use a horsey saying.) After all, there’s a lunar eclipse coming up this weekend, and hopefully I won’t be too tired after my work day to catch it.
(Yes, for those of you who caught that slight potential illogic…I work on Saturdays and Sundays. My “weekends” are Tuesdays and Wednesdays. Go figure.)
And because another one of those activities I used to enjoy is blogging about the universe, here I am—finally!—to remind you of what a lunar eclipse is, and let you know what to expect this weekend.
Sheesh. Took me long enough to get to the actual science of this post. At least I’ve written about it before. Which, like I said up above, is the entire reason why I devoted so much of this post to just catching up with you guys.
Anyway. A lunar eclipse, often colloquially known as the “blood moon,” occurs when the moon passes through the Earth’s shadow.
Dang, I had to scroll pretty far back in my blog’s media library to find my old eclipse diagrams. Had a good laugh when I scrolled past an image of toothbrushes…
Back to the point.
In the diagram above, the moon barely grazes the Earth’s shadow. That’s what eclipse viewers in most of Africa and Asia will see. Fortunately, most of the rest of the world will get to see at least some of the total eclipse—when the light of the sun on the full moon becomes completely obstructed by the Earth, and only the longer wavelengths of red light will penetrate the fringe of Earth’s atmosphere and bathe the moon in the familiar coppery glow of a lunar eclipse.
Since it’s far from a good idea to plagiarize, I’ll leave it to TimeAndDate.com to take you through all the specific details of this eclipse. This page will give you more details on eclipse viewing in your location on the globe than I ever could.
So…why do lunar eclipses happen, again?
Basically, it’s a mechanic of the moon’s orbit. The moon appears full to us—that is, fully bathed in the sun’s light—when it is on the opposite side of the Earth from the sun in its orbit. Normally, we just see a full moon.
That’s because the moon’s orbit does not line up exactly with the Earth’s orbit. The “planes,” so to speak—-as if the two orbits were giant solid discs—do not overlap perfectly. They are not flat with one another. Because they’re ever so slightly out of alignment, we can get a full moon, but the Earth isn’t usually directly between the sun and the moon.
Sometimes, though, the orbits line up just right, and the moon crosses through the plane of the Earth’s orbit around the sun exactly during its “full” phase.
When this happens, the Earth’s shadow falls over the moon.
Why? Because a shadow is simply the absence of light. The sun casts light out in every direction, but if it hits a planet or other object, anything behind that object doesn’t get lit up.
So…how come we can see the moon at all during a lunar eclipse?
Well, if the Earth were just a ball of rock with no atmosphere, then we wouldn’t. And not just because with no atmosphere, we wouldn’t exist. If by some weird quirk of the universe, there was someone on that atmosphere-less ball of rock to watch the moon, it would simply become too dark to see as the Earth’s shadow fell over it.
But because the Earth does have an atmosphere, some light actually does get through. The atmosphere allows some of the light shining on Earth’s “day” face to penetrate through to the “night” side and illuminate the moon.
Only the longest wavelengths of radiation can make it through the atmosphere. The rest get scattered and never fall on the moon. Of the visible wavelengths that illuminate the moon, only red light makes the trip.
That’s why, during a lunar eclipse, you see the moon bathed in red.
For a more detailed explanation of the lunar eclipse, check out my original post on it, back when I was chugging out a slew of posts on eclipses in general. And if you can, you should totally try to catch the lunar eclipse this weekend! Depending on your time zone, it will fall on Sunday or Monday, May 15-16, but regardless, it will occur sometime during that night.
Remember, a lunar eclipse might not attract quite the same worldwide excitement as the famous total solar eclipse, but a total lunar eclipse—which, depending on your part of the world, you will likely see this weekend—is just as spectacular! It’s just that it’s not quite as rare an event, and much more of the globe will be able to see the full effect, so it’s less of a travel occasion.
And, best of all, you don’t need any astronomy equipment to enjoy a total lunar eclipse. The “blood moon” is visible to the naked eye. You don’t need a telescope, though I prefer to use one. And you don’t need any kind of protection for your eyes, unlike with a solar eclipse. A lunar eclipse is completely safe to watch.
So catch it if you can—I’m certainly going to try! Let’s just hope I’m not too tired after eight hours on my feet mindlessly packing boxes….
Ah, well. I suppose I can’t really complain, when this job is my ticket to true independence.