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.
Imagine that you’re living sometime around 2000 BCE, give or take a thousand years or so. That’s about 4000 years before our time.
You look up at the sky at night, and see it filled with numerous points of light. Some of them stay mostly fixed, but move mysteriously in circles around the north pole. Others move with the rest, but wander a bit from time to time.
And then there’s the sun, whose brilliant rays light the day. The moon, like the sun, doesn’t seem to follow the path of the lights in the sky. It even changes its shape, and sometimes disappears entirely.
Wouldn’t you wonder if there was some pattern to these otherworldly motions? Wouldn’t you devote time to studying them and seeing if you could predict them?
There can be no doubt that solar and lunar eclipses are some of the most fascinating sights for the “naked” eye. (And I say “naked” under the assumption that you know never to look directly at the sun without approved protection!)
Unless it’s during totality. Then you can take those glasses off.
But what I mean is, solar and lunar eclipses don’t require telescopes or binoculars to be seen. You don’t need to use any special equipment. You just need your eyes, and in the case of a solar eclipse, some form of protection—like solar glasses.
You may have noticed that when a solar eclipse comes up—or even a lunar eclipse—it’s all the rage. Suddenly, the media is swamped with safety warnings and calendar countdowns to the big event.
The United States just about lost its mind over the solar eclipse of August 21, 2017. And I have a feeling the next total solar eclipse to pass over the US, in seven years, will be just as dramatic.
But you might also be wondering…how do we know when these incredible sights are going to happen?
It’s named for its red appearance. Sometimes it’s even mistaken for Mars, as in the case of the “Mars hoax” back in 2002. It was claimed then that Mars would look as large as the full moon on August 27.
In truth, Mars will never appear as large as the full moon to the naked eye (a fancy way of saying that you’re not looking through a telescope or binoculars). What really happened was that the moon passed through the Earth’s shadow.
Wait a second. The Earth has a shadow? And it’s red?