Luna Rubrum

Sometimes you have to resort to sheer lunacy to make the most out of life. Earlier (much earlier) this morning I once again found myself on Barr Beacon hill, a Dark Sky Discovery site, for astronomical purposes. Ordinarily a bright moon would mean that I’d avoid any kind of stargazing event, as it outshines all but the brightest stars and meteors, but this morning, Luna was the star of the show. Not one, but two astronomical events happened last night. The first was a total lunar eclipse:

The sun is on the exact opposite side of Earth to the moon and cast’s Earth’s shadow onto the moon, so that the only light seen from the moon’s surface is the reflection of a thousand simultaneous sunsets and sunrises from our planet.

This coincided with the moon being at perigee (it’s closest point to Earth) appearing 7-14% larger in the sky. When perigee coincides with full moon it is called a Super Moon. This morning’s also happens to be Harvest Moon (the moon closest to the autumn equinox).

You might have heard the eclipse referred to as a ‘Blood Moon’. This is not related to the colour of the moon during the eclipse, but actually a term used to describe the phenomenon of four total eclipses taking place in a row (They happened in April & October 2014 and April & September 2015) – called a ‘tetrad’ of eclipses.

There’s a load of superstition and lore about Blood Moons and Harvest Moons being portents (good or ill) of future events, from a variety of cultures. And as I stood on the Beacon last night, it occurred to me that if people didn’t know about space, physics, the natural world, etc., then the phenomenon would have been truly intimidating and scary. Just think – the moon turning the colour of blood – doesn’t take a huge leap of imagination to see how superstitions get started!

Red moon over the West Midlands as seen from Barr Beacon!
Red moon over the West Midlands as seen from Barr Beacon!

It’s the third total lunar eclipse I’ve seen, and by far the best viewing (skies were clear and although fog filled the valleys it, for the most part, stayed off the hill!) and the most impressive show I’ve seen.

It’s really whetted my whistle for the autumn meteor showers.  If you’re local (or even if you’re not!), you can book free places to attend the Orionids meteor shower on Barr Beacon in October, the Leonids meteor shower in November and the Geminids meteor shower in December by going to:

www.walsalllooksup.eventbrite.co.uk

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