Eish, it’s been a while hey. Let’s get restarted with the lunar eclipse that took place tonight. Solar eclipses are much more fun (I was lucky to witness one in 1999), but seeing a deep red moon is impressive too. I caught a minibus taxi just down the road to the Wits University Planetarium, where a large number of boffins had collected to see a special show about eclipses, followed by the viewing of the event from the car park.
It was surprisingly busy, perhaps 300 people in total, and about ten enthusiasts who had set up proper telescopes for the geeks to gawk through. Joburg is lucky to have clear, cold nights in winter and there was no cloud nonsense going on like in Cape Town.
A short but fun show at the planetarium explained the ins and outs of lunar and solar eclipses – I’ll be back for their regular Friday night show soon. There are two lunar facts that are really weird.The moon is 400 times smaller than the sun, and is also 400 times closer to us than the sun, meaning that the moon blocks the sun out perfectly (and beautifully) during solar eclipses. Secondly, we always only see one side the the moon from Earth; the moon turns around its axis in exact unison with its orbit around Earth. Amazing coincidences.
At 20:22 the earth’s shadow indeed started to eat up the moon, resulting in a nice deep red eclipsed disc an hour later. I managed to poke my little camera through the objective of some of the fatter telescopes and got the following rather cool photos of the moon going into eclipse.
When that got boring, the astronomers started swivelling their gear and looking up other celestial phenomena, like the ‘Jewel Box’ (a cluster of stars with various colours in the Southern Cross constellation), the Alpha Centauri double star (two stars spinning around each other) and the Omega Centauri cluster (a faint puff consisting of a hundred million stars).
But coolest of all was Saturn, spinning at a dainty angle opposite the moon. Through the telescope the planet was clearly visible with incredible detail such as the shadow of the planet on the rings and the gap between the planet and the rings were all easy to see. Factoid of the day: Saturn’s rings span 250,000 kilometres but are only 100 metres thick.
What a beauty hey.
I’ll leave you with the interior of the planetarium, with their cool star-making machine.