Totaled Again!!!

Observing notes from Thursday, September 26, 1996

For the second time this year, the Man in the Moon had a weird looking face. For observers across the United States with clear skies, a look toward the sky would reveal a totally eclipsed Moon, and it was the Harvest Moon too. This eclipse was similar to the one on April 3, except that it was better placed in the sky for viewing. Mid totality came at about 10:54pm EDT.

I really feared that this eclipse would be clouded out. I awoke to clouds and rain on Thursday morning. By midday, it was really looking bad. I was already studying satellite images off the Internet, and planning a possible "moon chase". The afternoon and evening skies offered some hope, but it still did not look that great. Just when it appeared that the Man in the Moon had a little "soot" on his face, the clouds disappeared completely. I settled back for a wonderful eclipse.

A coworker of mine, Michael King, set up his 8" f/4.5 Newtonian reflector next to my 8" f/10 Schmidt-Cassegrain. We were in a cul-de-sac just down from my house, and were joined by some of my neighbors. The Moon started entering the umbral shadow of the Earth at 9:12pm EDT. As the shadow ate away at the Moon, the sky and surroundings grew darker. Saturn, just 3 degrees below the Moon, and at opposition, seemed to shine brighter. Fainter stars came into view, and a very faint Milky Way could be traced directly overhead. It was neat to see the curved shadow of the Earth, as it creeped across the face of the Moon. The Earth was once again proved to be round. Totality began at 10:19pm EDT.

During the total phase, we observed the Moon, as well as Saturn and Jupiter. My neighbors were really excited at seeing these outer worlds. We also tracked down a few deepsky objects such as the Double Cluster in Perseus and the Ring Nebula, M57, in Lyra. During this time, I also tried a few snap shots of the Moon through my telescope. It was hard to focus on the dark image of the Moon, and with it being kind of windy, I don't expect too much when they return from the developer. The mosquitoes were also out in force, which I considered strange since wind usually helps to scatter the `skeeters.

The Moon started leaving the umbral shadow at 11:29pm EDT. As it did, the sky and the landscape really started to light up. We followed the waning phases of the eclipse with our binoculars and telescopes. We watched the edge of the shadow and it moved over prominent craters like Tycho. The Moon left the umbral shadow at 12:36am EDT. By this time, everything was brightly lit from a newly restored, full Moon. We didn't need flashlights to put away our equipment.

As I put my telescope into the trunk of my car, I noticed a mosquito flying by the light. No wonder these demons were resisting the wind,....they were HUGE!!! I think they were the Apache helicopters of the mosquito world!

What seemed like a certain cloudy night, turned into a wonderful celestial event. The next total lunar eclipse for the United States is on January 20th, in the year 2000. I can hardly wait.

Jeffrey L. Polston

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