Tonight’s rare “super blood wolf moon” lunar eclipse coincided with an equally rare clear January night in Seattle. My little point-and-shoot digital camera didn’t do it proper justice, but it gives you an idea of what we saw.
Eclipses are transcendent events. First and foremost, they’re beautiful. I love the coppery glow of the moon set against a backdrop of stars.
Eclipses teach us humility. They remind us that no matter what’s happening in our lives, no matter the hustle and bustle or the trials and tribulations, the universe is unfolding at its own stately, majestic pace, just as it should. I find this comforting.
Eclipses remind us how far we’ve come. It’s amazing how accurately we can predict exlipses now — this one, for example, beginning at 7:35 p.m. Pacific Time, total eclipse at 8:40 p.m., ending at 10:45 p.m. Centuries ago, an astronomer would be lucky to predict an eclipse within days! Jesuit missionaries in China during the 1600’s gained influence with the Emperor because they were able to predict a solar eclipse much more accurately than the Emperor’s own Chinese astronomers. (Ironically, the Jesuits’ success was based upon the Copernican model of the solar system, a model which the Church in Europe deemed heretical at the time.)
Eclipses were one of the first phenomena to attract our attention to the night sky. And what a powerful attraction they have been! The prediction and explanation of eclipses has been a driving force in astronomy since ancient Greece. Ptolemy, Copernicus, Galileo, Kepler, Newton, all of them contributed to our knowledge of the universe by working to improve our ability to predict eclipses.
Finally, eclipses remind us how far we still have to go. Yes, we have binoculars and telescopes to bring images of an eclipse closer to home. And yes, we’ve put a few men on the Moon and even sent a couple of tiny spaceships beyond the solar system. But we have yet to venture beyond our own Earth to the stars.