Kansas Snapshots by Gloria Freeland - October 2, 2015

Supermoon Sunday

Social media were all-abuzz this past weekend with news about Sunday's supermoon lunar eclipse. Even I got in on the act with my Facebook post and accompanying photo.

I've been able to watch the supermoon lunar eclipse from the top of my driveway. It's beautiful! The coyotes started howling as soon as the moon was dark.

I doubt that the howling had anything to do with the eclipse, but it gave me a chill just the same. I've often heard animals react to changes in natural phenomena, but I also know that wolves - or coyotes - howling at the moon is associated with folklore.

I decided to check the NASA website to get scientific information about the astronomical event that had so many people talking:

The moon is sometimes closer to the Earth than at other times during its orbit. When the moon is farthest away, it's known as apogee, and when it's closest, it's known as perigee. At perigee, the moon is about 31,000 miles closer to Earth than at apogee. Its proximity makes the moon appear 14 percent larger and 30 percent brighter in the sky than an apogee full moon, which sparked the term "supermoon."

During a lunar eclipse, for more than an hour, Earth's shadow covers the moon as the planet comes between it and the sun. Lunar eclipses usually occur at least twice a year, and 228 will occur in the 21st century alone.

But both happening simultaneously is a rarer occurrence. The last supermoon/lunar eclipse combination occurred in 1982 and the next won't happen until 2033.

Wisconsin friend John posted a chart on Facebook with the predicted lunar eclipse times and stages in different time zones. For our time zone:

7:11 p.m.: Moon enters penumbra
8:07 p.m.: Moon enters umbra
9:11 p.m.: Total eclipse starts
9:47 p.m.: Middle of eclipse
10:23 p.m.: Total eclipse ends
11:27 p.m.: Moon leaves umbra
12:22 a.m.: Moon leaves penumbra

I learned some new words too. Perigee comes from the Greek word meaning "close to"; apogee means "far away." Penumbra comes from the Latin word meaning "partially shaded or shadowed"; umbra means "fully shaded or shadowed."

I used John's chart to track the eclipse's progress here at home. When I went outside to watch, I noticed our neighbors to the east had a sort of "watch party" going on. They were standing in their driveway in the dark, but their garage light was on.

I walked to the top of our drive to watch awhile, but when I returned to the house, I noticed I could also see the moon from the top porch step. It was positioned perfectly between our pin oak tree and the side of the house.

I took about 20 pictures, but only one or two turned out decently. It was hard to hold the camera steady enough to get an image that wasn't blurred. I posted the best one on Facebook at about 9:40.

Looking through Facebook, I was amazed at the number of people who watched the eclipse. Nephew Michael said, "Watching the progress of the super moon eclipse through a telescope is amazing beyond words. What an incredible event!"

Several members of Kansas State University's physics department set up telescopes, hoping a few people would come by to check out the astronomical event. They were surprised when hundreds showed up for the chance to see the moon up close and personal.

Youngest daughter Katherine took a picture of hers and her boyfriend's shadows and posted the photo, along with "Just watching the #bloodmoon."

Some people call the totally eclipsed moon a "blood moon" for its reddish color when it is completely in the Earth's shadow.

Other people mentioned sitting on their decks or in their back yards to watch it.

Husband Art, who is in Wisconsin for his annual fishing trip, said he could see it very well from our cottage.

I wonder how many millions of people had watched as I had. Perhaps the numbers for Supermoon Sunday eclipsed those for Super Bowl Sunday!

Astronomer Mark Hammergren, in a CNN report, may have said it best:

It's a beautiful sight in the nighttime sky. It's a way of connecting us to the universe at large. It gives us this view that there's a bigger picture than just what we're concerned with in our daily lives.

Left: "moonshot" with my handheld camera; right: Katie and boyfriend Matt using the moon's light to take a self-portrait

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