Eclipse! Moon around Thursday night
One weekend when I was a teenager, a group of friends and I lit out of town for the family cottage in the country. The sun had long set by the time we rolled up the dirt road that ended at the isolated cabin, but it was a warm, clear night, and the moon was full and bright, so we took off for the lake down in the woods.
As luck would have it, Mother Nature chose that night to stage a total eclipse of the moon. By the time we realized the significance of a moonless night in the middle of the woods where no streetlights glowed and we carried no flashlights, it was too late. We were completely lost in darkness lit only by the faint, but spectacular, glow of a host of stars.
This infrequent cosmic event, in which the full moon passes completely into earth’s umbral shadow, will take place on May 15 with such good timing that there’s no excuse for missing it. Beginning at around 10pm, a small notch will appear along the edge of the moon. Over the next hour or so, the leisurely progressing shadow will completely shroud the moon in darkness by 11:13.
Those who really want to get into the drama of it all can join astronomers, both professional and amateur, who will eagerly guide the way through the celestial sights at Ivy Creek Natural Area. Telescopes will be set up next to the barn for a view of the spring sky as well as the eclipse. Participants are invited to bring their own binoculars and telescopes, although neither is necessary to enjoy the eclipse.
If 11:30 is just too late to stay up on a school night, the Science Museum of Richmond offers other insights into the heavens with an interactive planetarium show called LiveSky on Friday, May 16. Astronomer David Hagan answers questions about the different lives of stars and the May night sky and illustrates his answers using a Digistar planetarium projector. Later, members of the Richmond Astronomical Society will share their telescopes and their knowledge on the museum’s front lawn.
Closer to home, the UVA Astronomy department opens the doors and the roof at McCormick Observatory on O Hill for their bimonthly Public Night, also on May 16. Three research telescopes are available for public viewing, and faculty members and graduate students guide participants through the historically interesting observatory as well as the night sky.
All this looking is entirely dependent on the weather, of course. Clouds and rain will not only obscure the view, but will cancel all three outdoor events.
All three events are free, including the LiveSky planetarium show. The Ivy Creek event takes place from 10-11:30pm. Earlysville Road. 973-7772. The Science Museum of Richmond is at 2500 W. Broad St. LiveSky starts at 6pm; the telescopes go up on the lawn around 9pm. 800-659-1727. www.smv.org. Public night at UVA’s McCormick Observatory is from 9-11pm. McCormick Road. 924-7494.