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Photo: Suzanne and John’s Mom.
The total lunar eclipse begins in Massachusetts, November 8, 2022.

It was cold between 4 and 5 a.m., but I had my winter clothes over my bathrobe. Other than my husband, no one else was outside.

Today is special for two reasons. It’s election day, which is the reason that matters most to me. But there was also a total lunar eclipse, an event that can put all human anxieties in perspective.

I am always up early anyway, and I enjoyed watching the earth’s shadow pass gradually over the moon. I watched until the eclipse was total but couldn’t watch the shadow move away because the moon had descended too low.

I loved how you could still see the moon faintly glowing even in the total eclipse. And I thought about how a total lunar eclipse will not occur again for another three years. Where will I be then?

Shannon Hall reported for the New York Times about what to expect when watching the eclipse.

“During the early hours on Tuesday, darkness will slip across the face of the moon before it turns a deep blood red. … Anyone awake in the United States will have a front-row seat as the sun, the Earth and the moon line up, causing the moon to pass through Earth’s shadow in the last total lunar eclipse until 2025.

“ ‘To me, the most significant thing about a lunar eclipse is that it gives you a sense of three-dimensional geometry that you rarely get in space — one orb passing through the shadow of another,’ said Bruce Betts, the chief scientist at the Planetary Society. …

“In North America, observers on the West Coast will get the best view. At 12:02 a.m. Pacific time, the moon will enter the outer part of Earth’s shadow and dim ever so slightly. But the total phase of the eclipse — the true star of the show — won’t begin until 2:16 a.m. That phase is called totality, when the moon enters the darkest part of Earth’s shadow and shines a deep blood-red hue. Totality will last for roughly 90 minutes until 3:41 a.m., and by 5:56 a.m. the moon will have returned to its well-known silvery hue. …

“Viewers on the East Coast, on the other hand, will have to set their alarms early. Although they won’t be able to watch the entire eclipse, they can catch totality, which will run from 5:16 a.m. …

“No matter where you are and which phase of the eclipse is happening, it is safe to watch with your unaided eyes.

“It may come as a surprise that the moon doesn’t simply darken as it enters Earth’s shadow. That’s because moonlight is usually just reflected sunlight. And while most of that sunlight is blocked during a lunar eclipse, some of it wraps around the edges of our planet — the edges that are experiencing sunrise and sunset at that moment. That filters out the shorter, bluer wavelengths and allows only redder, longer wavelengths to hit the moon. …

“ ‘For many cultures, the disappearance of the moon was seen as a time of danger, chaos,’ said Shanil Virani, an astronomer at George Washington University. The Inca, for example, believed that a jaguar attacked the moon during an eclipse. The Mesopotamians saw it as an assault on their king. In ancient Hindu mythology, a demon swallowed the moon.

“But not all lunar eclipses result in the deep red that led to the ‘blood moon’ nickname. Just as the intensity of a sunrise or a sunset can vary from day to day, so can the colors of an eclipse. It’s mostly dependent on particles in our planet’s atmosphere. Wildfire smoke or volcanic dust can deepen the red hues of a sunset, and they can also affect the eclipsed moon’s hue. …

“The color of the moon can therefore reveal signatures from our own atmosphere — a trick that could be used for future observations of planets around distant stars.

“Astronomers don’t typically observe exoplanets directly. Instead, they look for transits, or telltale blips when a planet crosses in front of its parent star. During such a time, starlight is filtered through the exoplanet’s atmosphere in the same way that, during a lunar eclipse, sunlight passes through Earth’s atmosphere before it hits the moon. …

“Manisha Shrestha, an astronomer at the University of Arizona, has another idea in mind. She plans to observe the lunar eclipse on Tuesday from the Bok Telescope at Kitt Peak National Observatory in Arizona with the hope of spotting not only certain chemicals within our atmosphere, but also their distribution.

“This technique has never been performed on exoplanets before and could mean that future detections won’t simply reveal whether an exoplanet has clouds, but whether those clouds smother the world in a thick layer or whether they are slightly uneven, as clouds on Earth are. If those clouds were both uneven and composed of water vapor, that exoplanet just might be Earth 2.0. …

“ ‘From the cosmic perspective, our problems are temporary things — things that are passing fancies of the human species,’ [Andrew Fraknoi, an astronomer at the University of San Francisco] said. ‘The eclipse connects you to cycles and rhythms that are much older.’ ”

Yes. I could feel that.

More at the Times, here. For eclipse information without a firewall, see National Public Radio, here.

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Art: Sun and Moon
A beautiful book reviewed at Brainpickings and featuring the work of ten of India’s indigenous artists.

Maria Popova, my go-to source for children’s book suggestions, tweeted about the book Sun and Moon in August, around the time of the eclipse.

“In Sun and Moon,” she writes, “ten Indian folk and tribal artists bring to life the solar and lunar myths of their indigenous traditions in stunningly illustrated stories reflecting on the universal themes of life, love, time, harmony, and our eternal search for a completeness of being.

“This uncommon hand-bound treasure of a book, silkscreened on handmade paper with traditional Indian dyes, comes from South Indian independent publisher Tara Books, who for the past decades have been giving voice to marginalized art and literature through a commune of artists, writers, and designers collaborating on books handcrafted by local artisans in a fair-trade workshop in Chennai …

“Among the indigenous traditions represented in the book are Gondi tribal art by Bhajju Shyam (of London Jungle Book fame), Durga Bai (featured in The Night Life of Trees), and Ramsingh Urveti (of I Saw a Peacock with a Fiery Tail); Madhubani folk art by Rhambros Jha (of Waterlife); and Meena tribal art by Sunita (of Gobble You Up).”

Popova links to WorldCat, a library system, for the book’s publishing details and this description: “Part of everyday life, yet rich in symbolic meaning, renderings of the sun and the moon are present in all folk and tribal art traditions of India. Agrarian societies have always kept track of time by referring to markers in the seasonal variations of the sun, moon and planets. They have also woven wonderful stories and myths around them. Here, for the first time, is a collection of unusual stories and exquisite art from some of the finest living artists, on this most universal of themes.”

Be sure to read the Brainpickings post, here, for more art, more of Popova’s insights, and her ever thoughtful suggestions for related reading.

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