Total Eclipse-Feb 2008

Polluted-eclipseThere is little to compare with the emotions evoked by a lunar eclipse. One can set out to witness one of these events with a group of friends or join a host of spectators on a hilltop lookout but I prefer to go solo.
On 21 February 2008 I packed my gear, camera, binocs, coffee, chocolates and…. coffee into my 1956 VW Beetle in which I felt least likely to be hi-jacked and headed for Blouberg Strand which has a magnificent view of Cape Town’s Table Mountain. Although I like solo, I felt a need to be close to other people just for safety’s sake.
The eclipse had been widely publicized and I was expecting a crowd of onlookers on the beach and on the balconies of apartments. It was past midnight and the beach was dark and deserted. It felt a little creepy. I parked in a parking bay opposite an apartment block where there was still some activity but one by one the shutters closed and the lights went out. This was extreme solo. After giving my details and reasons for being there to a security guy and chatting to a hooker who had just taken a drunk client back to his apartment, I settled in to prepare for the eclipse.
At 03:13 I noticed the first slight darkening towards the top right limb of the Moon. From then on it was just me on Mother Earth and she had all intention of casting her shadow on the Moon as they silently progressed in their respective orbits. My emotions started building up. I scanned through all the events of my life. My camera was set up with a remote shutter release and I just clicked away, adjusting exposures as the Moon darkened. At 03:43 I could see a definite shadow and the chapters of my life closed one by one. I glanced over my shoulder to see if someone in the apartment block had set an alarm clock.
At 04:55 with only a slither of bright Moon visible, I noticed a ruddiness creep over the whole surface of the Moon. I felt connected to all my friends, witnessing the event from other locations. The eclipsed part of the Moon turned a rusty orange. I do not think I have seen a more beautiful sight. The security car approached and the guy gave me a thumbs up. I acknowledged the gesture. It was almost daybreak and I headed home before the early morning traffic. Close to home I stopped and caught one last glimpse of the eclipsed Moon through heavy city pollution.

Getting to know the Night Sky

Nov 2011

Getting to know the night sky is not much different from getting to know your neighbourhood, city, province or country. Some of us skip a few steps and venture farther to neighbouring countries or feel a real need for speed and travel right around the world. A select few have progressed past all of this and have become zero gravity junkies, living and working beyond the Earth’s atmosphere.
In getting to know the night sky, you first visit Earth’s immediate neighbourhood – the Moon, Mercury, Venus and Mars, the  gas planets, the Sun and other objects of the solar system. Some skip these steps and venture to our second nearest star system,  Alpha,Beta and Proxima Centauri. Others explore the thousands of star clusters and nebulae between the millions and millions of stars that form our Milky Way Galaxy.
The ultimate thrill seekers search for galaxies outside our own, whizzing past the Large and Small Magellanic Clouds, which are visible to the naked eye and farther and  farther into space. A select few go for gold  and with the aid of “Extremely Very Large” telescopes see back in time, as far back as thirteen billion years and more, to where it all began.
Whichever adventure you embark on, there will be pros and cons.
You will either be constantly on the move or quite stationary. Reading road maps during the day is much easier than reading sky maps in the dark.
Discovering new places on Earth and in the night sky are equally thrilling. On daytime excursions you need to look respectable most of the time. On night sky adventures you need not fret if you have left your vanity case at home.
During the day you could get struck by a buck. Snakes are nocturnal.
Jet lag or lack of sleep are to be expected. You have the option of lugging along heavy baggage or travelling light.
Adverse atmospheric conditions could put a damper on any adventure.
Depression is a normal side-effect when you return to reality. This is a necessary condition which drives you to plan your next excursion.
Which destination will beckon? Plenty sunshine or plenty starshine?
Traffic, crowds, noise, queues or solitary stillness, with or without a few like-minded friends.
In my case, getting to know the night sky will most probably outweigh all other options…