Dig Baton Rouge

Red Moon Over Red Stick

By Nick BeJeaux

On Sunday, Baton Rouge and the world were gifted with a dramatic spectacle in the night sky: a blood-red total lunar eclipse.

Many moongazers crowded the balcony of the Landolt Observatory on top of LSU’s Nicholson hall to watch this celestial drama unfold, narrated by the loquacious and charismatic Dr. Bradley Schaefer – LSU’s resident moon expert. Schaefer’s impromptu lectures about lunar visibility, optics, and atmospheric phenomena were interspersed with his original didgeridoo compositions. He joked it was to help appease the gods, so they would stop eating the moon but also reminded the crowd it wasn’t so long ago people looked at eclipses with fear.

“You’re probably not afraid of this eclipse because your parents were not afraid of them,” Schaefer said to the crowd. “They weren’t afraid because they learned in third grade that an eclipse is only a shadow and no one want to admit to being afraid of a shadow. But up until about a century ago, eclipses instilled terror on every continent – well, except Antarctica, obviously.”

Dr. Bradley Schaefer (left) takes a moment to speak with an observatory visitor about the eclipse. Schaefer is the resident expert on lunar visibility at LSU, and even worldwide. Photo by Caleb Harris.
Dr. Bradley Schaefer (left) takes a moment to speak with an observatory visitor about the eclipse. Schaefer is the resident expert on lunar visibility at LSU, and even worldwide. Photo by Caleb Harris.

The eclipse reached totality – meaning the moon was completely in shadow – around 9:11 p.m., which was about the same time the clouds parted. Normally, the Landolt would allow visitors to view such an event through its telescopes, but binoculars were handed out instead due to the chance of rain. Moongazers were able to watch the eclipse grow darker and redder until around 9:47 p.m. when the clouds rolled back in.

Being one of the world’s highest authorities on moongazing, Schaefer says he takes issue with some of the hype this event has been getting in the media.

“What I object too is outlets like USA Today calling it ‘The Supermoon,’” he said. “Technically what they mean is that the moon is a little bit closer and therefore a little bit larger in the sky; but the effect is incredibly small. The change is completely unobservable to the naked eye. I’m actually the world’s leading expert on lunar visibility, and I can’t see any difference.

“This is not ‘Supermoon,’ that is just some stupid press hype. Maybe we should call it the Hyper-Ultra Blood moon – that would get even more press! But really though, that term ‘supermoon’ is not descriptive of what we can see and underlines something that’s actually very trivial and it’s a stupid thing to do.”

Of course, moongazers like Schaeffer don’t need hype to enjoy the company of our closest celestial neighbor.

“They need not do this actually, because the moon is kind of beautiful and eerie just by itself,” he said. “People can look up at the moon and can see what the state of volcanoes on earth are, you can see the shape of the Earth; there are so many thing you can do with an eclipsed moon. It’s humbling to be able to look at the heavens like this. The heavens shall declare the glory, and they do,” he said. “We don’t need some kind of hyped-up supermoon – it speaks for itself.”

The Landolt Observatory is offering two more free viewings this year, a view of Saturn in october and of the Quarter Moon in November. However, these viewings are dependent on the weather, and are subject to chance. Would-be stargazers can get updates on viewings on Twitter (@LAOatLSU) and Facebook at “Landolt Astronomical Observatory at LSU.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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