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December 2010 Lunar Eclipse Watch

Thanks to last minute plans instigated by Virgil Reese, a group of BAS members and guests met at the Washington County Youth Baseball and Softball fields (WCYBS), north of Tuxedo Boulevard, and observed a total lunar eclipse in the early morning hours of December 21.  The club has had a previous arrangement with WCYBS, allowing us to observe from the northeast corner of the complex if we provide 48 hours notice of our plans.  Fortunately, Steve Plank has established a good relationship with the WCYBS contact and we were immediately given permission, even though our plans didn't come together until the middle of the afternoon.

The group, including club members Duane Perkins, John Grismore, Steve Plank and Virgil Reese, accompanied by his two daughters, began arriving shortly before 12:30 a.m.  Eight or ten enthusiastic visitors also arrived in time for the eclipse.  Patchy ground fog was already heavy, so finding the only unlocked entrance and negotiating the winding access road to our site proved to be a bit tricky.  Nevertheless, the visibility problem was only horizontal.  When we looked up, the full moon was readily visible through the thin layer of fog above our heads and a widespread haze of high thin clouds.  At 12:32 a.m. the Moon made first contact with the Earth's shadow (umbra) and quickly became truncated on its east limb.  As darkness advanced slowly but steadily across the face of the Moon, the leading edge of the Earth's shadow soon appeared distinctly curved.  As the eclipse progressed, Virgil disappeared briefly, soon returning with a couple of canisters of hot chocolate.  Everyone really appreciated the treat to combat the cool air.

Illuminated by the Moon's light, the high clouds hid most of the stars during the early phases of the eclipse.  But as the eclipse progressed and the Moon darkened, the nearby clouds seemed to evaporate, revealing many now-obvious stars around the Moon.  When only a thin bright sliver remained un-eclipsed on the west limb, the rest of the moon, though dark an reddish, displayed a distinctly three dimensional effect.  Several observers commented that it looked like a ping pong ball and appeared much closer.  When totality arrived, the Moon faded even more, almost camouflaging itself in the night sky.

Totality lasted for well over an hour, but shortly after it began, clouds drifted in again, at times almost completely hiding the event.  With the first half of the eclipse successfully observed, and little to see, many observers packed up and headed home.  It was only then that we discovered that Rex Murray, Keith Naylor and a guest had been observing the eclipse from just down the road, unaware that our group was less than a hundred yards away.  The fog had been so dense that they had been unable to find us, yet so shallow that we were all able to observe the eclipse overhead right up to totality.

This was one of the most successful BAS eclipse watches in many, many years.  We hope to repeat this success in the future, although it will be a long wait until the year 2094, when the winter solstice and a total eclipse of the Moon again overlap.