Last evening I took my first local road trip since I decided to plan and execute more such outings. This trip was unique however in that the destination was basically unplanned. Unfortunately, it did not quite go as I had hoped.
If you did not know, a total lunar eclipse—the first of this type since 28 October 2004—was visible for Africa and Europe and partly visible for most of the rest of the world. The refraction of sunlight through the Earth's atmosphere during a total eclipse paints the moon in a reddish hue, particularly hypnotic during the moment of "greatest eclipse" when the moon is in the center of Earth's umbra.
As the sun set and the start of the visibility period for eastern North America neared, I headed outdoors to try to catch the moon rise. I descended the stairs of my apartment and turned right only to see an enormous mass of dense clouds filling the entire eastern sky. Since the moon was due to rise shortly, already in the middle of the visually best parts of the eclipse, I was obviously disappointed.
I thought perhaps getting into an area where I had more visibility of the lower sky and horizon might help, but only if the clouds dissipated some. Not willing to take the chance of missing a great show, I got into my car and headed towards Interstate 10. The plan was to drive west to Exit 181 (SR 267) and find such a spot.
Driving the fifteen mile stretch of highway, I anxiously awaited a sign that the clouds might disperse and offer a glimpse of the moon. That moment never did come but I decided to continue on the mission to find the right vista anyway. I exited and turned north on SR 267 as I did not recall seeing any particularly good spots to the south the last time I drove there.
Immediately to my left was what appeared to be a perfect location—an abandoned gas station with a long curvy entrance road. I drove up to the next intersection and made a U-turn during which I noticed a few cars parked on the grass and a small group of people standing around. Near them was a sign for some University of Florida facility, so I assumed they were an astronomy club or something.
The curvy drive to the former Exprezit! gas station was a nice spot, although the openness of the terrain and my proximity to the I-10 interchange made me feel as though every driver that passed on SR 267 was looking right at me. The view of the horizon was partially blocked by trees across the street but it was no matter; the clouds were still fully occupying the eastern sky.
There was a nice cool breeze gently wrapping around me as The Sounds of Swing quietly emanated from my windows and sunroof. With no change in the cloudiness in sight, I decided to head back to that group of people I saw and maybe learn a bit more. It was 1845 EST.
In this image assembled from three satellite photographs you can see SR 267 just north of I-10. In the upper left corner is the abandoned gas station and curvy drive. The upper right corner depicts some of the UF facility. You can see the intersection with SR 267 just below it. The tree closest to the intersection is where I joined the crowd facing east, which appears to be due south in this composite. [ interactive ]
You may notice the picture comes from Yahoo! Maps but I link to Google Maps. This is because while Google offers a higher resolution image with more zoom and clarity, a photo separation line bisects the region. It changed the focus of the composite so I went with the uniform version instead.
When I parked in the grass and started to get out of my car, the entire group stopped to look in my direction. If there had been a jukebox playing, it would have most certainly scratched to a halt.
"I assume you're all here for the lunar eclipse," I postulated, breaking the silence.
Astronomy students they were not. The crowd actually consisted of multi-generational members of the same family. They had come from various parts of Florida for a "reunion of sorts," as the man who responded to my query stated. A few of them had obviously convinced the others, ranging in age from high school or college age to late adulthood, to come out and witness the eclipse.
Ironically, I was the most knowledgeable person present and ended up fielding lunar eclipse and other space-related questions. There was some additional brief chit-chat but their conversation soon returned to family topics foreign to me. Staring over the group in silence, I watched the ever-darkening sky for a sign of anything.
At 1905 EST, I pointed and commanded to the group, "Look!" A faint glow of white light had managed to penetrate the clouds and was slowly getting brighter. This renewed hope invoked an energy in the crowd, now moving away from the cars to get a slightly better view without the interference of a telephone pole.
Over the course of the next twenty minutes, we watched with fading enthusiasm as the clouds continued to mask and slightly uncover portions of the moon, now in its final stages of eclipse. There were a few moments when it appeared the clouds would part just enough to completely allow a full viewing of the moon, but it would not occur.
The group eventually left and I soon followed suit at 1945 EST, watching what I could see of the moon during the twenty mile drive back. Again, for a few moments here and there unobstructed views seemed eminent but never actually materialized.
In all, despite the failure to watch the lunar eclipse, the evening was a lot of fun. And if nothing else, I have a new destination to choose from when I seek a place to view the sky.
Oh, and for the record, that UF sign that contributed to my false impression students and/or professors were gathered was not for any space-related facility. It is actually the Gadsden County Extension Office for the University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences.
I have been collecting the following linkage for the past few weeks, so some of the items are more current than others.
This is an example of what we should have seen last night...
...but this is more like what we saw.
Lunar Eclipse Gallery
Featuring images from CNN, The Associated Press, NASA and Space.com.
Another Eclipse Gallery
Featuring amateur photographs from around the world.
Flickr: Lunar Eclipse
The most recently uploaded photos tagged with lunar and eclipse.
Totenkopf Toaster SKULL-Toast
This German toaster brands a skull and crossbones graphic on the toasted bread. [ via ]
Autumn and the Plot Against Me
An interesting personal research piece about tracking the origins of a Windows XP wallpaper photo.
Say What Again (high res)
A cleverly animated textual take on Marcellus Wallace's "Say What Again" dialogue in Pulp Fiction by Jarratt Moody. [ via ]
'Infomania' worse than marijuana
"Workers distracted by email and phone calls suffer a fall in IQ more than twice that found in marijuana smokers, new research has claimed."
Jimmy Kimmel: Takei to Hardaway
An amusing bit by George Takei who addresses shamed basketball star Tim Hardaway's recent anti-gay statements.
NZ fishermen land colossal squid
Of specific note is the enlarged picture of the caught 33 foot, 990 pound Mesonychoteuthis hamiltoni.
Better Uses for $1.52 Billion
In the wake of Microsoft's loss in their $1.52 billion dollar patent infringement suit, Mike Davidson comes up with some alternative uses for that sizeable sum.
Finding your way back home
A nice newspaper article about adults returning to their childhood homes and making them their own. It features Jeff Tabaco whose site I have read for years.
Star Trek Voice Operated Dimmer
Features sound effects and the voice of Majel Barrett-Roddenberry. [ via ]
Steampunk Keyboard Mod
An immaculately designed and built retro-style computer keyboard constructed with classic typewriter keys and custom detailing. [ via ]
Every Star Trek reference in Family Guy ever!