Wednesday, January 23, 2019

A Night under the Blood Moon

~David Breeckner, Executive Director

What do the moon, hot dogs, and museums have in common?  This past Sunday night, January 20, they all came together for a massive public event at Imperial Valley Desert Museum.  611 guests joined Museum staff, volunteers, and their Board of Directors for a night under the stars at its first stargazing event of the new year -- a total lunar eclipse and Blood Moon! 

It was a big night at IVDM.  The Museum hosts a number of stargazing events across the year, which are always well attended.  But the Blood Moon Eclipse was something different.  With nearly three times our usual attendance, visitors from as far away as Julian, Lakeside, and Yuma came to IVDM to relax under the night sky.  Though the weather wasn't as kind as we'd first hoped -- our evening's host, Mike Rood, did put a call into NASA to see about the cloud cover, but there was nothing that could be done!  Nevertheless, the brightness of the full moon shone through.  Despite a slight haze through the clouds themselves, the crowd still marveled as the moon slowly traveled in full into the Earth's shadow... and disappeared.

A lunar eclipse takes place when the moon passes through a part or all of the of the Earth's 2 shadows.  That's right -- 2 shadows!  The umbra and penumbra represent a range of shadows, from ones that block the full effects of the sun and are darkest -- found on the side of the Earth directly opposite the sun -- to a partial shadow that fans out from the umbra like shades of grey as portions of the solar light sneak around the sides of the planet.  What you see at an eclipse depends on these shadows -- a penumbral eclipse is subtle and hard to spot, while partial and total eclipses are visible to the naked eye.  Visitors this past Sunday were fortunate to experience all three!  These were added to by the "blood" effect of the Blood Moon, created from the tint of sunlight passing through the Earth's atmosphere and bathing it in a reddish-orange glow.

For many, it was their first time to the Museum.  Welcomed by the smell of cooking hot dogs and chili, and guided by a string of red rope lights, these newcomers and returning guests alike each saw and experienced something new.  From a parking lot filled to capacity, to a groundscape filled with families on blankets, lawn chairs, and canopies, the IVDM and its guests made Sunday night in Imperial Valley a signature community event of the MLK weekend.  Looking like something closer to a crowd gathered for fireworks on July 4, it was inspiring to see so many come out to enjoy and marvel at the movements of the sun and moon, and our place in the night sky.  

I'm thrilled at the way the community came together for the night.  From our great volunteers who worked over a hot grill to serve up tasty bites, to our Board members and staff who kept the night on track and everyone happy, to our Master of Ceremonies Mike Rood, and to our guests who took the time out of their evenings to spend it with us.  Together, it made for an incredible night, and a fantastic start to the Museum in the new year.  I cannot wait to see what else lies ahead.