Thursday, February 21, 2008

I'm being followed by a moonshadow

Yes, that's the Empire State Building. Click here for more beautiful photos of last night's total lunar eclipse.

Whenever there's an eclipse, I remember my paternal grandfather, who was an economist by profession but also an accomplished astronomer and sundial designer as well as photographer (though I think he enjoyed printing more than actually taking photos, which tended to be strained posed shots of family). However, another of his favorite photographic subjects was solar eclipses, and he used to travel around the country to be wherever a solar eclipse would be total so he could photograph it. I think he shot five of them because I remember a reference to in my childhood about an eclipse, most likely the total eclipse in 1970, as being "my fifth and last eclipse" (because of course he knew exactly when and where they would occur). Here's a map of recent eclipse paths.

I vaguely remember that 1970 eclipse -- I was nine, and we used cardboard pieces in the driveway to see the shadow -- but I also saw the eclipse on May 10, 1994 (I think). It happened during the day while I was at work. it wasn't a total eclipse, but it got noticeably darker. I was amazed to look down and see crescent-shaped shadows where the sunlight filtered through the tree leaves -- some sort of pinhole camera effect, apparently. A student nearby exclaimed, "It's totally annular!" So that's what you call it.

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