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Thursday, May 5, 2016

Middle school students learn more about Tuesday's lunar eclipse

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

The second total lunar eclipse of the year was visible in Greencastle in the early morning hours Tuesday, August 28. The Earth's shadow crept across the moon's surface, slowly eclipsing it and turning it to shades of red and orange.

Hoosiers were able to view the event beginning around 4:50 a.m. By 5:52 a.m. the moon was completely covered by the earth's shadow. And, by 7:17 a.m. the moon set and the sun was rising.

An eclipse occurs when the Earth passes between the sun and the moon, blocking the sun's light. It's rare because the moon is usually either above or below the plane of Earth's orbit.

During the full eclipse, the moon isn't completely dark because some light still reaches it around the edges of the Earth. The light is refracted as it passes through the atmosphere, scattering blue light and sending reddish light onto the moon.

Since the Earth is bigger than the moon, the process of the Earth's shadow covers more and more of the moon, totally eclipsing it before the shadow recedes, An eclipse lasts about 3 1/2 hours according to Doug Duncan, director of the University of Colorado's Fiske Planetarium. The total eclipse phase, in which the moon has an orange or reddish glow, lasts about 1 1/2 hours.

The full eclipse was visible across the United States, but East Coast residents only had about a half-hour to see it before the sun began to rise and the moon set. Viewers in the West got the full show.

Greencastle Middle School science teachers Randy Hayes, Gary VanMiddlesworth and Stacie Stoffregen encouraged students to get up early to watch the event. VanMiddlesworth talked with his students about the eclipse but felt since kids would have to get up before 6 a.m. to view it, not many would see it.

"Another factor is that it will be so low in the west that you will have to find an open spot to see the moon," he added. "Still, I'm hoping that some of them will take the trouble to try to catch a glimpse." Hayes posted the time and place of the eclipse on his "facts for the day." He said that because the eclipse is not as observable this time (as the earlier one on March 3) he told his students if they were up in the early morning hours "to look up."

Stoffregen's class on science topics is researching the eclipse and class members were also encouraged to rise early and watch the event.

Eclipses have long been harbingers of doom or evil in mythology. Lunar eclipses are no exception - mostly involving the moon swallowed up by gods, demons or other creatures.

According to some records, several cultures believed that animals devoured the moon and that people could also be eaten. The Central American Maya believed that a jaguar ate the moon and could devour people, too. To the Mongols it was a dragon named Alkha.

During the time of the Pharaohs in ancient Egypt, lunar eclipses were bad omens. The moon ruled the stars. Some ancient texts describe the entire sky as swallowing the moon during every eclipse.

Christopher Columbus used a lunar eclipse to save his ship's crew during his last voyage to America in 1503. According the book "Eclipse" by Bryan Brewer, while Columbus was stranded on the island of Jamaica, the native Indians refused to give them any food. Columbus knew that a total eclipse of the moon would occur on February 29, 1504. He told the Indians that God was angry with them for not feeding his crew. To demonstrate his anger God would make the moon disappear.

It did, and when the locals saw the eclipse ending, Columbus told them that God had forgiven them and the moon would return in full. It did, and Columbus and his crew received provisions.

The next total lunar eclipse occurs February 21, 2008 and will be visible in the Americas, Europe and Asia.

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