Skygazing in Sarasota

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It was just last week that my boss, Pam Daniel, chastised me for not getting enough sleep. “Beau,” she said, “three hours is not enough!” And I knew she was right—which is why news that Monday night’s lunar eclipse wouldn’t happen until after three in the morning preceded a sinking feeling in my stomach. A […]


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eclipse2.jpgIt was just last week that my boss, Pam Daniel, chastised me for not getting enough sleep. “Beau,” she said, “three hours is not enough!” And I knew she was right—which is why news that Monday night’s lunar eclipse wouldn’t happen until after three in the morning preceded a sinking feeling in my stomach. A full lunar eclipse, on the winter solstice for the first time since the 1600s, plus a chance for distant meteors? This was too good to pass up.

So a little after 11, I left my house in Bradenton (I didn’t trust myself to actually wake up if I stayed in bed) and drove east, past the interstate, past all the lights, to the first field that didn’t look like a cow pasture—near my viewing spot for last week’s brilliant Geminid meteor shower. Since my phone was about to die, I rummaged through the trunk for my old alarm clock, unrolled my sleeping bag in the grass, and waited.

The first alarm never works. I remember waking up long enough to think about how cold it was and how tired I’d be come sunrise before falling asleep again. But the second one, some time around 2:15, reminded me why I was there. For the next hour and a half I alternated positions—reclining in awe, sitting in a chilled crouch, and running in circles to stay warm. Don’t tell anyone, but I may have even talked to myself and spent way too much time humming “Total Eclipse of the Heart.”

But all of that took a backseat every time I looked up. Our shadow slowly spread across the moon and created that legendarily eerie red glow that haunted our ancestors, and I began to feel very, very small. A full moon on a regular night is more than enough to humble me, but this—this was beyond compare.

Finally, just as the moon’s regular color started creeping back into the spotlight, I rolled up my sleeping bag and, with a strange sort of sadness, decided I should heed Pam’s advice and try for a little more sleep. I cringed when I thought about waking up for work, and again when I realized my alarm clock was still somewhere in that field, but it was fleeting. I knew right away that what I had seen was worth the cold, the restlessness, and the missing gadget.

By the time I turned on my computer this morning, Facebook was blazing with my generation’s endless need to broadcast ourselves—pictures, videos, play-by-play updates. For a moment I regretted that I had watched the eclipse with no camera, no Internet, and a dead phone, but somehow that seems fitting now. I spent the night with the moon, a sleeping bag and an empty field, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.

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For sky-gazing enthusiasts, check out our local Deep Sky Observers club. You might especially enjoy their Sidewalk Astronomy events.