In Syzygy

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By Mary McConville


On Wednesday the eighth of October the sun, earth and moon were in syzygy. The word syzygy comes from the ancient Greek for yoked together and is pronounced siz.idz.i. It means that all these celestial bodies are lined up in the heavens.

When the earth’s shadow fell upon the moon it caused a full lunar eclipse. During the totality of the eclipse the moon appeared red due to the fact that when the sunlight moved through the earth’s atmosphere the blue light was scattered and only the red remained. It is this effect that contributes to tales of blood moons and bad omens.

This is not the first eclipse this year. We saw one in April and will see another one in April next year. After that there will be a pause until January 2018. Those who plan to follow these celestial shows should check out their nearest planetarium as some of them will be hosting appropriately astronomical events. There will probably be live streaming for those disadvantaged by bad weather.

October’s eclipse lasted about 3 hours, beginning at 8.15 pm (daylight saving time) and ending at 11.34 pm. Where I live the most photogenic images were during the first half hour. At 8.20 pm the big, white harvest moon had risen above the eastern horizon with just a small nibble taken from the bottom right of the moon, Thin horizontal streaks of cloud lay in front of the moon.

Not many stars were visible, possibly due to too much residual sunlight and light pollution from the city and suburbs. At 9.30 pm it was disappointing to go out again and find that the clouds covered everything. Twenty minutes later the clouds has cleared enough for me to see the moon again. It was a barely visible red bow in the sky. My moon viewing was a little disappointing.

From ancient times moon viewing has been an important part of Japanese tradition. During the harvest festival in autumn many people would hold moon viewing parties with drinking games, poetry and suitable refreshments like rice dumplings. A moon viewing party during an eclipse should be more Gothic in theme. The poetry should be full of vampires awash with blood and dark urges.. Refreshments should be dark, bitter, heavy and salty – perhaps red and black beans, Dutch liquorice, heavy ales, red wine and burnt moon cakes.

When the moon returns in all its bright glory serve a sweet, light, sponge cake and a star wine, like champagne. In the first darker stage of the party the music could be heavy metal, surreal Pink Floyd or the classic from Creedance Clearwater revival “There’s a Bad Moon on the Rise.”

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