Sunday, December 11, 2011


We watched the total lunar eclipse last night. It started at about 22:00 our time and we watched until 23:45 (when we were getting too sleepy to continue). As the moon was nearly directly overhead, we soon tired of straining our necks, so we spread a blanket on our pebble drive and laid on our backs to view it.

Skies were thin clouds broken to scattered at first, but it later cleared. Due to a rain storm that passed recently, the air was very clean and since we're in a relatively rural area, there was not much in the way of light pollution. It was a little chilly out (about 39°F), but we were dressed for it.

It was the most beautiful sight either of us has ever seen in the night sky. Jupiter was out too and with binoculars we could see some of its moons. When a large patch of sky was clear, the stars added to the spectacular show - the moon was in Gemini with the Pleiades (Subaru in Japanese), Taurus with its red giant, Aldebaran, and Orion offering a lot to enjoy with the binoculars. (Nikon 10x50mm 6.5° field of view).

As Martin mentioned to me in an email today, with the moon fully eclipsed, it looked very three dimensional against the backdrop of stars. I think the brightness of a full moon normally makes for too great a contrast for us to see it as a sphere.

I didn't get any pics with moon partly in shadow, as early on I didn't think they would come out at all (I haven't had much luck photographing the moon). Later I decided to give it a go anyway. I took several pictures, but only a couple of them were worth saving - they were ones taken with the camera on a tripod and tripping the shutter with the timer so as not to vibrate the setup. Canon Powershot S3 IS was on full zoom. Not an astronomer's choice of equipment, but good enough pics to jog my memory of this event in the future.

As I walked back to the house to go to bed, I turned to take one last look, and as I did so, a meteor streaked across the sky to the southwest. Perfection.

*syzygy: Astronomy . an alignment of three celestial objects, as the sun, the earth, and either the moon or a planet


Baydog said...

Syzygy. Sounds like something I said after too many martinis.

WV: plensi. How many martinis I had.

Frankie said...

Lovely pix, thanks for sharing. From a similar experience in France some years back, I remember the moon looking like a balloon, definitely 3 dimentional. A great sight! worse the few hours of waiting in the cold night.

O Docker said...

Nice pix and recounting, but this post's real moment of revelation for me came in your translation of 'Suburu'.

So THAT's what the car company's peculiar logo represents.

You never know what you're going to learn on a sailing blog.

Pandabonium said...

Baydog - "I'm not apocopated ociffer, I only had ti martunis."

Frankie - yes, very 3D. Well worth the effort, eh?

O Docker - I thought someone would find that bit of trivia interesting.

Subaru also means "unite". In 1953, five companies merged to form Fuji Heavy Industries which adopted the Subaru cluster as its emblem for its cars. The emblem shows six stars (though there are seven in the star cluster, six are visible to the unaided eye) representative I suppose of the five original companies and the newly formed big corporation.

The Pleiades also has a sailing connection, if a tenuous one. In Greek mythology the stars are the daughters of Atlas. About 2800 years ago, the Greek poet Hesiod (before even Homer's time) wrote:

"And if longing seizes you for sailing the stormy seas,
when the Pleiades flee mighty Orion
and plunge into the misty deep
and all the gusty winds are raging,
then do not keep your ship on the wine-dark sea, but, as I bid you, remember to work the land."

More than you want to know perhaps.

O Docker said...

As a series of dedicated - but inevitably exasperated - French literature teachers tried in vain to explain to me, the name was also applied to an influential group of sixteenth century poets whose work apparently brought great joy to generations of French courtisans, but caused me only pain and suffering in my formative years.

Pandabonium said...

O docker - perhaps Frankie could contribute to our understanding of the French poetry side of syzygy.

I feel a song coming on. "You've lost that syzygy feeling, whoa, that syzygy feeling..."

O Docker said...

I know, I know, the letter y may sometimes be used as a vowel in English.

But doing so three times in the same word is just asking for trouble.

Pandabonium said...

Yeah, I asked myself, "why, why, why y?" or was it "why, y, y, y?" and then I wonder that maybe I should be questioning the s,z,and g instead.

O Docker said...

You'll poke your y out.

Doc Häagen-Dazs said...

I think Syzygy would work well for a name for a Lido-14 crewed by either two or three peeps!

Pandabonium said...

I like it! Or if you had three boats, you could name one "Sy", another "Zy" and the third "Gy".

Doc Häagen-Dazs said...

LolY LolY LolY!

bonnie said...

Great post, nice pictures (way better than I got with my Optio last year) and a most excellent comment thread!

Or is that ycellent?

Pandabonium said...

Thanks Bonnie. Well, I think you did fine all things considered. You got different stages as well.

The comments are ycyllynt, I agree.

bonnie said...


Frankie said...

Syzygy who??? after some enquiries I found out that in French it is a feminine word: 'la syzygie' and that it can be confused with 'la zizanie' which means... ah well, a lack of alignment I think!!!

Pandabonium said...

Interesting. One French-English dictionary I consulted offered up "ill feeling" for la zizanie, which I suppose one would get from a lack of alignment.