Blood Moon: 'It could be a lifetime before we get to see an eclipse this clearly from Ireland again'
A huge crowd of several hundred people turned out at Astronomy Ireland's Eclipse Watch at 2am at the society's headquarters in Blanchardstown in Dublin.
Given the very late hour we did not expect much of a turn out but it goes to show the huge interest in eclipses, one of natures most wondrous spectacles.
The 'Blood Moon' hung in the sky for over an hour from 3:11am to 4:23am as predicted, and, for an hour before and after these times, the Moon slipped into the Earth's shadow giving an equally marvellous spectacle.
Already we've received lots of photos from all around Ireland but we want everyone who saw the event to write to us describing the event and especially to send us any photographs so we can include them in an upcoming special 'Irish Eclipse' issue of Astrono my Ireland magazine that will record the eclipse for posterity and be filed in the National Library for all time.
Conditions were excellent from start to finish for this eclipse. So often in Ireland it is mostly cloudy. So it was for the last such eclipse visible from Ireland in December 2010. There is another total eclipse of the Moon coming to Ireland in January 2019 but it too will be in the small hours of a Monday morning.
We've got to wait until December 2029 to see a total eclipse of the Moon in evening skies, and there's no guarantee it will be clear then. Indeed , only 1 in 9 nights is as clear as last night was so it could be a lifetime or more before an eclipse is this well seen from Ireland.
This eclipse was even more special as it happened at the time of a SuperMoon. This is when the Moon is particularly close to Earth. The Moon's orbit is not perfectly round so it can appear 30% larger by area at its closest compared to its farthest.
We have not had a SuperMoon eclipse since 1982 and there won't be another until 2033. But you don't need a SuperMoon to make a spectacular eclipse, it's just a curiosity that makes the eclipse look just a little better.
Eclipses have played a huge role in history too. Without them we might be speaking Greek today, or even Latin. This is because the Greek and Roman empires both fell as a result of eclipses.
In 413 BC a total eclipse of Moon caused the Greek empire to fall when 600 ships were sunken and 20,000 men killed when a Greek general interpreted an eclipse as a bad omen. He delayed action and his enemies took advantage of this to strengthen their position and attack first. The Greeks never recovered from this and the Greek empire fell as a result of this major military defeat. How different the world would be today had the Greek empire continued for a few more centuries or even millennia?
In 1453 AD there was a total eclipse of Moon that caused the Roman empire to fall. The Roman empire had moved to the city of Constantinople. The empire had been in decline and the Turks were sieging the city for years, but the Roman defenders rebuilt the walls after every attack even when a giant new cannon was brought it. But they lost confidence when they saw the eclipse in 1453 AD and the Turks breached the walls and sacked the city ending the Roman empire. Perhaps we would all be speaking Latin had this not happened?
Even the Middle East problem can be traced to an eclipse of the Moon like last nights. In 1917 British military advisor in the Middle East T.E.Lawrence ("Lawrence of Arabia") knew there was an eclipse coming.
The Red Sea was important during World War 1 and the British did not want the Turks joining Germany in mainland Europe so they helped keep the Turks busy with attacks by Arabs in the Middle East. The main port controlling the Red Sea was Aqaba but it was surrounded by desert on one side and sea on the other so any attacking force could easily be seen coming and swiftly dealt with, so Aqaba was deemed too difficult to take.
Lawrence attacked Aqaba during the eclipse when the Moon that was lighting up the landscape disappeared for an hour, as it does in an eclipse. Furthermore the Turks were still superstitious about eclipses even in the early 20th century and so were shooting at the Moon and generally panicking so they did not see the few hundred poorly trained Arabs led by Lawrence who took the port at Aqaba in a totally unexpected and remarkable victory.
The British and French were astounded, but very grateful and made promises of recognition and land for the Arabs after the War which they never kept and the Middle East crisis continues to this day.
There are many other stories of eclipses in history that we have been covering in Astronomy Ireland magazine including how Columbus used an eclipse to scare the natives on one of his trips to the Americas into giving him supplies he badly needed., and more. It's a fascinating area to study.
So keep in mind how the very society we have today came about as a result of watching eclipses.
For me, the eclipse was as spectacular as expected. I'll never forget standing there looking at that very dim blood SuperMoon over our office. It was the best sight of the year so far, without a doubt, perhaps best of the decade!
What a night!
David Moore is the Editor of the popular-level Astronomy Ireland magazine.
Please send your photos or descriptions to firstname.lastname@example.org for publication in Astronomy Ireland magazine.