Tuesday 20 August 2019

Lunar eclipse coincides with anniversary of Apollo launch

Buzz Aldrin on the lunar surface. Photo: Neil Armstrong
Buzz Aldrin on the lunar surface. Photo: Neil Armstrong

Alan O'Keeffe

A "wonderful coincidence" is how astronomer David Moore describes the lunar eclipse occurring on the 50th anniversary of the launch of the first manned mission to the Moon.

On Tuesday night, almost two-thirds of the Moon will be hidden in the Earth's shadow from moonrise just before 10pm until midnight. It will be quite a deep eclipse and "is not to be missed", said Mr Moore, founder and chairman of Astronomy Ireland.

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Exactly 50 years earlier, on July 16, 1969, three astronauts were seated in a capsule on top of a giant Saturn rocket which blasted off from the Kennedy Space Centre in Florida.

The Apollo 11 mission ended in triumph. Neil Armstrong and Edwin 'Buzz' Aldrin became the first humans to walk on the Moon. They had descended to the lunar surface while Michael Collins remained behind in the Columbia command module to await their return.

The public is invited to attend a free event to celebrate the anniversary and view the eclipse through powerful telescopes at the headquarters of Astronomy Ireland at the Rosemount Business Park in Blanchardstown, Dublin, on Tuesday night (July 16).

Mr Moore will deliver an outdoor lecture on the successful Apollo 11 mission and on lunar eclipses at 9.30pm. The event will last until midnight. There will be refreshments, and people are invited to bring family and friends and no booking is necessary. A map showing the location of the event is available at www.astronomy.ie.

People will be able to view the Moon through giant telescopes owned by volunteer members of Astronomy Ireland. Several telescopes will be 1,000 times stronger than the naked eye, which will allow people to view mountains inside the craters of the lunar surface. One of the telescopes is 5,000 times more powerful than the naked eye.

"The anniversary celebrations will culminate beautifully in this lunar eclipse 50 years to the very day of the launch of the mission. It's as if the cosmos knew about the anniversary and arranged the eclipse specially," he said.

"I'm very excited about the eclipse," he said. "In my talk, I will recall the day that I personally interviewed Neil Armstrong in a Dublin hotel in 2003 when he came to Ireland to give a sold-out talk at the National Concert Hall.

"I asked him if he had any Irish ancestry and I didn't expect him to say that he had. But his face lit up and he told me he had just researched his family history and discovered that ancestors came from Co Fermanagh. Then he laughed when he told me, 'Apparently, the family were known for stealing cattle'. I'll never forget meeting him.

"And a year later, I interviewed Buzz Aldrin when he, too, came to speak at the National Concert Hall. Those interviews were the highlights of my career.

"Armstrong passed away in 2012 unexpectedly but Aldrin is still going strong," he said.

Mr Moore (56) said his lecture on the eclipse will include a historical perspective and he will explain how the fall of the Greek and Roman empires were said to be linked to lunar eclipses.

The astronomer said he thoroughly enjoyed the documentary movie Apollo 11 which is currently showing in Irish cinemas. The film features high-quality colour footage of the launch event in 1969. Some of the footage had not been released for public viewing in the past.

Meanwhile, Astronomy Ireland will hold a number of other lunar-related events later in the year. Details at www.astronomy.ie

Sunday Independent

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