The Moon Periodically Enchants Us

It was only fitting that the full lunar eclipse of Wednesday was best visible from the little cosmologist’s room window.

I walked into the son’s room to wish him good night. There he was, lying down on his tummy in his pajamas, his face cupped in both his hands staring at the periodic table poster and glancing at the moonlight shining outside. 

He looked up at me, and said, “Isn’t it amazing how many elements there are? I think I can sing the periodic table song till the second row.” And then, of course, he proceeded to sing it. We talked about the elements and how they found each one. 

The periodic table game is an enchanting one. Which letters don’t have an element? Are there many more elements in the universe that we didn’t yet know about. I mean they found Lawrencium etc pretty recently didn’t they? 

Reminded me of the book, Uncle Tungsten by Oliver Sacks in which he talks of his obsession with the periodic table. 

“The periodic table was incredibly beautiful, the most beautiful thing I had ever seen. I could never adequately analyze what I meant here by beauty – simplicity? coherence? rhythm? inevitability? Or perhaps it was the symmetry, the comprehensiveness of every element firmly locked into its place, with no gaps, no exceptions, everything implying everything else.” 

Oliver Sacks, Uncle Tungsten, Memories of a Chemical Boyhood
Uncle Tungsten: Memories of a Chemical Boyhood by [Oliver  Sacks]

We sat there wondering whether our beautiful moon itself has other elements, or essentially those of the Earth. Fascinating questions to engage the mind on a beautiful full moon night. 

I knew he would be equally thrilled about an adventure in space that was to take place early the next morning, and told him about it. A full lunar eclipse my boy! Can you imagine that?

“…We ourselves were made of the very same elements as composed the sun and stars, that some of my atoms might once have been in a distant star. But it frightened me too, made me feel that my atoms were only on loan and might fly apart at any time, fly away like the fine talcum powder I saw in the bathroom.” 

Oliver Sacks, Uncle Tungsten

Almost immediately, he said, “Okay Google! Set an alarm for 4 a.m.”

The next morning, I snoozed my alarm titled ‘Moon Magic’ at 4 a.m., and was wondering whether to pull myself out of bed, when I heard the son bustling about. He tugged us all downstairs and we stood there in the courtyard in front of our home gazing at the beautiful red moon – a giant golden orb that huge low in the sky had morphed into a silver ball of luminescence and was now a red rock suspended in mid-air. If this wasn’t magic, I don’t know what is.

The husband went into the home after a few moments – we were slightly cold, but stood mesmerized by the slow show being put up for us by the cosmos. The husband called in a few seconds, and said to the son, “By the way, the best view is from your room!” We raced up to his room, and gazed outside the window. True enough. It was the best view. Snuggled up in his warm comforter, sipping hot cocoa, I left the fellow to gaze and dream on as the silvery moon emerged from earth’s shadow. 

The eternal magic of light combining with the structural elements of the earth and moon make for a magical night indeed. 

How to watch a Lunar Eclipse

There was a lunar eclipse and a red moon a few weeks ago. The world watched the rare phenomenon and so did we. I remember seeing the Halley’s Comet about three decades ago, using the School telescope. The telescope was set up in our neighbor’s garden. There is a secret excitement and a strange lesson in mortality when looking at a comet that comes once in 75-76 years.  That, by itself, was sensational enough for us to brave the cold nights to see the comet. The newspapers had been our source of knowledge and I think the news on state television made a statement too, but that was all.  The rest of the buzz we created. I remember a lot of intent gazing and saying “Watdidocee?Isthatit?WOW!”

Now, I am tripping all over the internet over viewing pieces of it remnants : The Orionid Meteor Shower: Leftovers of Halley’s Comet

I can’t but help compare and contrast how we would have viewed it today’s times. Just as spottily is my guess, though we would have the pleasure of seeing the recording taken by somebody immensely more skilled at these things than myself.

Take for instance our viewing of the recent red-moon and lunar eclipse episode:

We set about viewing the eclipse in our customary fashion. That is to say, we made a complete muck of things: hashed a pig or two in the duck pen and squashed a rat.

The husband stood at the kitchen island, with a serious and urgent expression on his face. The daughter strolled in and said, “Oh – he must be playing chess!”

The affronted husband puffed out his chest and told her not to say trivial things like that. “I am, in fact, checking out a very important scientific phenomena that we can see in the skies today. “

The daughter, suitably chastened, went near him and cried, “He is on Facebook!”

I laughed.

“Yes, but checking to see whether the lunar eclipse started, not, you know, just face-booking.” he finished somewhat lamely.

The toddler son, flying his toy plane, and attempting a lunar landing, then explained the lunar eclipse to us:  Moons can be red, blue or white (Is it American? No Everyone can see the moon when it is blue, red or white) and hide in the sun (Won’t it burn? No. Because Shadows are not hot.)

“So, why can’t you go out and check if the lunar eclipse started?” I asked. “After all, if people were saying so on Facebook, they must have done the same thing.”

This struck the children as sound logic, and they ran outside to see what was going on. They caught glimpses of a red moon and they charged in with the sensational news. The son ran into the house, taking his bass decibel levels to an excited high and the daughter came, tripping over her shoes as she took them off. I was, as is usual, in the evening, flopping about the kitchen looking efficient and determined. The urgent appeals from the whole family made me set dinner aside for the moment:

Just switch off the dinner. We can come back and eat.

Come fast. Now.

It takes a long time to cook. You are always cooking dinner.

I likes dinner.

They hustled me out of the house and we stood outside in a sort of anti-climax. The clouds, usually welcomed in the Bay area skies, were having a tough time figuring out why people were standing outside and grimacing at them like that. Hadn’t these very people been pandering for rain, and putting up mugshots of what clouds look like to make sure the populace did not forget? Now when the clouds did come and flit across the evening sky, there was animosity. Did they think moons brought rains? No. Clouds did. Very confusing for the cloud-body.

By now, of course, the husband had to take matters in his hand. He sprinted out to the street and then said we’d get a better view from the end of our street, so off we went leaving the door ajar. The husband, looking like an Admiral General in shorts,  was directing his troops to better viewing positions. The children dutifully ran after him. He turned to bellow out further instructions, only to find his faithful wife running in the opposite direction. It is enough to rattle any Admiral. One cannot determine strategic spots with the errant soldier retreating. He stopped and the children skidded into him and they all bellowed at the recalcitrant soldier.


The problem was, there had been a spate of robberies of late, and I was loathe to leaving the door open. So, I doubled back to lock up, while the rest of the family ran. Questions, explanations, eye-rolls and lectures on how-to-live-in-the-moment and not miss lunar eclipses were happening when the daughter yelled – ‘There! There is the moon.” The mutinous Admiral and the penitent trooper, both abandoned earthly worries for the moment and gazed sky-ward to see the moon disappear once again.

The husband tried to take a picture with the phone, “There are far better photographs that are going to be shared at the end of the eclipse, why bother now?”, I said, like it was going to make a difference.

Picture taken by us
Picture taken by us

We gazed again only to find a twig obstructing our view of the clouds. The husband charged homeward saying he’d bring us the car, so we could all pile in and get a clearer view. I tried telling him that a better view can only be had above the clouds, but he had gone. He ran and I ran after him with the house keys,  and we met each other mid-street (In case you thought the children missed this piece of action, they did not.  The toddler thought we were playing, and ran after me. The daughter, tasked with looking after her little brother, ran after him.)  Within minutes of this rhino-charge, the car came, with the husband panting in the driver seat and we jumped in and headed out to a open parking lot.

I don’t know whether you have observed children playing in the park. They run up and then they run down, they run left and they right. All with no apparent purpose. So do the child-like. After about 15 minutes of running this way and that, there was some heavy breathing, more useless photographs, and a state of dejection.

If aliens used this time to observe life on earth, I am afraid to say the news they carry back to their homing civilization cannot be a promising one. A lot of pointless running, needless pointing later, we decided to just head back home.

We entered our community when the clouds cleared again. Swearing loudly, off we leaped from the car, and charged out to see the eclipse. We saw a knot of our neighbors standing to view the eclipse too. They had, in their usual wise manner, skipped the drama and simply came out of their homes and raised their eyes.

This was the picture the internet showed us the next day:

Excellent pictures by people more skilled at Photography than us obviously!
Taken from here: Google Images for Lunar Eclipse

Sigh! For those of you trying to view the Orionid Meteor Shower – I wish you a peaceful viewing. Let me know how it goes.

%d bloggers like this: