Tuesday, April 04, 2006

Magical occultation 4.1.06

I had a lot of fun telling people last week that I'd be going out on Saturday to view an "occultation of the Pleiades by the Moon." Occultations are one of those things that no-one outside of astronomy has heard of, so you can really bamboozle them with big words: "Ogga-what?"

I'm the first to admit that the Moon passing in front of a bunch of stars doesn't sound like something rare or particularly interesting, but you really had to be there to appreciate it. Here's my description from Saturday night (with a very rudimentary sketch):

So beautiful to watch—the unlit part of the moon is clearly visible against the sky—kind of a velvety dove-grey against black—can see some details of lunar surface even in the shadows.

Even the photo gallery at Space Weather doesn't convey how magical it was. Every time a star would get close to the edge of the Moon, someone would yell out and we'd all fix our eyes to scopes or binoculars. You'd hold your breath, and as soon as the star winked out, everyone let out an involuntary exclamation, "Oh! There it goes," or something like that. Just the sight of the Moon amid the starry field was particulary lovely since it's something you don't often see.


We had a fair amount of cloud drifting in and out early on, so there was as lot of time to chat and check out other people's scopes. But I did bag a few Messiers. I'm currently re-working my way through the list and doing sketches of every object so I can apply for the Astronomical League certificate. One of the things I love about sketching is comparing my drawing with a photograph of the object. I'm always amazed how close they look. (The drawing is mislabeled: the actual magnification is 105x.)


Post a Comment

<< Home