The moon draws a celestial blanket over its head

December 10, 1992|By Rafael Alvarez | Rafael Alvarez,Staff Writer

At 5 o'clock last night, a fuzzy beard began creeping over th pale pink face of the moon.

It was the first hint of a total lunar eclipse that had sky watchers dTC throughout the Atlantic seaboard transfixed as the moon rose through clear skies like a giant scoop of sherbet.

The Earth's shadow began moving across the moon during rush hour, and in Baltimore, a crowd of the celestially curious gathered on the steps of the Maryland Science Center, where telescopes were set up for free look-sees.

They were waiting for totality: No more moon.

"I've got the moon in there," telescope handler Wendy Ackerman said. "It looks nice and pink."

Behind Ms. Ackerman, people lined up for the show, pointing out the heavens over Little Italy. The gawkers fixed their view on the "umbra," the dark shadow slowly creeping across the moon.

Some were "serious amateur astronomers" who waited months for the big night. Others just happened by at the right time -- between 5 p.m. and a little after 6, when, one aficionado said: "The orbital mechanics just happen to be right."

"It doesn't have a lot of high-level scientific significance," said Joe Kelch, who produces shows at the science center's Davis Planetarium. "It's more of an interesting astronomical event."

And a measuring stick for personal adventures.

"On the last lunar eclipse, my girlfriend dumped me," one man recalled. That was August 1989.

"It's something that doesn't occur [often], and it's catching the attention of people who don't normally pay attention to the sky," said Barry Willen of the Baltimore Astronomical Society. "You don't need a telescope, it's just something you can open your eyes to."

As the moon rose, it shed its pink hue and glowed a familiar silvery white. The more its surface was obscured, the darker the shadow across it grew.

The shadow -- which deepened to black but failed to glow green, as some had hoped -- ate away at the disc from the bottom up. When nearly complete, the eclipse left an image that looked like a pair of upside down bull's horns.

"It's beautiful," said Karen Edmonds of Pikesville, who brought a homemade telescope.

L At 6:07 p.m., when totality was expected, a sliver remained.

L "Like a fingernail," said Suzanne Armour of Charles Village.

Eight minutes later, it was gone.

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