It began like any other full moon, appearing big and bright in the night sky. But over the next few hours Wednesday evening, a rusty brown hue slowly swallowed it, leaving a dark image where the moon’s light once was. It passed in about an hour, and a full moon was visible again.
It was the last total lunar eclipse until 2010.
“This one’s perfect,” said Eric Strang, of Cheney. While people all over the Western Hemisphere stood in backyards and packed observatories, Strang joined other members of the Spokane Astronomical Society and students from St. Michael’s Academy for a public viewing at Mount St. Michael.
Strang’s SkyWatch 150 refractor telescope was the top viewing device there. Dozens stood in line to catch a glimpse of the eclipse and other celestial wonders through the high-powered scope. Several other stargazers brought telescopes for about 100 people who showed up at the private school overlooking Spokane.
“I love showing it to the children,” said Vonne Thurman, events coordinator for the astronomical society. “To me, that’s the best.”
The last total lunar eclipse came in the early morning hours of Aug. 28, 2007. The timing of Wednesday’s eclipse was ideal, Thurman said.
“This one, school age-children are able to see it,” she said.
Bernard Bosse, 10, looked at Saturn and its rings through Strang’s telescope. That coupled with the view from Mount St. Michael made his night.
“We figured out we like the city and Saturn better. We’re not really looking at the moon,” Bernard said.
Sister Mary Francisca, a science teacher at St. Michael’s, said the excitement her students show for astronomy inspired the academy to organize the viewing with the astronomical society.
“I think it makes them appreciate the immensity and the power of God,” she said. “It really is so incredible how the universe is so huge and so orderly and so beautiful.”
The universal appeal of celestial wonders is another selling point, stargazers said.
“My nephew just called us from South Carolina, and he’s watching it, too,” Laurie Bosse said. “We get to be right here with each other.”
The history of eclipses and how opinions of them have evolved is another fascinating aspect, said Spokane resident Jerry Eber, a member of the astronomical society.
“People were scared of them because they didn’t know why they happened,” Eber said. “Now that we know more about what causes them, it’s just a neat thing to watch the moon swallowed.”
For Jonathan Netzel, of Post Falls, an eighth-grader at St. Michael’s, the rareness of the event sold him on the viewing.
“I just wanted to come out here and get it before it’s gone,” he said.