A stellar sight

Rare lunar event brings skywatching community together

Nathan Calkins // The Torch
At a viewing party for the total lunar eclipse at The Eugene Science Center, employee Haley Sharp looks through the lense of a telescope. The viewing party was held on Jan. 31 from 3:45 a.m. to 7 a.m.

On Jan. 31, between 3:48 a.m. to 7:00 a.m., Eugene experienced a super blue moon with a full lunar eclipse for the first time in over 150 years. The Eugene Science Center hosted a viewing party, providing telescopes and answering questions.

“A lunar eclipse is when the Earth manages to elude all light coming from the sun,” said Jeff Franzen, director of exhibits at the Science Center.

Franzen sat inside the center, directing partygoers into the planetarium where they watched NASA’s coverage of the eclipse from a satellite. Inside the planetarium, a dozen people took advantage of the warmth and gawked as the moon slowly disappeared from sight.

Nathan Calkins // The Torch
Viewers look through telescopes to see the super blue moon with a total lunar eclipse at 3:30 a.m. on Jan. 31, the first in 150 years. Thirty people gathered in the field in front of The Eugene Science Center to witness the spectacle.

The Eugene Science Center was founded in 1961 as a branch of the Oregon Museum of Science and Industry. The center hosts interactive exhibits, planetarium shows and presentations, school and public programs, science camps and special events in a mission to engage the community in science.

On the grass outside the center, 40 to 50 people sat on blankets or huddled around telescopes. There were members of Eugene’s astronomy club, parents with children and people toting digital cameras. It was partially cloudy, yet the moon was still visible. Planetarium director Haley Sharp ran one of the telescopes and answered questions.

“A blue moon is the second full moon in a month,” Sharp said. “A supermoon just means that the moon is as close to Earth as possible.”

She explained that though these two occurrences and lunar eclipses happen fairly often, it’s very rare for all three to happen at the same time.

Although a telescope wasn’t needed to see the eclipse, it provided a detailed view of the craters and mountains on the lunar surface.

As the Earth’s shadow began to cover the lunar surface, the moon started to turn dark red, thus the term “blood moon.” After about an hour, when the eclipse reached totality, the moon completely disappeared from sight. People milled around in the dark, waiting for the moon to return and talking about the rarity of the experience.

Seventy-seven-year-old Lois Keeper of Eugene said that this was her first lunar eclipse.

“I don’t think I’ll ever see this again,” she said. “It’s awesome. We are so blessed to have this science museum. People should take more advantage of it!”

The next total lunar eclipse visible in Eugene will be on the Jan. 21, 2019.