Emily LakdawallaDec 13, 2011

Anahita's first eclipse

So there was a lunar eclipse on Friday, and being on the West Coast and enjoying clear skies we were well positioned for a pretty view of the Moon entering eclipse and then setting. But it was all happening painfully early, with the Moon first entering the umbra at about 4:45 in the morning. I planned to get up to see it regardless but had trouble deciding whether or not to wake my 5-year-old to view it. I talked with Anahita about what the eclipse was, and asked her whether she'd like to wake up very early to see it (as long as she promised to take a nap in the afternoon), and she was game, but I still wasn't sure.

When I'm feeling indecisive or otherwise can't answer a question I take advantage of Twitter to crowdsource an answer -- 12,000 followers certainly provide a variety of points of view! There was a pretty strong consensus among respondents: wake her, as long as I'm prepared to cope with a cranky, tired kid the rest of the day. Several people shared fond childhood memories of parents waking them to witness a particular lunar or solar eclipse or comet at an inconvenient time of night, and a few wrote about never having forgiven a parent for not waking them to see something cool.

Lunar eclipse
Lunar eclipse Taken from Santa Monica Beach on December 10, 2011.Image: Doug Ellison

So I set my alarm for 4:30 and got up to check the weather conditions. My house faces southwest and there's a second-floor balcony from which we often say night-night to planets or the waxing crescent Moon or watch space station overflights. But the Moon wasn't visible from that balcony, because it was so far north that day. I realized that the better view would be from a northwest-facing window -- like the one that Anahita can see out of from her bed.

So I crawled in to bed with my daughter and opened the shutters and there was the Moon, and once she was awake Anahita and I had a lengthy conversation about it as Earth's shadow began to consume it. (First Anahita thought it looked like the Babybel cheese I send in her lunch box as a snack, then it was a pizza, then it was a cookie, and every five minutes or so she'd say "look, Mom! The monster took another bite.")

Which was a lovely, cozy way to watch an eclipse on a chilly (for Los Angeles) early morning, but the view from the screen-covered window wasn't perfect and, after a while, the Moon was shortly to sink behind some trees. So Anahita and I rolled out of bed and threw on some warm clothes and drove to the beach, where I knew Doug Ellison and another Twitter acquaintancewere shivering with a much better view. I'm grateful Doug was there, as he's a much better photographer than I.

Just before totality, December 10 lunar eclipse, Santa Monica beach

Doug Ellison

Just before totality, December 10 lunar eclipse, Santa Monica beach

We got there just a few minutes before totality. And then the last sliver of light was gone, and the Moon was faintly reddish with a brighter glow toward the edge of its disk. We looked around and I used Star Walk to name a couple of stars for Anahita -- Capella above and to the right of the Moon, Castor and Pollux to the west. There were waves coming ashore, and the flashy lights of the amusement park at the Santa Monica Pier behind us.

Eclipsed Moon setting over Santa Monica beach

Doug Ellison

Eclipsed Moon setting over Santa Monica beach

As the Moon's dark face sank toward a promontory of the Santa Monica Mountains (the coastline in this part of California actually runs east-west, so a Moon at a northern declination sets behind mountains, not ocean), the sky began to lighten, and the fog associated with the marine layer slowly moved toward us. Flocks of seagulls began to whirl, the brightest things in the sky at that time, lit from behind us in a faintly blue white as the sky lightened. The Moon got fainter and fainter as it sank into the ground-hugging cloud, and it was gone long before it had set. Doug got a nice time-lapse series, complete with brightening, blurry seagulls.

The day had arrived, and the beach was pretty, but Anahita was chilled, and I was ready to cook some belly-warming breakfast, so we took off. I had given her plenty of opportunities to end the adventure and go home to a warm bed but Anahita had stuck it out. True to prediction, she was super cranky for much of the rest of the day, dissolving into weeping at one point when I did no more than ask her if she knew where a missing box of crayons was. Will she remember waking in the dark of night to watch a monster eat the Moon? I know I will. I hope she will too!

Eclipse watching on Santa Monica beach!
Eclipse watching on Santa Monica beach! Emily and Anahita Lakdawalla watching a lunar eclipse from Santa Monica beach, December 10, 2011

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