adam j. sontag

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we saw the lunar eclipse

Yesterday we saw the lunar eclipse even when I was coming home from my science class.

Yesterday we saw the lunar eclipse even when I was coming home from my science class.

Is there really any better place than the back seat of an Oldsmobile to experience marvelous celetisial phenomena for the first time? To this very day, I remember the exact intersection where I sat, stopped at a red light on the service road of the Long Island Expressway, squirming about and craning my neck to as to avoid missing even a second of the action. After a few minutes, we were home, standing on the front lawn gazing up at the sky. A few months later, I wanted a telescope for my birthday, and this was largely why.

Serendepitious as this moment was, it was just now eclipsed (get it?). As I began to research this post, I naïvely expected to find the same relative of detail I provided nineteen years ago: “A lunar eclipse happened.” With the collective wealth of humanity at my fingertips, I discovered that the eclipse I’d witnessed that night was a big enough deal to have its own Wikipedia Page. Soon enough, I felt like I was right back in an optional science class.

As it turns out, that eclipse was one in a set of eclipses, or saros. Evidently, eclipses happen in eighteen-years-and-eleven-days-long cycles that are grouped into numbered saros series , which last for 1200-1500 years. The successive eclipses in a particular series are very similar, except that the second takes place 120 degrees westward 8 hours later in the day. After three such revolutions, an identical eclipse will occur in the same places at about the same time. Of course, there’s a word for that, too. Every 54 years and 33 days, the world is exactly the same, except for that it’s completely different. (Look for me to expound upon this further as part of Repeating “Repeating ‘Repeating’” First Grade on January 12, 2047.)

I was disappointed to realise that by forgetting to blog for a year, I’d missed the opportunity to celebrate the turning of the saros last December 21st. My sadness soon turned to glee as I realised the fates had offered me another coincidence in which to revel; earlier today, there was a total lunar eclipse, just like the one I watched when I was 6! I leapt out of my chair, jubilant. “Holy shit!” I exclaimed aloud, alone. I frantically raced to the keyboard, and tapped out a little tale of redemption.

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