Tuesday, December 21, 2010

I "Heart" Total Eclipse

by Drew Martin

In 1991, I made a comic book called Infinous Space: an Explanation, a Love Story, a Vision of Life and Death. Infinous is not a word; I did not know that when I started but kept it when I realized my error, before I inked all the words and drawings. It is about me, in middle school, trying to figure out the dimensions of the universe. In the opening pages, I get frustrated while writing a science report when I realize I am missing my favorite show. I run downstairs to turn on the TV only to find that my father has invented a "plug box" which prevents me from plugging in the set. My father responds to my distraught protest:

Son, there is more to life than television. There is a universe outside and as an educated man and a father I feel it is my responsibility to open you up to this profound space.

I faint and he carries my limp body outside to show me the night sky:

Tonight there is a new moon and the sky is clear...the view should be quite spectacular.

I come around and we look up together at the speckled darkness and I perplexedly ask,

What are all of those things?!

Those are all stars son...distant suns...some are so far away that it takes millions of years for their light to reach us.

This is truly amazing.

My father is a special man and has really shown me a lot about the world, both as a parent and a scientist. I wrote the dialogue when I was 21 years old and now, 20 years later, I have three kids (12, 10 and 3). This early morning's total lunar eclipse brought the fascination of the universe and raising children full circle.

Today's predawn spectacle was the first full lunar eclipse on a winter solstice in 456 years. For 72 minutes the Earth cast a shadow on the Moon, which basically gave the illusion of a full moon cycle starting with a full moon, peaking in a new moon and returning to a full moon, all in an hour and 12 minutes. The difference was that the "new moon" eclipse was a deep, glowing red and the shadow was always convex.

The last winter solstice full lunar eclipse was in 1554. Culturally, Leonardo da Vinci had been dead for 35 years, Michelangelo was 79 years old and it was 10 years before William Shakespeare was born. Astronomically, Galileo Galilei had died 12 years prior, Nicolaus Copernicus died a year after him. It was 17 years before the birth of Johannes Kepler, who discovered the three laws of planetary motion (see diagram) and 18 years before Tycho Brahe pointed to supernovae to refute the perfection of the heavens, which turned astronomy, and the whole world, upside down. Brahe was born in 1546 and would have been eight years old at the time of the lunar eclipse.

Yesterday, I read that the effect of the eclipse was going to be eery and I thought that was too emotional a description, but when I saw it fully eclipsed at 3:17 am, it was indeed eery. It was very organic looking, like translucent organ and it was high in the sky and seemed smaller than ever. I watched it on and off through its cycle and woke up my older kids to witness the moment before the Moon slipped into the total eclipse. I dragged them downstairs and outside, onto the stone cold front porch to look up at the phenomenon. The icy winds were whipping about, otherwise there was no commotion; only one opossum out at the bottom of the front porch stairs and a kid from the apartments across the street who stepped out to look for a minute. There were not any wolves howling or zombies staggering about.

Both annoyed and impressed, my groggy and shivering daughter and son returned to their respective bedrooms to sleep. My three-year-old boy cried out for milk, which I gave him as he snuggled next to my wife. On the counter, where I prepared the milk, was my daughter's cell phone, recharging. The screen was flickering with a loop of a Bic lighter "concert" flame. Lying there alone, in the darkness, it looked like an eternal flame, dedicated to the cosmos. Knowing I needed to get some sleep, I crawled into my youngest son's empty little bed and curled up into a fetal position in order to concentrate my warmth under the chilly sheets, feeling like the 2001 star child after the mesmerizing event.

When I was walking to catch my train to New York at 7:00 am, I noticed the Moon was still up, about to set, but it appeared many times bigger. It was like a huge gold coin being deposited into the western horizon. Most of the other commuters did not take notice of it; they were probably more concerned about the freezing air and their busy workdays ahead. I do not understand our place in this universe any better today but I feel a certain bond with the Moon, like I had endured a rite of passage with it.

I had originally set my alarm for around 3:00 am but I was having a dream that I was watching the eclipse from my house with some of the senior staff of my company, which jarred me awake around 2:00 am, so I went out and watched the early phases of the eclipse. Unfortunately the song, "Total Eclipse of the Heart" jingled through my head throughout the dark morning. I never liked the song, partly because of Bonnie Tyler's voice, but I found myself questioning what the those lyrics mean. So I Googled it in the middle of the night and found this answer:

I think it means that your heart has been left in so much pain from a break up its like blacked out, like a total eclipse if you know what I mean...