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Northwestern University

CIERA to Host Total Lunar Eclipse Viewing Event

The Sept. 27 eclipse will be Chicagoans’ final chance to watch the moon go dark until 2018

A total lunar eclipse is coming on the night of Sept. 27 – one of only six that Chicago area residents will be able to view this decade – and the folks at Northwestern University’s Center for Interdisciplinary Exploration and Research in Astrophysics (CIERA) are in celebratory mood.

That evening, from 8:00-11:30 p.m., CIERA will host a lunar eclipse viewing event on the top level of the Segal Visitors Center Parking Garage on the university’s Evanston campus. The maximum point of eclipse will occur at 9:47 p.m.

A team of CIERA volunteers will set up three telescopes and a large pair of binoculars for viewing, while CIERA reps will also field questions from guests about eclipses and the solar system.

CIERA assistant director of operations John Everett discusses the Sept. 27 event, which is free and open to students, staff and the general public:

What is a total lunar eclipse?

A total lunar eclipse occurs when the entire moon moves into the Earth’s shadow; over the course of a couple of hours, the moon changes from being a full, bright moon to a dark-red moon.

Total lunar eclipses are fairly rare and only occur when the sun, earth and moon are all aligned so that the earth’s shadow envelops the moon. Total lunar eclipses occur (in groups) every three to four years, but when they occur, two to four total eclipses happen over the course of about a year. 

We won’t see another total lunar eclipse in Chicago until Jan. 31, 2018.

Why do you think a lunar eclipse captures people’s imaginations and interest?

Part of the reason people enjoy eclipses so much is the sudden change from what we have become so accustomed to seeing — that is, the normal moon, something of a constant companion to us on earth — changing from a bright, full moon to a dark-red shadow of its former self.

A total lunar eclipse is a chance to witness how the earth, moon and sun are all connected. In normal day-to-day life, we can easily forget about the earth’s motion and revert to the incorrect intuition that the sun and moon and stars all move around the earth. An eclipse, however, challenges that and helps us think more broadly about the local universe.

What do you hope attendees take away from the Sept. 27 event?

Well, first, we hope the skies are relatively clear so that people can see the event and enjoy it. Second, we hope students, staff, faculty and members of the public will have the opportunity to ask questions, learn about eclipses and astronomy and gain a deeper understanding of our home in the solar system.

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