Last week’s Beaver Moon lunar eclipse captivated skywatchers all over Clark County — and much of the world — with good reason. It’s been 850 years since we’ve had the opportunity to watch such a lengthy (6‑hour) partial lunar eclipse, so setting a 4 a.m. alarm to witness its peak seemed reasonable to me. Truth be told, I could probably manage to get up that early as often as every 500 years or so — if I had to.
The magic moment, 4:02 a.m., came and went before I could make it outside, due mainly to bathroom issues and wardrobe concerns. But I did reach my front-stoop viewing station by 4:07 a.m, and in high style, too, thanks to a last-second decision to accessorize my multi-layered ensemble (fleece bathrobe + fuzzy socks and slippers + down coat + toboggan) with a punchy blanket “shawl” and matte black binoculars.
To my surprise and chagrin, none of my stylish neighbors seemed to be out, but it was fairly dark, being the dead of night and all. Had they not heard of this celestial event? Did they not care? Perhaps I’d just missed them. They had probably already returned to their nice warm beds, sufficiently awestruck and frostbite-free.
But I was just getting started.
A lifelong stargazer, I’ve seen several eclipses over the years, so you can believe me when I tell you they all seem to take place in the same general area: the sky. And because of my considerable astronomic acuity, I also knew instinctively in which direction to look: up.
Once situated on my cold concrete step, my know-how paid off immediately. The nearly full moon bloomed above me in a warm rosy hue, impressively embossed upon the cloudless black sky. It was surreal and beautiful, especially when viewed through my binoculars. I savored the sight, scanning the lunar surface for the familiar maria (dark regions) and highlands, feeling a special kinship with generations of moon gazers past and present.
But I must confess, after a few enthralled moments, my eyes began to wander. Determined to stay on task, I refocused on the moon, which remained ruddy and rotund. But something smaller and shinier kept catching my eye, pulling it away from that big blushing orb. What WAS that glittering little-dipper-like affair above and to the right of the moon?
To find out, I had only to step inside and consult with my warm and awake husband, who spends more time studying his laptop sky map than the actual sky. With a single trackpad swipe, he provided an answer: the Pleiades!
The earliest of winter constellations in our part of the world, the Pleiades are known by many names: Seven Sisters, Hens and Chicks, Little Eyes of Heaven, and the incredibly lyrical M45. Binoculars are not required to appreciate this brilliant cluster of over 1,000 stars, which Alfred Tennyson wrote in his 1835 poem Locksley Hall, “glitter like a swarm of fireflies tangled in a silver braid.”
I couldn’t agree more.
Captivating and ancient, the Pleiades’ most highly visible handful of stars reach peak luminosity in our area around January, but they were hard to miss even last week— a reminder, once again, that we only have to look to see something wondrous.
Turning off our screens and stepping outside into the chilly night may be just the wake-up call we need now. One of the many advantages of living in Clark County is that we have less light pollution than more populous regions, so enjoying the night sky is something we all can do. And keeping an open heart and mind when we turn our eyes skyward only compounds the joy.
When I ventured out to watch the Beaver Moon eclipse, I had no intention of doing anything else. It was cold out, and the hour was insanely late. In a way, I just wanted to get it over with — to see the eclipse at its peak, and then go back to bed.
But something unexpected happened. I deviated from the plan; I allowed my eyes to wander. Not only did I see our amazing moon in a rare and exquisite state, but I saw it in a context that was completely new to me. I stayed outside much longer than I intended; and yes, I was beyond cold by the time I went back to bed. But our abiding night sky rewarded me so richly that I have no regrets — only gratitude and awe, plus a new favorite night-sky jewel!
So sure, I plead guilty … I went rogue. And I’m so glad I did.