More than 1,000 sky-watchers turned out Sept. 27 at the Hume Cronyn Memorial Observatory to watch the Moon move completely into the Earth’s shadow – a spectacle known as a total lunar eclipse. For southwestern Ontario, this was the last chance to observe a total lunar eclipse until January 2019.
But for Jan Cami, it wasn’t just about raw numbers.
“It is extremely gratifying to me to see so many people turn up at our events,” said the Physics and Astronomy professor. “Numbers alone are not a measure of our success; they show that it is common for people to have an innate curiosity and desire to understand the world around us – which is pretty much what we scientists are hopelessly passionate about.
“At these events, we try to create an atmosphere where everybody can wonder at the sky and share that with others. But, maybe more importantly, we try to instill a sense that understanding the cosmos is an intellectual endeavour that is worthwhile and accessible to all humans – not just to hardcore scientists who solve differential equations before breakfast. Getting that message across – maybe especially to the younger generations – is the true measure of success to me.”
The event featured space experts giving presentations on lunar eclipses throughout the evening, while various telescopes were pointed to the Moon. Western researchers and scientists, as well as a number of local astronomers, were available for questions and assistance.
The lunar eclipse started at 9:07 p.m. with the beginning of the partial phase, where the Moon slowly moved into the Earth’s shadow. However, cloudy skies prevented many from observing the event until right before 11 p.m., when the clouds parted, giving visitors more than half an hour of total eclipse viewing, and then a perfect seat as the moon ‘appeared’ again.
The Department of Physics and Astronomy, in collaboration with the Centre for Planetary Science and Exploration (CPSX), Canadian Lunar Research Network (CLRN) and Royal Astronomical Society of Canada’s London Centre, hosted the public viewing and information night.
“Such a turnout is a refreshing observation in our current cultural climate where science denial, ignorance or indifference sometimes appear to be commonplace – even in the political discourse,” Cami said. “Against that background, organizing public events where we can share our understanding of the Universe is more important than ever.”