By Jacque E. Day
With a clear night sky overhead, Norwich University Physics professor Arthur Pallone stood in the gazebo on the Crescent, calling for volunteers. “Who wants to be the sun?”
A gentleman from the community piped in, “I’m pretty bright.” Onlookers chuckled as Pallone handed the man a glowing lantern, then asked who wanted to play Atlas and hold up the Earth.
Passing a globe to a Norwich student and holding a miniature moon himself, Prof. Pallone proceeded to give a 3D demonstration of the lunar eclipse as it played out in space above the terrestrial sky-watchers.
The light-hearted astronomy demo took place on Sunday, September 27, a night when anyone in North America and much of the rest of the world could look up and witness a rare sight: a lunar eclipse-supermoon combination on the night of a Harvest Moon.
Supermoons are fairly common, happening about once a year when a full moon occurs at perigee, or the point when the Moon orbits closest to Earth, Pallone said.
But a combined supermoon and lunar eclipse hasn’t occurred in more than 30 years, he said, and the next one won’t come around until 2033.
“People were already interested in the eclipse,” said Pallone, who teaches astronomy and now applies the same experimental techniques he formerly used to mimic the insides of stars to study the insides of biological specimens. “It’s not every day that the moon turns red before our eyes.”
He said he simply decided to add to the fun by coordinating a gathering, during which he’d be on-hand to explain the science behind the lunar event.
Even before the first red tinges began to creep over the moon, the green space on the Norwich campus appropriately named the Crescent flooded with people—as many as 80 cadets, rooks and civilian students, faculty, and community members.
Spectators lined up to view the eclipse through a telescope, and Pallone made the rounds to engage the various groups that had formed. Among the crowd were NU Geology Prof. Rick Dunn and his daughter and Norwich President Richard W. Schneider, who as an expert navigator from his US Coast Guard days, enthusiastically joined the discussion. “I wouldn’t miss it,” he said.
As the Moon turned a deep red and the crowd began to thin, people stopped by to thank Pallone before heading inside to escape the chill air. “The Blood Moon was the main event,” the astronomer shrugged. “I just provided some narration.”
About the author: Jacque E. Day, the features editor for the Norwich Record alumni magazine, is married to Prof. Pallone.