Lunar Eclipse from Summit in Los Gatos Mountains a

by Lynne Jolitz

A "spontaneous" Lunar Eclipse Party was held in the courtyard behind the Loma Prieta Community Center on Summit Road in the Los Gatos Santa Cruz Mountains to watch the lunar eclipse rise - spontaneous meaning "we got the brochures out today". The Loma Prieta school complex and community center courtyard turned out to be perfectly situated for the event - the moon rose at the lowest point in the range between Sugarloaf Mountain and Mt. Umunhum. Aside from a wisp of fog below, the weather was perfect.

We began at 4pm readying the family scopes for use - mirrors were cleaned, eyepieces examined, cleaned (and a few replaced), and, in one case, a tube was dusted out (cobwebs, I'm afraid). Then the scopes were tested, adjusted (if needed), and stored for travel. At 7:45pm we arrived at the Loma Prieta Community Center - around back there is a large concrete patio surrounded by lawn used for parties. It was situated perfectly for the eclipse, as well as a good view of Jupiter, Saturn, and Polaris (for alignment) when the sunlight dimmed. Given the last minute nature of the event, we expected a dozen or so people to attend. Boy, were we surprised...

At sunset kids, parents, and enthusiasts arrived. For a "last minute" event, the turnout was fantastic - over 50 people gathered to watch at various points at the telescopes and lawn area!

This turnout success was due entirely and completely to Gayle Eisner and the LEEPS enthusiasts (Loma Prieta Environmental Education Program for Science). LEEPS is a volunteer organization (made up of parents/community members) designed to assist the teachers at Loma Prieta Elementary School in teaching science, natural history, and environmental studies. Within just a few hours they put the word out about the event. In addition, Dr. Lorrie Wernick, Principal of CT English Middle School, made sure to notify the middle school kids of the event - she also showed up herself. Without these people, this beautiful lunar eclipse and evening show might have passed by unobserved. They showed the real "can-do" spirit and optimism of the Loma Prieta Mountain Community that makes this place special.

Because of the long day and the non-reflectivity of the moon, no one could naked-eye spot the moon when it first arose, even though it was perfectly situated and clear. It was only the very slightest of glow as it moved past totality that revealed itself to the excited kids and adults. Everyone was amazed that with over 100 eyes turned to the moon, not a one could discern it peeking over the mountains - it was as if it was veiled from our sight. When it finally began to reveal itself, it seemed a wraith cast by sorcery (already about 5 degrees).

You couldn't have asked for a better show-stopper for bewitching wonderment. No magician could have found a more amazed audience if he had made a dragon suddenly appear out of thin air. Several LEEPS parents attending were chatting about the fable of the Chinese Dragon that would eat the moon, only to be driven away by loud noises, so when the wraith-moon finally appeared, the crowd roared. I guess the dragon did get scared away, for the moon *did* grow back. :-)

Even though you don't really need a scope to enjoy the lunar eclipse, we brought a collection along. Ben, age 12, worked the 50 inch long, 6 inch f/8.5 Newtonian that his Grandpa and Dad built 30 years ago. It comes with an incredibly large fork mount, requiring Ben to really put his body into maneuvering it into position. He's already modified the base to make it more mobile, and has more plans, including grinding a new mirror. This scope, totally home built (it looks like a gun turret) turned out to be a real crowd pleaser - most of the boys couldn't keep their hands off it (Ben had to ride shotgun), but he positioned it for a nice view of the moon. Kids loved it because the eyepiece was low, so they didn't need to stand on a chair.

Rebecca, age 8, brought along her 6 inch f/4 Newtonian, another home-built by her dad. A reliable and steady scope, she's working her way through "Turn Left at Orion", and showed the book around to kids. It was also aimed at the moon most of the night, until she got excited and ran around with her friends... Well, who could blame her? It was kind of a magical night.

Bill brought his *very* finely collimated - yes, it is and worth it, he says, as a charter member of OOGLE ;-) - C8 SCT. While the crowd waited for moonrise, jupiter shone near zenith, affording a wonderful show of the planet and Galilean moons. Everyone was crowding to get to see it. Later on, as darkness grew and the moon seemed dipped in a bit of gold, he turned it to Saturn for a fine view of the rings. Meanwhile, another C8 SCT was arranged towards the moon, focussing on finer structures. I spent my time directing people to the eyepiece and not the finder (as well as keeping the moon in view).

We also set up a small 3 inch f/6 Newtonian Bill picked up for 25 cents at a flea market on a tripod - not so much for precision viewing (everyone wanted the bigger scopes), but so kids could just "play around" with it. Lots of kids (and adults) spent a bit of time trying it out, and pointing it towards the mountain scenery. It seemed a great way to let people get their hands on an instrument without making them (and us) feel nervous.

The crowd, arriving promptly at 8pm, began to dwindle by 9:45pm, and vanished completely at 10pm, leaving us back where we started at 7:45pm - a patio full of scopes and two excited but now tired kids. The moon seemed to be winking at us as we drove home...

A wonderful evening was had by all.