Full Blood Lunar Eclipse Beaver Moon 2021
The Lunar Superbowl
If you live in North America, stop reading this.
Run to your kitchen immediately, make a cup of tar-black coffee, start swigging.
Tonight, if you can stay awake until the early AM hours, you will be treated to the longest partial lunar eclipse of the century. Not only will the moon be veiled in the Earth’s penumbra, but it will also turn as red as a sliced-open grapefruit.
We’re used to ruby sunsets, but there’s something about a blood-red moon that awakens the primal imagination. If we were ancient pagans, no doubt we’d be sacrificing goats (and possibly neighbors) on stone altars tonight.
Recently, I’ve been thinking about the color of the moon.
If asked to paint it, I’d probably reach for a tube of titanium white.
But the moon is not monochrome.
It has a diverse color palette.
Just ask a self-driving car.
This summer, a California driver was terrified when his semi-autonomous Tesla kept slowing down unexpectedly on the highway.
Eventually, he figured out the problem.
His vehicle’s sensors were registering the full moon, swathed in wildfire smoke, as a blinking yellow traffic light.
Another firm believer in a multicolored moon was Alan Bean.
Bean was the fourth human to tread on the moon (52 years ago tomorrow).
After returning to Earth, the astronaut retired and launched his career as an Impressionist painter specializing in moonscapes.
Bean’s paintings had a special sauce. He sprinkled them with actual moon dust brought home on his filthy space suit. He also pressed the still-wet canvases with a bronzed Moon boot for texture.
Notably, Bean’s moons are as vibrantly colored as Monet haystacks.
The artist explained his stylistic choice thusly:
The Moon was a stark and otherworldly place―gray soil, gray rocks and black sky as far as you can see…But a literal record of this black-and-white world doesn’t communicate what it felt like to be and work there…I tried to show the heat of the Moon, the feeling of the sun…I began to use violets in the craters and the dirt to make it quite beautiful instead of just gray…
But I have another theory to explain why Bean spent the final decades of his life painting many-hued lunar landscapes: he felt guilty.
Unlike Apollo 11’s black-and-white camera, the Apollo 12 crew was outfitted with a state-of-the-art color camera. Unfortunately, when Bean was setting up the camera on the lunar surface, he mistakenly pointed it directly at the Sun, which instantly fried its SEC tube and abruptly severed the television transmission.
The networks continued to carry the astronauts’ audio live, but CBS switched their visual feed to two actors in spacesuits simulating the moonwalk in their studio, while NBC quickly pivoted to astronaut marionettes dangled over a fake moon. These bizarre simulations fanned conspiracy theories about the moon landings that are still blazing today.
And this is why I believe Bean painted his moon in myriad colors.
Bean the artist was atoning for Bean the astronaut’s blunder.
Too bad I can’t confirm my theory as Alan Bean passed away three years ago.
But I’ll be thinking of him during tonight’s eclipse when the blood moon brings all the Teslas on the highway to a sudden stop and we find ourselves drawn outside into the freezing November night to stare up at the lunar eclipse, just as surely as if we were pulled by marionette strings.
See you on the Cold Moon!
PS. I wrote about moon-viewing and tonight’s eclipse for The Boston Globe—you can read the article here.
PPS. If the skies overhead are cloudy tonight, try one of these livestreams.
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AND FINALLY…THE DEPARTMENT OF SHOUT-OUTS
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