A red moon peeked out from overcast skies just after 10 p.m. Sunday night. Applause and cheering rose up from the dozens of students below, before the clouds blocked their view of the moon.
Despite the overcast skies, the total lunar eclipse briefly appeared. The rare event motivated the Astronomy Club to set up telescopes and a fire pit on the quad this past weekend. The group hosted a viewing party from 9:30 p.m. to 12:30 a.m.
Assistant Professor of Physics Timothy Dolch explained that a total lunar eclipse occurs when the earth moves between the sun and the moon. The sun’s rays are refracted by the earth’s atmosphere before reaching the moon, turning it red.
Junior Michael Tripepi, president of the Society of Physics Students, said the red light affects the moon the way a sunset changes the sky’s color.
“Blue light is scattered more than red light,” he said.
Tripepi, a physics major, helped set up the event with fellow Astronomy Club members senior Joshua Ramette and junior Daniel Halmrast. They had the campus lampposts turned off to increase visibility. The students managed the s’mores and fire while Dolch monitored the telescopes.
“My plan is to get some kind of a regular viewing night,” Dolch said. “The turnout made me very optimistic.”
He said the quad made it easy to attract people, but the default location would have to be somewhere else.
Dolch also mentioned the possibility of a solar eclipse occurring next year. However, people will have to travel west to witness it.
“That’s going to be pretty amazing,” he said.
While Dolch let students view the moon through the college’s telescope, junior Matt Hoenig brought his own. Though much smaller than the college’s model, it allowed more people to look.
“I thought, hey, might as well bring it along,” Hoenig said.
Although the telescopes were brought in time to witness the red moon, the clouds posed a greater threat at the start of the event. There were no stars visible when a light rain fell on the quad. Dolch and others rushed to put the equipment inside the Strosacker Science Center until the weather passed.
The brief rain did not stop Ramette from building a fire within the first ten minutes.
The s’mores and gathering space also played a strong role in drawing students to the event.
“I came here for camaraderie, s’mores, good times, and the potential for a beautiful night,” freshman Andrea Wallace said.
The majority of the attendees stayed near the food and fire, observing the moon without the aid of the telescopes. Short lines formed behind the devices, placed several yards away from the crowd, where students could see it up close.
By 12:30 a.m. the party on the quad dwindled to only a table and a fading fire. Dolch and the few students who remained packed up their things, while the blood moon disappeared behind the clouds.