Super Blue Blood Moon

The Gravity Discovery centre (GDC)  & Astronomy Education Services (AES) Super Blue Blood Moon Event

There was no way I was going to pass up a chance to make a big party out of the recent Lunar eclipse, because not only was it going to be a TOTAL lunar eclipse, it was going to fall on a Blue Moon (two full moons in one calendar month) and to cap it all off, it was when the moon was at its perigee, the closest it can get to Earth, making it a so-called ‘Super Moon’. Chuck in the fact it was falling on the 31st of January (here in Australia, it’s mid-summer), potentially the best time of year to have clear skies in the southern hemisphere, and you have a recipe for a brilliant chance to witness a once-in-a-150-years sky show.

Moon rising over the Stirling City Council building
Moon rising over the Stirling City Council building.

So, I put the feelers out. Facebook was my go-to barometer. What started out as an idea for a small event at a local sporting field, quickly blew out to a potential turn-out of 7000 plus, making it necessary to change venues and scramble to organise all the necessary accoutrements for catering for thousands of people (toilets and adequate parking, for a start!)

City of Stirling were very accommodating, offering (at no cost) Hertha Road Reserve in front of its council buildings off Cedric Street in Stirling as an alternative. My CEO at the Gravity Discovery Centre Jan Devlin provided enthusiastic support for my ambitious plan, as did all the staff and the dozens of volunteers who work at the GDC in Gingin.

As word of the Super Blue Blood Moon event got out, we had several local organisations contacting us asking if they could be of assistance. Hell yeah, we needed all the help we could get! ICRAR (International Centre of Radio Astronomy Research), the Astronomical Society of WA, The Astronomical Group of WA, Belmont Community College all offered the use of their telescopes and their personnel on the night, a godsend, because between Astronomy Education Services and the GDC, we had but 10 telescopes to offer views of the moon as it was going through its transformation. With the 20 extra telescopes (and as it turned out, more, because some members of the public brought their own and shared viewing time with other enthusiastic stargazers) we had enough, miraculously, to cater to the huge crowd of approximately 5000 who attended on the night.

Building crowd as night falls
The crowd starts to build as night falls.

Scitech, with whom I’ve recently been working as Scientist-in-Residence for their school holiday program, generously offered to provide parking signs for us, as did a mate of mine who specialises in commercial facades and signage (Ironclad – they’re in Malaga – go check ‘em out!) So many, many wonderful and generous people came forward to offer their time and their services to help get this event off the ground. And just as a reminder, they did it for FREE. Nothing. Nada. No one got paid for their time. Not one. The Gravity Discovery Centre put up funds to cover basic expenses like hiring a truck to transport equipment and hiring port-a-loos, but everyone who made this event such a success did it for nothing but the love of astronomy. Makes you believe in the goodness of humanity again.

I can’t thank everyone, especially our team at the GDC, enough for their generosity and unbridled enthusiasm for this event. Everyone was awesome, willing to do anything to help, whether to haul equipment, operating the telescopes, erect scaffolding, direct traffic or deal with recalcitrant technology (special shout out to Mike from the GDC for setting up a live stream of the eclipse on Facebook – over 18,000 views world-wide – awesome!!!)

Richard Tonello from AES addressing the crowd
Richard Tonello addressing the large crowd.

It was a spectacular night, warm with a gentle breeze and not a skerrick of a cloud to mar the perfect velvet blackness of the night sky. The moon behaved very nicely, slowly creeping into the Earth’s shadow on cue, the growing crescent of darkness leaving the audience awestruck. When she finally immersed herself completely in the roseate shadow, the 5000 strong crowd gave a mighty cheer. It was totally brilliant to be able to share the experience with such a well-behaved crowd.

Our knowledgeable volunteers manning (and womaning!) the telescopes kept the moon in their sights for the pleasure of the viewing public, answering questions and keeping everyone happy. People queued patiently for their turn to look into the viewfinders, and because the event spanned a couple of hours, no one left disappointed that they’d missed out.

Richard Tonello giving interview to Channel Nine News
Richard Tonello giving a live interview to Channel Nine News.

All of the major TV stations sent out reporters and camera crews to record the event, the results of which aired the next night on free-to-air television news, much to everyone’s delight.

A brilliant community event, if I must say so myself! If you want to see an abbreviated version of the ‘Super Blue Blood Moon’ event, check out my Earth&Sky vlog on my Youtube channel.

To conclude, I just want to reiterate my thanks to all the wonderful people who made this event possible – without you all, it would have been just me, my telescope, in a park, in the dark with no one to share this spectacular celestial phenomenon with. And that would have been too sad.

I can’t wait for the next event!

Volunteers ready for the action to commence
Volunteers ready for some Blood Moon action to commence.
Volunteers setting up some of the 30 telescopes.
Volunteers setting up some of the 30 telescopes.