Cronyn Observatory hosts a thousand visitors for total lunar eclipse

Eclipsed moon over Cronyn Observatory

[see more images on Flickr]

Organizers for the viewing of the total lunar eclipse of Sept. 27 2015 at the Hume Cronyn Memorial Observatory at Western weren't quite sure what to expect.

Nearly 1200 RSVPs to the Cronyn facebook page indicated that a good-sized crowd could be expected, depending on the weather.

As a contingency plan, a large HDTV was set up in an area between the Engineering back courtyard and the Observatory.  A NASA eclipse event would be streamed to the television.

The event was hosted by the Department of Physics and Astronomy through its Exploring the Stars program,  the Centre for Planetary Science and Exploration (CPSX), the London Centre of the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada, and the Canadian Lunar Research Network (CLRN).

Arrangements were completed just as twilight settled in, at about which time the rising full moon was glimpsed from the upper deck of the observatory at around 7:30pm.

Clouds move in

Clouds move in

RASC members with telescopes continued to arrive, setting up their equipment all along the walkway beside the Engineering courtyard.

Inside the observatory, volunteers prepared the 25.4cm refractor, and arranged the portable scopes on the outside deck.

The public was now beginning to stream in at a steady rate.  Car after car entered the Thompson parking lot.  Before the volunteers could blink, there was already a lineup outside the front doors of the observatory. To add to the excitement, the feature guest speaker, Peter Jedicke, who had worked all afternoon during the daytime open house, was enjoying a third cup of coffee at his favourite restaurant.  Taking quick action, Professor Jan Cami called for the doors to be opened, as he took over the first speaking duties in the observatory classroom.

Visitors immediately filled the building, while Jan Cami gave the first talk about "Lunar and Solar Eclipses" to a packed classroom of 75 people.

Then the clouds rolled in. Dark, fast-moving clouds, thick enough to obscure the prized Luna.

Peter Jedicke giving presentation

Peter Jedicke explains eclipses

Visitors continued to arrive.  The lineup now went from the front doors of the observatory out to the street, around the corner and south towards Thompson Arena.

Dark clouds continued to race northward.

Those watching the NASA feed were also disappointed, because technical difficulties prevented their live images of the moon from being streamed over the internet.

At last Peter Jedicke arrived, and immediately set to work in giving his talk on "The Lunar Eclipse Tonight".

As the 9:07pm eclipse time came and went, the clouds were still obscuring the moon. Even so, people kept arriving. Somehow they had to be accomodated!

Jan Cami made the decision to try to give a parallel talk outside.  A quick phonecall was made to P&A staff member Phin Perquin, who had just been on site, and was half way to his home outside of London. Minutes later, Phin arrived with a sound system in tow, which volunteers helped him to erect.

Connecting his laptop to the HDTV, Jan Cami then began giving talks to the outside visitors.

Jan Cami giving outdoor talk

Jan Cami gives outdoor talk

All in all, eleven talks were given by Peter and Jan, an amazing feat, though understandably, each version of the presentation was shorter than the last. Luckily it didn't get to the point where they were presenting "The Lunar Eclipse in a Minute".

As the evening turned to night the moon came into view once or twice, to sporadic cheers from the crowd. It was half way to totality.

Upstairs in the observatory, CTV London News interviewed RASC volunteer Mark Tovey.

Volunteers continued to scury along the lineup of visitors, explaining the situation and passing along handouts.  There was limited room inside the observatory.  After a group got to listen to the talk, they were sent upstairs, those before them exiting the building. A new group then came in to hear the talk again.

The visitors were extremely patient, but families with small children did eventually begin to head for home.

On the observing deck

Observing deck

At some point, a few visitors on the observing deck could begin to see stars in the south and west. The optimists in the crowd began to get aroused !  A small clear patch showed the totally eclipsed moon.

Finally, at about 10:50pm, the skies cleared, and there, in all its glory was the super-blood moon. General cheering erupted.

Everyone then got down to the business of viewing the eclipsed moon through the almost dozen telescopes that had been deployed in the area.

Photographers worked away snapping their treasured images.

visitors behind observatory

Visitors behind observatory

One special arrangement was provided by undergraduate student Ian Mulholland. He had a special smartphone adapter on his telescope so that visitors could take telescopic photos of the moon through their own phones. This was very popular. As the younger generation has taken over the world, these can now be called Samsung moments.

The rest of the evening was a blur of activity.

By about 1pm most of the roughly 1,000 estimated visitors had gone, the observatory doors were closed, and the volunteers began taking down the equipment.

This event would not have been possible without the efforts of the many volunteers, some of whom described their night for us here.

Eclipse by Ian Mulholland

Eclipse in Ian's smartphone

Volunteer and feature speaker Peter Jedecke looked back, "I knew it was cloudy out and I hated to disappoint the crowds, so I kept telling the audience in the Observatory's classroom that the forecast looked promising. The windows were open and, even while I was showing slides about the eclipse, I tried to keep an eye on the activity outside.

About 22:45, I suddenly heard a tremendous roaring cheer from the courtyard. I knew it meant the eclipsed Moon was suddenly visible through the thinning cloud cover. It occurred to me that cheer was the same sound I'd heard a few hours before when 45,000 fans in Toronto watched the Blue Jays win their game with a home run in the bottom of the ninth. Astronomy really can have that same level of excitement!"

Volunteer Ian Mulholland said, "It felt incredible to see so many people present at the Cronyn Observatory for the 2015 total lunar eclipse. As somebody who loves to share astronomy with whoever will listen, I could not have been happier when dozens of people gathered around me to take pictures with their phones through my telescope. Just seeing the looks on their faces when the clouds finally parted was enough to make the time waited worth it.

I don't think anybody, especially me, will ever forget that night."

Dave and telescope

Dave and scope

Parshati Patel said of the event, "It was exciting to see so many people turned out to see the eclipse despite the cloudy weather. I think the fact that we created the event on Facebook played a major role in getting the word out. Despite such huge crowds, volunteers did a fantastic job at coordinating and keeping the visitors entertained by conversing with them. People were very patient and from what I heard they were very excited to look at the moon through the Cronyn telescope.

I loved that when clouds parted finally, people just sat down on the path behind the Cronyn building enjoying and soaking in the rest of the eclipse."

Dale Armstrong wrote, "Arriving at the observatory after dinner, we were impressed with Londoner's enthusiasm for the eclipse as, at that point, the line to get into the observatory already extended the length of the front sidewalk.   Not only did we get to view a rare supermoon eclipse, we also experienced the drama of a completely overcast sky parting—at just the right moment—to reveal the Moon in total eclipse.  Through my telescope the view was outstanding.

In particular, Tycho and Mare Nubium were bathed in glowing pastels of orange and yellow.  Unusually, half a dozen stars surrounded the Moon, including one that popped out from behind it just after the viewing had commenced."

Volunteer Harold Tutt had these comments, "Had a great time.  So surprised when I drove up Sunday evening to see the crowd when I left in the afternoon nobody was around.  Sure glad I seen Peter to move a barrier for me to set up my scope & then there was even a handicap parking lot still available.
The crowd was well behaved & appreciated all of us that were there to show them the eclipse.
Thanks to Jan & everybody involved in the set up."

Mark's CTV interview

Mark's CTV interview

RASC volunteer Paul Kerans added, "I have fun telling people about astronomy, explaining it helps me understand better. It's great watching people light up with interest, kids and adults alike!  I also believe being free ( not charging admission ) is a great draw and people have expressed that fact."

Dave Clark said, "I had a grand time at Western for the eclipse. For mid-eclipse, the clouds quickly moved aside for a perfectly stunning view of the totally eclipsed Moon. The initial reaction from the crowd was amazing, and stealing some words from Peter, it was like a home-run at a Blue Jays game.

The views in the 8” were stunning. With the appropriately pre-chosen eye-piece, the darkened and red-orange filled the view, showing much more detail than one sees on a normally almost-blinding full Moon. But even more beautiful were the stars surrounding the Moon, sharp and bright, for once not being drowned out by full-moon light.

But it was the reactions from folks at the eye-piece that made it all worthwhile: gasps, expressions of amazement, one funny and continuous stream of well-intended f-bombs, and one lady brought to tears."

Pauline Barmby recalls, "I spent most of my time on Sunday night walking up and down the Cronyn entrance line talking to people. A highlight for me was encountering a number of former students, some who I had taught in first year and one who did an undergrad research project with me, that I hadn't seen in several years. I also enjoyed meeting some of the families with kids who had come out."

And finally, as RASC volunteer Mark Tovey said in his CTV News interview, "People like seeing something that you can't see every day. That's part of it. I think there is an intrinsic beauty to the planets and the moon and the stars, that brings a sense of awe, and I think that sense of awe is what really has people looking up."

[See the CTV News interview. Search for the September 27 video and go to the 10 minute mark.]