We live in Dunedin, on the east coast of Te Waipounamu, New Zealand’s South Island. It’s a beautiful place at any time, but every so often the planets (so to speak) align and gift us some extra magic. One of those every-so-oftens happened at dawn on Saturday morning, 28 July 2018, when the sun, Earth and full moon aligned (with Mars in close attendance) to produce a lunar eclipse.
Dunedin was going to be a great place from which to view the blood moon, but even better, the perfect location for experiencing a selenelion. A selenelion is a rare celestial event that occurs when the eclipsed moon is visible on the western horizon at the same time as the sun rises in the east.
We set an alarm. And so too, it turned out, did half the population of the city. We might be Homo Scientificus on the outside, but we are still Homo Lunus in our souls.
At seven in the morning, the sky was dark and clear. From our bathroom window we had a perfect view of bright Mars above the western horizon and, next to it, the full moon, already chomped into by Earth’s shadow. The lunar eclipse had started. We grabbed our jackets and headed out to find a high spot. Our neighbours were leaving their house with the same plan, and so we drove together to Mt Cargill, which at nearly 700 metres dominates the northern skyline above Dunedin, offering panoramic views from its summit.
There was a long line of vehicles parked on the access road. We parked at the end of the queue and walked up, joining a few hundred people – kids, parents, grandparents – at a level spot with views west and east. By then, unfortunately, the moon on the western horizon was invisible behind a low shroud of rose-red cloud. The eastern horizon was another proposition entirely. The sun’s upper rim emerged and, like fire being pulled out of the sea, our star blazed up.
There we were, revealed in sudden daylight, a community of human beings (slightly disheveled with our bed-hair and our pyjamas-under-overcoats) gathered together at dawn, on a mountain, during a lunar eclipse, to marvel at this life.
Sue Wootton is co-editor of Corpus.
Images by Doug Lilly.