Crowds of people congregated on the rooftop of the Earth and Space Sciences building to witness a rare phenomenon last Sunday night—a supermoon in combination with a lunar eclipse.
A supermoon occurs when the full moon is closest to the Earth—an event known as perigee. Because of its proximity, the moon appears 14 percent larger and 30 percent brighter in the sky than a moon that is not at perigee. A lunar eclipse occurs when the Earth travels between the sun and the moon, causing Earth’s shadow to obscure the moon for more than an hour, according to the NASA website.
The combination of these two events occurs once every few decades. The last supermoon lunar eclipse happened in 1982, and the next one will not occur until 2033. This lunar eclipse was only visible to those in North and South America, Europe, Africa and parts of West Asia and the eastern Pacific.
Stony Brook University’s Japanese Student Organization, or JSO, and Astronomy Club collaborated together to host a moon viewing in honor of this event.
“Since they’re actually celebrating the Japanese lunar festival, Tsukimi, we thought it would be great to do it tonight because of the lunar eclipse,” Tyler Cohen, the president of the Astronomy Club, said.
A maximum of 100 people were allowed on the rooftop at a time. About 450 people RSVP’d that they would be attending the moon viewing, according to the Facebook event page.
Escorted by club members, spectators rode an elevator up to one of the building’s highest floors. In a room near the elevator, JSO members served handmade daifuku mochi, a Japanese rice cake usually stuffed with sweet filling, and explained the meaning of the Japanese moon festival to guests. Then moon viewers climbed a flight of stairs to the main attraction.
Guests propped their arms on the rooftop railings draped with red and white Christmas tree lights, waiting for the supermoon eclipse, which lasted one hour and 12 minutes. Others viewed the moon through Celestron 8-inch telescopes, snapped pictures of the historic event and viewed live streaming of the moon.
“I think it’s very interesting and awesome for the Astronomy Club [and JSO] to put on events like this where you’re actually legally allowed to go on top of a roof of a building on school campus,” Ashley Taylor, a junior computer engineering major, said.
Students were not the only guests on the ESS rooftop. Mary Bernero, head curator of undergraduate biology, also attended the moon viewing.
“I think it’s a really great idea to have this on campus so those of us who work here and go to school here can come see this with the telescopes,” she said.
Greg Rossi and his 8-year-old son John, residents of nearby Centereach, joined the festivities as well.
“I was reading Newsday online, and I stumbled across the link,” Rossi said. “And I said to myself, ‘this is gonna be a perfect opportunity for my son to be a part of history.’”
After they explored Stony Brook University’s campus the day of the supermoon lunar eclipse, John peppered his father with “500 questions.”
“Every five minutes, he was asking me how long, how long, how long…This is a night that he’s gonna remember for the rest of his life, and so am I,” Rossi said. “And its not gonna happen again until 2033, which is 18 years from now.”
Hundreds of students elsewhere on campus viewed the supermoon lunar eclipse, including on the dewy recreational fields. Student Chris Stubenrauch—with help from the Dean of Students Office, University Police, campus security and other management staff—organized another moon viewing.
Over 1,200 students signed up for the event on Facebook. Students were directed to leave as a group from H Quad at 9 p.m. and head for the recreational fields together, according to the Facebook event page.
“I think it’s a really cool event, no matter where you view it because this really brings people together, and I also think the human race in general should learn more about the stars, the cosmos, to pursue deeper thinking, rather than following people like Kim Kardashian around,” Katherine Wei, freshman business major and moon-viewer on the recreational field, said. “Thinking about this and looking at the stars makes us forget about our problems for a while because the universe is so big.”