Friday, February 22, 2008

Star Party

Here is a report from Don and Karen Winget, who are astronomers on sabatical in Porto Alegre and helping Team Gaúcho with evangelistic "star parties."

"Our friends, a missionary family, Marla and Larry Green, hosted an Eclipse Party at their house. We are helping the Green’s host monthly Star Parties at their home to gear-up for the United Nation’s International Year of Astronomy in 2009. We have found that observing the natural revelation of God in the night sky is fertile ground for discussions about God, Creation, Christ, why we are here, what is wrong and what is right with us, etc. Star Party events have brought believers and seekers to the missionary’s home where they have developed relationships with the seekers and non-believers and solidified allegiances in Christ with the believers.

The day of February 20 was cloudy and very humid but by evening the clouds vanished and the full Moon was blindingly bright in the telescope. As an added treat, the bright star Regulus was occulted by the Moon (the Moon passed in front of Regulus) and at 8:34pm the blue/white-hot star popped back in to view on the other side of the Moon! Very impressive, especially since the brightness of the full Moon obscures most stars. That is why you can see more stars at night when the Moon is not visible or is much less than full.

Now for the eclipse. First contact of the Moon in the Earth’s penumbra shadow was at 9:36pm and at 10:43 the very dramatic darkening of the Moon began. It was easy to see that the Earth is a sphere as the Moon moved into the Earth’s curved shadow. By 12:01am the Moon was completely in the Earth’s shadow and for 50 minutes the Moon glowed dark red before it began to move out of the shadow and return to bright white by 3:16am.

Why was the eclipsed Moon red? It is best explained like this: Imagine yourself standing on the Moon. Face the Earth at eclipse time. The Earth is now between you and the Sun and the light from the Sun’s disk is now covered by the Earth. The Sun’s blue light is scattered in all directions by Earth’s atmosphere (That is why the sky looks blue to us on Earth during the day) and the Sun’s red light is refracted and bent around in the Earth’s thin atmosphere. As you are standing on the Moon, the Earth looks like it is ringed in a red fire. It is that red light that is now shining on the Moon. If you looked down at your feet, the surface of the Moon would look red, instead of white, and that is what the rest of us on Earth see…a red Moon.
Knowing what you know now, see if you can you answer these two questions? If you were standing on the Moon on February 20th, what kind of eclipse did you experience: solar or lunar? And, during a normal day on the Moon, is your sky blue?

Let me know.

Now back to the eclipse in Porto Alegre. Trent, a non-believer and not a seeker, yet, remarked that it is hard to believe that we actually went to the Moon. Belief in something that happened long ago, to someone else, and in a different place is often difficult to believe or even remember. Did we really go to the Moon? How do we know if we did not go there ourselves? Trent knows we went to the Moon but in 100 or 1000 years from now how could someone believe him and who would care anyway?

There are people today, just less than 40 years after the fact, who believe that the manned Apollo missions to the Moon were faked in Hollywood. Isn't it amazing, the human capacity to doubt?

I remember sitting on our couch watching television with my mom and brother while my dad, who was a journalist, showed films of each of the Apollo Mission liftoffs. Until a few years ago, I still had copies of those events on brown, brittle 35mm films in my refrigerator.

I remember the first crackling words spoken by Buzz Aldrin from the Moon, "Contact Light." He was reporting to Houston the illumination of the signal-light on the control panel indicating that the Lunar Lander had touched the surface of the Moon.
Years later, I met Buzz Aldrin in Washington D.C., shook his hand, spoke to him, and placed in his hand a picture, similar to the ones attached to this email, of a total lunar eclipse I had taken from our back yard in Weir, Texas. The eclipse that year happened to be on Buzz's birthday.

I remember watching the grainy, jumpy images of our astronauts walking, driving, golfing, and taking surface and core samples of the Moon. I have seen and touched these samples, and you can too, at the National Air and Space Museum in Washington, D.C.

I have been in the Mission Control Building in Houston and spent the night on the floor of the space museum surrounded by physical evidence of our space explorations and lunar landings. I have been inside a shuttle and touched an Apollo capsule. Today, everyone enjoys Velcro invented for the Apollo program to hold stuff down in the zero gravity of space. It is on your camera bag or tennis shoes.

All of this eye-witness evidence, all this physical evidence, all the writings, all the reports, all the films, all the memories…and some people still don't believe. Wow! The human capacity to doubt is overwhelming.

Here is where this story gets personal. 8 years ago, I was considering the purpose in life and when I die, and my children die, would we would go to heaven or just rot in the ground somewhere on this tiny blue planet. Don and I explored many religious beliefs and our bias at that time was based on doubt; the same kind of doubt people have now about whether we went to the Moon or not.

While checking out the claims of Christ and Christianity we found eye-witness accounts of Christ in many writings including the Bible. We were in Turkey several times and walked where the apostle Paul walked and we wandered among the ruins of early Churches. People had gathered in these Churches who had actually met Christ, maybe even touched him. I watched people who believed and loved Christ; it was moving.

Considering the technology of 2000 years ago, I had the same evidence of Christ as I have of the truth that we went to the Moon. Suddenly, my human capacity to doubt underwhelmed me and I could believe that Christ existed. No more doubt on that. The next thing I had to resolve: was Christ really who he said he was?

About the pictures

The SettingSun picture is included to remind you of the Sun’s light refracting through Earth’s atmosphere. The CurvedEarthShadow demonstrates the round shadow of the Earth on the Moon. RedWhiteBlueMoon demonstrates the Sun’s light as reflected on the Moon during the partial eclipse. The two TotalEclipse pictures demonstrate the refracted light from the Sun through Earth’s atmosphere. The point of light on the left is bright star Regulus and the object on the right is Saturn."

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