Article by Adam Shaw
The Rio Tinto Alcan Planetarium (at the Espace Pour La Vie next to La Parc Olympique) held a gathering to watch the Supermoon Eclipse last night. All stargazers were sad to see the Montreal Planetarium close down in 2011. That is why it was such a delight for all of us when the Espace Pour La Vie (which includes the Biodome, Insectarium and Botanical Gardens) decided to add a new venue in the form of a planetarium in 2013. I thought it would be a good way to wind up the weekend and decided to check it out.
As I walked out of my apartment towards the Metro, I noticed the full moon was brighter than usual. I stopped to take a few pictures. It was a Supermoon.
After the ride on the Metro, as I made my way out of the station and past the movie theatre, there were a few girls that had their blankets spread out in the median. And I could see the planetarium in the distance with a smorgasbord of spherical shapes being projected on to one of its funnel towers.
As I meandered towards the Rio, the crowd slowly got thicker and formed a thicket right outside of the venue. There were many amateur astronomers there taking photographs with their time-lapse cameras. Also there were amateurs who set up their telescopes and were sharing the views to be had with anyone that was curious. There was a long line for the giant telescope, but I got into a shorter line for a smaller one. The telescope owner was friendly, very knowledgeable and eager to explain what was happening. At first, I couldn’t see anything. I guess in my excitement, I had fumbled the view into a blur. The owner was happy to re-focus for me and voila – I could see the moon, bright with all its craters. The eclipse had already begun and I could see the shadow creeping up on it. He also mentioned something about a reddish tint at one end that I didn’t fully understand, but it was there. Great view – super chill guy.
The event was “chill” in general, with everyone polite and eager to witness a solar event together. It just made me completely relaxed. I went inside the Rio Planetarium and the big, burly guard politely let me know that the planetarium was closed. There was a guy at a table with all sorts of moon flyers ready to explain the phenomena in detail, though. I was embarrassed that my French was not up to par, so I politely excused myself. I did grab a free calendar, however. For each month, the calendar had a photo of a different heavenly body. I always love free swag.
Also on display was a time-lapse capture of the event from California, the people of which witnessed the event before us. The moon went from red to bright white (the colour I had noticed it in when I first went outside).
I went back outside to check on the eclipse. The moon went from 3/4 illuminated to half a pie. Everyone outside was elated. As a reporter, I wasn’t content with the photos I had taken and the views I got. Might there be a better view from somewhere in the back? As I walked around towards the back of the building, the path had a cool blue glow to it. It was illuminated by small, circular, blue lights recessed into the plant protectants. This led to a staircase, also illuminated in the same way, but purple. “This planetarium just gets it,” I thought. It would definitely make for some great scenes in a science fiction movie.
I went up the stairs, which were made to climb a hill. On the hill were people spread out, sitting on blankets. There were a few girls giggling away – a definite sign that they had smoked something really good. Maybe, they saw the Man in the Moon.
I made my way to the other side of the hill and here were fewer people still. Everyone here was either set up with cameras or gazing away at the eclipse in the night sky. I stared for a few moments and felt that peace that comes from knowing the earth is your home orbited by another home. The moon went down another quarter and was in the shape of a sickle now.
Starry eyed, I knew there had to be some of those really cool people around who knew where the most perfect views were. I decided to find them. I went back down the steps and looked up at two structures (one of which was the tower I described earlier) that can only be described as stationary tornadoes from my current view. These must house either enormous telescopes or otherwise make for the big rooms on to which planetariums project the sky for the audience, I surmised. I made my way back towards the parking lot. Near the parking lot were fountains that had a stone bench with nobody around. As the moon began to disappear, it began to take on more of a reddish tint. I guess this is what my friend with the telescope was describing. I sat there gazing for a while in amazement.
Suddenly, the quiet was interrupted by a howl. Then the howls came in succession. It caught me off guard, but I knew better. Nice try, kids. Coyotes only howl at a bright moon, not the moon in eclipse. It gives them light for hunting – if it is bright enough, the lead coyote will give out a howl to signal the hunt is on and his fellow coyotes will then howl back. Or, perhaps the kids were pretending to be werewolves; I wasn’t sure. Although I wasn’t fooled, I had to give them an A for effort because they didn’t sound like the clichéd “Awooooooo,” people get from watching TV. These kids had thought their prank through.
As the moon began to completely disappear, I walked towards the Stade Saputo (a secondary stadium to Stade Olympique) in the back. There was one picnic table on the path there, occupied by lovers. Walking back further still, I decided to turn around and take a few pictures of the tower attached to the Stade Olympique. The tower, known as the Montreal tower, is the tallest inclined tower in the World and can be seen throughout all of Hochelaga, an arrondissement in Montreal. It leans more than the Tower of Pisa – a lot more (8 degrees for Pisa, 45 degrees for Montreal). Illuminated, it stood grand and eerie against the night sky. The moon was now down to a red dot, but the phenomenon made the dot appear bigger than I thought it would be.
Continuing along the path and taking a right past the Stade Saputo was yet another hill. As I walked up the hill, I found the cool people I had been looking for. There were only a few of them – a couple of lovers, an expert cameraman and a couple of tokers. They had found the most intimate view of the event as I knew they would have and I was happy to share it with them. It was nice to have such a wide panoramic view with the Montreal Tower as the only thing in the background.
As I watched the moon blink out, it made me realize that I was standing on a giant rock, circled by another rock, both circling a giant ball of gas, all circling a gigantic black hole. Somehow, staring up at the night sky always has the effect of bringing me back down to Earth.