Lunar Eclipses, Oceanographers, and Wildfires

What do the moon, a famous oceanographer, and California mega-fires have in common? This January 20-21, 2019, we had a rare chance to reflect on where they all intersect. 


2018 Lunar Eclipse by Robin Hansen

It was within the last century that famous oceanographer Walter Munk (subject of Spirit of Discovery from the 2018 Festival program) proved in his research about tides why one side of the moon always faces the earth. Munk's tidal research rightly made him famous. His work both helped integrally in predicting surf conditions on D-Day during the Normandy invasion, and answered definitively the poetic question of why we can never view the dark side of the moon. 

On January 20th there will be a total lunar eclipse: visible to millions of people in most of the Western Hemisphere and beyond. In San Francisco, the eclipse will be viewable from roughly 6:30pm to midnight. The maximum eclipse will be around 9:15. 

This stunningly beautiful cosmic display offers more than just a pretty show; it gives us an opportunity to think about our place in the universe and our effects on the planet. 

A total lunar eclipse, or Blood Moon, happens when the full  moon moves into Earth's shadow. The reddish, orange light we see is light refracted from Earth's atmosphere. However, for the past few years mega-fires around the globe have been affecting the color of the moon, making it appear blood red when ash from these enormous fires pollute the skies and block out most starlight.

Human interference over the last century and since the industrial age has directly affected the extremity of these recent fires. From banning indigenous cultural burns that lead to massive amounts of forest fuel, to intense heat caused by climate change, our actions have had enormous consequences that are drastically changing the conditions on our own planet and our perceptions of the skies. The September 2018 Green Film Festival program featured critical stories about California wildfires, most notably in Wilder than Wild: Fire, Forests, and the Future (Kevin White and Stephen Most), and The Human Element (Matthew Testa). Wilder than Wild is part of the 2019 Official Selection of the Wild & Scenic Film Festival (January 17-21). 

Such an astounding reshaping of our world is impossible to ignore. 

Breakthroughs in science and technology have arguably spurred humanity into the Anthropocene Age, named so because of the lasting impact that humans are creating on the earth. While it is easy to think that this transition is irreversible, it's important to remember how quickly it happened, and about what astounding advancements in ecological science and sustainable technology we have made since.

View the video: 'What is the Anthropocene?' from Smithsonian Magazine

The magnitude of such cosmic events remind us definitively that we are all on this earth together, and it is our responsibility to fight for a sustainable future. At the Green Film Fest, we are dedicated to sharing inspiring stories from the environmental front-lines to spark green ideas and actions that can maintain the health of both people and the planet. 

The moon, the earth, and our entire universe go through cycles of change. It's time that we embrace this change as well.

We have the tools to enact lasting positive change, we need only to use them.