The epic, 27 July 2018 total lunar eclipse and planet Mars from the Colosseum and the Roman Forum made history
The recent, longest total lunar eclipse of the Century and planet Mars at its great opposition, admired above the legendary Colosseum in Rome, from the ancient Roman Forum on the Palatine Hill, set a true worldwide record in science and cultural outreach. More than 10,000 individuals reached the event venue and enjoyed the stunning show of the Red Moon and the Red Planet above the symbols of the Roman history and culture.
All the images are © Gianluca Masi and cannot be used without explicit permission from the author.
It is extremely hard to report something historic. This is the case of the recent event which was organized in Rome, in a very special venue of the Eternal City, to share the wonder of the longest total lunar eclipse of the Century, pairing with Mars, the Red Planet, at its very bight opposition. Nonetheless, I will try bring to you the emotions, feelings, thoughts, awe and joy everyone could really experience last 27 July, when looking up at the sky, admiring the Red Moon and Mars above the legendary Colosseum and the Arch of Constantine.
As you know, the recent total lunar eclipse had the longest totality of the XXI Century: for no less than 103 minutes, the Moon was going to be entirely inside the Earth’s shadow, wearing its elegant red color, pairing with Mars, the Red Planet, reaching its bright, great opposition on the same night, just 6 degrees away from the Moon.
Such a unique combination deserved a very special attention: while the Virtual Telescope was going to share the eclipse via live streaming from Rome, in order to add to the vision something interesting from the city’s landscape, the dream was to invite local people to join us and see this amazing show personally, from a very special location.
Now, we know this dream was made true, thanks to a very fruitful, amazing cooperation between the Italian Ministry of Cultural Heritage and Activities, the Parco archeologico del Colosseo and the Virtual Telescope Project. They organized a public event in a very precious venue, actually unique in the world: the Roman Forum, on the Palatine Hill, facing the legendary Colosseum and the Arch of Constantine. A number of telescopes – managed by UnitronItalia Instruments – could be used to look at the eclipsed Moon and Mars from there, while the show was going on above those epic monuments, the symbol of the Roman history and culture.
The national and international media gave a lot of attention to our event, underlining the importance of such a combination between science, archaeology, history and cultural heritage. It is impossible for me to tell how exciting it was to work on this project, knowing that it was going to set a worldwide record: to my knowledge, it was the first time that such a huge cultural outreach effort was going to happen, involving a unique astronomical event and a unique place on our planet, considered a symbol of the human history.
After a number of technical inspections, we selected the area of the Temple of Venus and Rome, from where the Moon, rising already partially eclipsed, could be seen since the beginning beside the Colosseum. Could we honestly imagine a better place?
On 27 July 2018, the entire team from the institutions mentioned above reached the place a couple of hours before the public opening, to properly setup everything: six advanced telescopes on the terrace facing the Colosseum and the Arch of Constantine; a screen and a projector downstairs, to show the eclipse to the people in the Colosseum Square, below the Roman Forum, waiting to go upstairs, to the telescopes; the cameras, computers and all the hardware needed to share the show online, live. Also, a publication introducing the most important monuments of the area and some basic info about the eclipse was made available and distributed to the audience.
Weather was just fine, so we could relax a bit, after the serious storm we had the previous night (please do not ask me how I was feeling during that storm…).
More than one hour before the openings, fixed at 09:00 PM local time, people started creating a few hundreds meters long line, I could not see its end: seeing this was amazing!
We started seeing the Moon just before the opening and it was already partially covered by the Earth’s shadow, as expected; by the time we opened to the public, it climbed the sky a bit, starting to offer a show that we will never forget.
While people started flowing across the telescopes in an orderly fashion and the streaming was bringing the unique sight we had to the world, the Moon was gently playing with some clouds, framing our satellite so beautifully, while it was slowly wearing its long awaited, red dress. Seeing the umbra sliding above the bright, lunar disc was an emotion by itself, knowing it was only question of time before we reached the totality.
While the line at the entrance was already counting thousands of persons and increasing, we had hundreds and hundreds of casual stargazers continuously flowing trough the telescopes: from the Temple of Venus and Rome they could also see, by naked eye, the Moon, the Colosseum and the Arch of Constantine, which simply made a once-in-a -lifetime sight. Everyone was extremely happy, this was very easy to perceive and hear.
There was a number on national and international TVs and journalists, capturing impressions and thoughts of the audience, as well as interviewing the hosts. Then, the totality started, the longest of the XX Century.
It was the moment we had been waiting for and seeing the Red Moon, at last, hanging above the superb scenery of the Colosseum, was something I will never forget. Honestly, it was hard to continue running the live feed, because of such a huge amount of sensations, but I could see how many tens of thousands of people from all around the globe were connected, so I concentrated on the live streaming.
Of course, we were still missing the climax. It was not the totality by itself, as we were waiting for Mars, the Red Planet, to join the show. The planet reached its great opposition that very same night, so it was shining extremely bright, just six degrees away from the eclipsed Moon. The Red Moon and the Red Planet at a glance: cosmic luxury.
When Mars rose, the audience rumbled, as they could note immediately that very bright dot of red light just below the Moon. Such a very bright Mars would have made people happy even pairing with an ordinary full Moon, but imagine this: the Red Planet, shining as bright as rarely seen, pairing with the totally eclipsed Moon, which was not only not invasive, without flooding the sight, but was showing its own, precious red color. Simply put: a mind blowing experience.
I have been trying to imagine the vision of the Red Moon and the Red Planet from the Roman Forum for many days, but what I saw immensely exceeded my expectations. After all, how can we imagine something we never saw before, from a place so precious and unique?
Trust me: the combination of the lunar eclipse with the great opposition of Mars was a huge vision, but from the Roman Forum it was beautifully shocking. I tried to isolate the two celestial gems in some close-up images, though I really preferred the emotion of the cosmic show combined with the wonders of the archaeological site.
I hope my images can bring to you part of the experience. Looking at the eclipsed Moon and Mars above the legendary Colosseum, from the Roman Forum, while thousand of people were looking with the telescopes and even more people were waiting at the entrance, enjoying the same scenery from downstairs, left memories that time will never remove.
During the totality, I could see how dark this eclipse was. Perhaps, this could be expected, because the Moon really reached the center of the Earth’s shadow, staying well inside its darkness. People were impressed by this, I could clearly hear them commenting the faint, Red Moon. Thanks to this, Mars was even more evident.
103 minutes are a lot, but they are not eternity. The eastern lunar limb started to brighten, telling us the totality was going to end.
At the end of totality, clouds started filling the sky, but the Moon was still visible for a while and we could continue sharing the show with our audience, both onsite and online. When our satellite was well away from the totality, we closed our telescopes: at that point, at least 5,000 casual stargazers could look through them, while even more than that did not had time to come on the top of the Temple of Venus and Rome area, but they could enjoy the show by naked eye, with the Moon above the Colosseum and the Arch of Constantine.
In other words, inviting people to come and see the lunar eclipse and Mars with us made possible for all of them to enjoy the vision from one of the best, most spectacular places in the world.
While taking all the instrumentation off, we could look at the Moon from time to time, telling her we will see again next 21 Jan. for another show. Not a record one, without Mars, of course.
With no rhetoric, this public event set a worldwide record in science and cultural outreach. To my knowledge, for the first time a very important site, involving the Roman Forum, the Palatine Hill, the Colosseum, the Arch of Constantine and more than a couple of thousands of years of culture and history, hosted such an event, inspired to a record astronomical event, like the longest total lunar eclipse of the Century, pairing with Mars at its great opposition.
I wish to thank a number of people who worked with me to make this possible. Trust me: it has been a titanic work and we are extremely happy with the results. Having more than 10,000 individuals involved, with at least 5,000 of them looking with our telescopes, has been a once-in-a-lifetime experience. Everything worked to perfection, thanks to the work done by all the people involved. Our live feed reached more than 540,000 viewers all around the planet.
I wish to thank Paolo Masini, Ministry of Cultural Heritage and Activities, for working on this idea with me since the very first moment, and Alfonsina Russo, Parco Archeologico del Colosseo, and her staff for trusting the project and supporting it in all the possible ways. I also wish to thank Giovanni Alberto Quarra Sacco and Andrea Camomilla, from UnitronItalia Instruments, for making six professional grade telescopes available and for running them.
I also wish to thank Alessandra Albanesi, Martina Almonte, Francesca Boldrighini, Emanuele Brizioli, Maurizio Caponera, Andrea Curzi, Stefano De Felice, Astrid D’Eredità, Maurizio Di Verio, Donatella Garritano, Giorgio Gioia, Gulia Giovanetti, Simone Nocentini, Paola Quaranta, Federica Rinaldi, Alessio Sabatino, Andrea Schiappelli, Andrea Tamanti and Enrico Togni. They really made this event possible with their work.
As a human being, I can only hope that such a epic event and experience will serve as an example to create a connection between science, art and history again soon, sharing with the public the eternal value and meaning of Beauty.
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