On April 15th, 2014 the moon will be eclipsed by the shadow of the earth. This marks the first of four eclipses occurring about 6 months part, called an eclipse tetrad. The last tetrad was a decade ago, and the next is not due until 2032.
The best eclipse visibility will be from North America and parts of South America. A team of GLORIA astronomers will celebrate this astronomical spectacle with a live broadcast from the city of Cusco, Peru, in the Sacred Valley of the Incas. Throughout Europe, totality will not be visible. However the Teide volcano, at 3718m altitude on the island of Tenerife, offers an intriguing observational prospect. When a total lunar eclipse occurs close to sunrise or sunset at Teide, the shadow of the volcano aligns perfectly with the eclipsed moon. This unique phenomenon will be observable during the eclipse of April 15th and will be broadcast live.
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Fourth and last expedition of the Gloria project. The meeting with the Red Moon — the lunar eclipse — is scheduled for next Tuesday, April 15th. The journey that will take us there follows a path on the border between astronomy and archeology, science and history. A path that winds along the Sacred Valley of the Incas. The first step has been Urubamba, in the Quechua language “the flat land of spiders”. Figuratively speaking, I find it very appropriate: it is in our hotel in Urubamba that we can eventually get reconnected, identifying within minutes the locations where the signal from the hotspots is most powerful.
Our first full day in Peru is spent in the two places that mark the boundaries of Wilcamayu, the portion of the Urubamba River that flows between Pisac and Ollantaytambo. While we move along the ruins, tourists are watching us rather puzzled: though being surrounded by wonderful ruins, we seem to be gazing as much upward towards the sky as around us. What they cannot know is that our guides are two astro-archeologists — Dante Salas and Juan Antonio Belmonte — and that what they are trying to rebuild, with the help of electronic compasses, is an invisible network of ancient astronomical alignments. A dense network of lights and shadows that linked the sky to the earth through the peaks of the mountains and other natural conformation. Stars, solstices, the Galactic plane: the lands and the towns of the Inca, as well as their daily life, they were deeply connected to the sky in a way that is hard to believe.
To the point that I find myself doubting that our two astro-archeologist could possibly be right. You cannot believe that a whole people could devote so much time and energy to put in the right place the Sun and stars. Then I happen to consider how good we are in identifying the sunbed which the sun will abandon last on the beach. Or how quick have we been in drawing a mental map of the wifi in our hotel… and the Inca within me starts smiling wide.