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Lunar eclipse: Crowds descend on observatory for 'blood moon'

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Bob Alborzian was a child when his father first showed him the Milky Way galaxy through the lens of a telescope, leading to a lifelong love of astronomy.

Now 69, Alborzian was on hand with his own homemade telescope Monday night at the Griffith Observatory, where he and hundreds of others awaited the “blood moon,” the first total eclipse of 2014.

The eclipse, which will peak early Tuesday, will be the first in more than three years to be visible from Los Angeles and uninterrupted by sunrise. In Los Angeles, the most impressive part will begin at 10:58 p.m. when the first “bite” is taken out of the moon. It will be blotted out entirely at 12:06 a.m. Tuesday, said experts at the observatory.

As the “bite” spreads across the moon, it will transform into a dark “blood moon.” The dark red hue will come from the light of sunsets and sunrises over the rest of the Earth.

Griffith Observatory will remain open to visitors, who can look up at the eclipse either from the building or from the grass and sidewalk areas. Experts will provide presentations on the eclipse.

The homemade telescope through which Alborzian planned to view the eclipse had an 8-inch lens and was constructed out of cardboard. The telescope rotated because its bottom was made from an old jazz record. Others who had come to view the eclipse peeked inside the telescope, which was covered in newspaper clippings about Ella Fitzgerald, Sam Cooke and the Beatles.

“I only cover it in good music,” said Alborzian, a member of Sidewalk Astronomers, an amateur astronomy association.

The crowds descended upon the Observatory early, with hundreds of people lounging on the lawn hours before the eclipse was set to begin. Families passed the time with picnics and throwing baseballs.

The observatory and the Los Angeles Astronomical Society, as well as other astronomy clubs and organizations, offered telescopes for viewers.

Heven Renteria, 31, said he fell in love with the sky at age 6 while visiting the observatory with his mother. Gazing at the stars while overseas serving as a Marine brought him back to astronomy as a hobby.

“You don’t get to see the moon change colors every day,” said Renteria, outreach coordinator for the Los Angeles Astronomical Society. “Go outside and look up a the sky. You don’t know what you’ll be missing.”

Observatory officials said that they expected large crowds and that visitors should expect traffic congestion and long walks from parking. The Vermont entrance into Griffith Park will remain open until 12:30 a.m. unless the park is full, and shuttle buses will run from the Greek Theatre parking lot to the observatory until 2:30 a.m.

The weather forecast for prime “blood moon” viewing in Los Angeles couldn’t be much better.

“We’ll have clear skies -- even down to the beaches,” said Joe Sirard, an amateur astronomer who is also a National Weather Service meteorologist in Oxnard.

Sirard said viewers should look south for the moon.

Temperatures Monday night will dip into the 50s with winds of about 15 mph in the Los Angeles Basin.

Sid Alaee, a member of Sidewalk Astronomers, said he had tried to see the “blood moon” in the past but couldn’t because of overcast weather. He was grateful for the clear skies Monday.

Alaee said he hoped the lunar eclipse would spark a love for the skies in the observatory’s visitors, especially the young ones.

“When I see young people look at Saturn, they see the rings and freak out,” he said. “That makes us feel good and hopefully gets them to look at the sky more.”

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alicia.banks@latimes.com

Twitter: @AliciaDotBanks

Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times
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