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Lunar eclipse draws crowd at Griffith Observatory

December 10, 2011 | 12:05 pm

The paparazzi staked out a spot in the Hollywood Hills before dawn. The western sky was the red carpet, the moon the day’s celebrity.

That was the scene early Saturday at Griffith Observatory where several hundred people gathered in the dark with cameras, telescopes and binoculars to watch a total lunar eclipse -– the last one until 2014.

“It’s a celestial festival out here,” said Capm Petersen, 39, as he set up his camera before the big event.

The crowd began gathering on the observatory’s lawn shortly after 4 a.m. in anticipation of “totality” –- the moment when the Earth fully blocked the sun leaving the moon in its shadow.

“I used to play with a telescope as a kid and picked it back up again a few years ago. I usually do deep space stuff -– nebulas and galaxies,” said Evan Warkentine, 33, who monitored a telescope with a camera attached that sent images to a laptop. “But this is too good to pass up.”

The real anticipation was for what could happen once the eclipse began. Depending on the sky’s clarity, sunlight skimming Earth’s edge can leave an eclipsed moon a mysterious glowing red or orange.

“In 10 more seconds, you’re going to see some real awesomeness,” said Brianna Irish, 30, as her friend Isaak Jimenez, 27, focused his $2,000 telescope on the shrinking moon.

“It’s a real expensive hobby,” said Jimenez, who works as a Web designer.

While the full eclipse a few minutes after 6 a.m. brought cheers from the crowd, drifting clouds dampened the coloring effect of the moon at the observatory.

On a scale of one to 10? “It’s maybe a four,” Robert Spellman said. “But I feel lucky to get to see that much.”

Spellman is the historic observatory’s telescope operator. On Saturday, he set up a small telescope on the lawn and invited passersby to get a good look at the moon slowly disappearing.

He pointed to the sky showing the location of planets.

“Mars is right there,” he said.

“What’s that?” a woman asked, pointing to a blinking light on the horizon.

“That’s a 737,” Spellman said.

Magdalena Mejia, 25, was awake at 2:30 a.m. when she received a text from a friend. Did she want to come see the eclipse?

Bundled up in a lawn chair, she had no need for a camera or telescope.

“You’ll be able to find pictures of it on the Eeb later,” Mejia said. “It’s better to watch it with your own eyes. You get to give it your full attention that way.”


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Photo: Crowds at Griffith Observatory view the lunar eclipse early Saturday morning. Credit: Christina House / Los Angeles Times