Use it or Lose it

“You’ve forgotten a lot of things you used to know, haven’t you Dad?”

This astute observation from my son came at the end of an interesting conversation we had about lunar eclipses. We were driving east on I-44 in Southwest Missouri as the sun went down in the rear-view mirror. A short time later, we saw the moon coming out from behind some hills in front of us.

When I pointed the moon out to my son, he said, “It’s supposed to be a full moon tonight.” Which was odd, since what we saw appeared to be a crescent moon. “Maybe it’s just blocked by some clouds,” I tried, not really believing it myself.

Not long after, we stopped for gas. On getting back in the car, we noticed that the moon was now a “half-crescent,” something that doesn’t normally occur. Knowing now that it wasn’t the clouds I offered the only explanation I could think of – a lunar eclipse.

I explained that the shadow on the moon was actually the shadow of the earth. Having never experienced one, and obviously never exposed to it in science class, he asked what, to me, was the best question possible: How exactly do eclipses work?

I won’t bother you with the details of the discussion that followed, but we got to the point where I had to say, “I used to know how to figure that out, but I’ve forgotten.” Which, I’m sure you’ve figured out by now, led to the question I opened this post with.

Part of it may be me getting old, but I think it mostly comes down to the old saying: Use it or Lose it. Mastery – fluency – in any pursuit requires constant practice. And one of the most important things that we can master, and thus continually practice, is the ability and desire to ask questions, to figure out how the world around us works.

For a lot of great photos of the 03 March 07 total lunar eclipse from around the world, check out the ‘loony’ group on flickr.

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