Was It Good For You?

Did you lose a whole bunch of sleep? Do you really need to get your blog post written ASAP because you might be asleep at your desk before the ballgame is over tonight?

Did you get to see this? (Remember, click on the pictures to get the full-sized images.)

IMG_7174Or this?


Okay, tech stuff out of the way first. The pictures with the moon only filling a small part of the frame were taken with a Canon Rebel XT DSLR using a Tamron 75-300 mm zoom lens, mounted on a tripod. The pictures where the moon fills the frame (and then some) were taken with a Canon Rebel XTi DSLR attached to a 5″ Meade ETX-125EC telescope mounted on an equatorial fork mount.

Here in the west San Fernando Valley of Los Angeles, we started the night crystal clear. By the time the moon rose enough to get over the house & trees, we were getting scattered bands of thin, high clouds with lots of gaps between them. By the time the eclipse started, the cloud bands were getting wider and thicker while the spaces between them were getting smaller and less clear. By mid-totality, we had a long time where it that part of the sky was totally overcast and you couldn’t see the eclipsed moon at all. As we started to come out of totality we again started to get the occasional less cloudy patch. But by 2:00 AM local, a half-hour or so before the umbral eclipse ended, we were totally socked in and I hung ’em up.

In practical terms what this means is that a lot of the pictures are a bit on the fuzzy side since you can’t focus well through a thin cloud layer. A few of them in mid-eclipse are really fuzzy, but I included them because you can still get an idea of the coloration of the moon, even if you can’t see any detail.

Join me as I walk you through the evening with an official boatload of pictures:

01a_Full_Moon_1-4000sec_IMG_7026_smallA full moon is actually pretty dull from an observational viewpoint. It’s very bright, easy to focus on, easy to find with your telescope — but boring, flat, without definition.

IMG_9452_smallIn a medium-sized scope (it looked great in my 8″ reflector) it’s an impressive site for people who never or only rarely get a chance to look through a telescope. But with no shadows, no terminator, no jagged craters and mountain peaks as the sun crosses their edges, the full moon is a bit bland.

Jupiter_IMG_9468_croppedWe had over four hours between sunset and the start of the eclipse, and telescopes on the sidewalk can attract a crowd. (This is a good thing!) The other easy target in the sky was Jupiter, with three of the Galilean moons visible at first, then the fourth popping out. It looked spectacular in the eyepiece, but with a “quick & dirty” setup to try to photograph it, the results are so-so. Just to the left of Jupiter you can barely see Io, which just came out from behind Jupiter. To the right are Europa, Ganymede, and (just barely) Callisto. In the big scope it really did look a lot like this:

Jupiter Moon Positionsfrom the excellent site at Shallowsky.com.

Finally the show started. Here’s the sequence as seen with a telephoto lens, the pictures taken about ten minutes apart until we get into totality, from which point they’re on an irregular schedule whenever we got a sort of clear-ish spot in the high clouds. There are eighteen photos in this section. Next to each I’ll put the exposure — watch how it drops as we get close to and into totality.

01a_Full_Moon_1-4000sec_IMG_7026_small1/4000 sec. Was probably in the penumbra, but the penumbra is very dim and faint, so you don’t see much change at all until just before the umbral stage starts.

01b_Just_After_P2_1-4000sec_IMG_7035_small1/4000 second. Right at the beginning of the umbral stage, you can see shading starting in the lower left.

01c_1-4000sec_IMG_7041_small1/4000 second. The Earth’s shadow is now clearly seen.

01d_1-4000sec_IMG_7048_small1/4000 second.

01e_1-4000sec_IMG_7057_small1/4000 second. Notice that the Earth’s shadow is clearly curved. This was used by the ancient Greeks as proof that the Earth was round. Don’t believe all that malarkey about Columbus being the first to figure it out.

01f_1-2500sec_IMG_7067_small1/2500 second. Starting to go to slightly longer exposures about halfway into this stage of the eclipse.

01g_1-1600sec_IMG_7078_small1/1600 second.

01h_1-1000sec_IMG_7091_small1/1000 second.

01i_Just_Before_Totality_1-400sec_IMG_7109_small1/400 second. By this time, to the eye, the shadowed part of the moon was clearly outlined and a dark, copper red. Through the big telescope and on these pictures, there was no color to be seen. Until…

01j_Just_Before_Totality_1-4sec_IMG_7119_small…I started to really up the exposure length. This picture was taken only 28 seconds after the one above, but it’s a 1/4 second exposure, a hundred times longer. Now the remaining illuminated portion is way overexposed, but the colors showing on the rest of the moon become obvious.

01k_Totality_1-1pt7sec_IMG_7135_small1/1.7 second. In full totality now, needing an exposure of almost a full second. You can clearly see Spica, the bright blue-white star on the right. Spica is the 15th brightest star in our sky at magnitude +1.04, but an hour earlier, with the full moon right near it, you couldn’t see it at all. Now it’s easy to spot.

If you look at this and the next four photos, all taken during totality, you can see how the brightest edge of the moon’s disc, the edge closest to the edge of the Earth’s shadow, will move from the lower right to the bottom to the lower left as the celestial mechanics play out.

01l_Totality_1-1pt7sec_IMG_7148_small1/1.7 seconds.

01m_Totality_1-1pt6sec_IMG_7156_small1/1.6 seconds and it’s getting very cloudy, the images are occasionally getting very blurry.

01n_Totality_1-1pt6sec_IMG_7174_small1/1.6 seconds. Another clear spot. You can see from the little trail in Spica’s image that there was some jitter and vibration as the picture was taken, which will also help to blur it.

01o_Totality_2pt5sec_IMG_7179_small2.5 seconds. The longest exposure of this run. Not much jitter (Spica is round, not a line or zig-zag) but there’s some blur from clouds again.

01p_1-100sec_IMG_7190_small1/100 seconds. Coming back out of totality and that quickly, with the illuminated portion of the disc growing steadily, all of the colors are gone.

01q_1-500sec_IMG_7199_small1/500 seconds.

01r_1-2500sec_IMG_7207_small1/2500 seconds, the last shot before the clouds completely socked me in.

I had mentioned in the last couple of days that Mars would also be visible not too far from the moon. Even with the telephoto lens, pulling it back to the 75mm length let me capture the eclipsed moon and Spica at the bottom and Mars in the upper right.

02a_Wide_Shot_During_Totality_1-1pt7sec_IMG_7139_small1/1.7 seconds.

02b_Wide_Shot_During_Totality_1-1pt6sec_IMG_7167_small1/1.6 seconds. Again, notice how the most illuminated section is shifting as everything moves.

Now let’s go through the same time sequence, from the P2 point into totality and back out again, looking through the 5″ Meade telescope. Again, through the start of totality, the pictures are about ten minutes apart, more irregular after that. You’ll notice that the images appear upside down compared to the way you see them with the naked eye or using the telephoto lens. For now, let’s just say that telescopes do that.

IMG_9452_small1/1000 seconds. Using the 5″ telescope, the field of view is slightly smaller than the size of the full moon’s disc.

IMG_9470_small1/2500 seconds. You can clearly see many of the lunar seas, craters, rays, and mountain ranges.

IMG_9480_small1/1000 seconds. Tycho Crater and its rays dominate the full moon’s image. Just after P2, the moon’s leading edge (right) just hitting the umbra.

IMG_9492_small1/320 second. The other thing you notice about the pictures taken through the telescope is that it’s tough to keep the moon’s disc centered in the frame. There are a number of factors, including some slop that’s worked its way in the gear drive mechanism, the fact that the heavy camera unbalances the telescope, and the way that every aiming discrepancy is magnified at higher powered views.

IMG_9502_small1/1250 second.

IMG_9523_small1/800 second.

IMG_9541_small1/640 second. In this higher magnification view, the blurring from the incoming clouds is also much more noticeable.

IMG_9561_small1/320 second.

IMG_9589_small1/125 second.

IMG_9611_small1 second. As before, this picture is taken less than two minutes after the one above, but by taking a much, much longer exposure, the colors come out.

IMG_9664_small1 second. Totality through a thin layer of clouds.

IMG_9684_small1.6 seconds.

IMG_9698_small1.3 seconds.

IMG_9722_small2.5 seconds, and the clouds can no longer be described as “thin.” “Marginally translucent” might be better. But the colors are pretty. This must be what Mars looks like from a couple million miles out.

IMG_9732_small2.5 seconds.

IMG_9751_small1 second. After almost forty minutes of not being able to see anything, once we had come out of totality we got a little bit of better viewing.

IMG_9774_small1/2 second. The last try to show the fading color by totally overexposing the illuminated portion.

IMG_9789_small1/100 seconds.

With that, it was time to lug all of the equipment back into the house, trying not to wake up The Long-Suffering Wife, the neighbors, or the skunks. Then get four or five hours of sleep.

Tomorrow, I might have the results of some other photography experiments.

Finally, if you like these pictures, please let other folks know that they’re here, and I would love to hear your comments.

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Filed under Astronomy, Photography, Space

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