Partial Lunar Eclipse

I set my alarm for 4:30 a.m. before I fell asleep Sunday night. The alarm woke me and I stumbled to the west facing window in my bedroom and couldn’t find the full moon. I assumed, blearily and incorrectly, that the moon must be hidden by clouds. I crossed over to my library and its east facing window and couldn’t see any stars (not unusual though that near to dawn and with the amount of light pollution I suffer from). I went back to bed.

My regular alarm woke me at 5:00 a.m. sharp like it always does. I checked my windows again, but this time my east facing window showed a mostly blue sky.  That gave me a jolt, almost like a hot cup of coffe.  I immediately began rushing around the house, throwing on clothes and grabbing my camera bag. I jumped in the car and drove to my closest vantage poitn with an adequate western horizon view. I could see the moon, already partially eclipsed, but obscured by some thin clouds and lots of haze.

Lunar Eclipse
Clouds obscured the moon (click on image for rest of album)

I wondered to myself why the moon seemed to be setting in the southwest. I stood in the same spot from where I watched and photographed the solar eclipse just two weeks before and at that time, both the moon and the sun set almost due west. I did spend some time today trying to find an explanation or graph or plot to explain to me visually why the moon’s orbit diverged so greatly over a half month. I’m still searching for a satsifactory answer.

Way southwest
Moon (far left) and camera (far right). Two weeks ago, the moon and sun set to the right of my camera (out of frame).

I settled in to a routine, snapping photos every few seconds or minutes, sometimes adjusting the shutter speed, or the aperture. I occassionally switched back to autonatic mode, letting the camera decide for itself what settings to use (usually producing photos I didn’t care for). By 5:30, the moon had almost set behind the hill to the southwest of my location.

Lunar Eclipse
Partial Lunar Eclipse as seen from Lansing, Kansas (click on image for rest of album)

I took a total of sixty photos, not including the one above taken with my call phone, so if you are a true glutton for punishment, click on the photos above to review the entire album.  I didn’t have time this morning before leaving for work to review and filter out the obvious duds. 

If I had realized the moon would set so early, I would have driven to a better site where I didn’t have a tall hill between me and the southwestern horizon.  I mistakenly assumed the moon would set in the west and opted to use a location only a few blocks from my home.

Tomorrow, I will be at the same spot, but at a different time, to observe and photograph the Transit of Venus.  You should be able to see me and my telescope from Main Street in Lansing during rush hour tomorrow afternoon.  Stop by and have a look at a once-in-a-lifetime event.  If you live in the Kansas City metro area, you have multiple locations from which to view the transit (click here for more information thanks to the Astronomincal Society of Kansas City).

Moon + Sun = Eclipse

Photo1402.jpgI woke up Sunday to nearly complete overcast.  In fact, I went to bed with the same sky, or so it seemed when I looked out my bedroom window.  I should have returned to bed for more sleep, especially since I had my first night as a volunteer staff team member at a public night at Powell Observatory in Lousiberg, Kansas and didn’t get home until close to midnight.  Even though the skies started clouding up before sunset Saturday, over sixty people stopped by in the vain hope of seeing Mars, Saturn or even some of the spring galaxies visible this time of year.  We (meaning other members of the ASKC) entertained and educated them with a program on galaxies, featuring M31, commonly known as the Andromeda galaxy.  We were able to lock up the observatory a bit early, but the hour long drive home still put me three hours past my normal bed time.

I wiled away Sunday reading sixteen chapters of Insurgent.  My daughter spent the afternoon with friends and planned to attend the Tbones baseball game that evening.  As the afternoon wore on, I could tell from my library window that the clouds drifted away and more blue began to dominate the sky.  After six o’clock, I started transferring the telescope and photographic equipment to the vehicle for transport to the spot I had picked out to observe the solar eclipse.

Solar Filter and Sheild on the Front
Meade ETX90 with Solar Filter and Shield on the front and Pentax on the back.

I got to the site a bit after half past six and began setting up the scope.  I called my dad and woke him up from his nap.  He said he would be on his way in just a few minutes.  I called him back and asked him to bring a level, since I had forgotten to grab one from the garage before I left home.  Just as I had everything hooked up and ready to go, the sun slipped behind an extra large cloud and stayed there for several minutes.  Since the solar filter only lets through one one-millionth of the light emitting from the sun, I couldn’t orient the scope until the cloud passed by.

Cloud Conditions
Cloud Conditions During Solar Eclipse (Lansing, Kansas)

Dad arrived before the sun peeked out again.  Using the level he brought, we fine tuned the tripod for better tracking in a polar mount configuration for the telescope.  I had barely enough time to take a few test photographs of the sun to attempt to get the focus dialed in as much as possible.  Focusing the telescope with the Pentax attached to it can be very challenging.  The telescope becomes a large telephoto lens for the camera, but the digital camera is completely unaware of the telescope because the camera normally talks to a ‘smart’ lens which feeds it information about light conditions and focus.  The telescope is completely passive and completely manual (except for the tracking motors which slew during observations to keep the object centered in the eyepiece).

To focus the Meade ETX90, whether using the eyepiece or the camera, I need to turn a small knob on the back of the scope that adjusts the mirror inside the scope.  The viewfinder of the camera gave me a live image of the sun about the size of a dime (or smaller).  I tried using my naked eye and my reading glasses, but neither one would resolve the sunspots to a fine acuity.  I had to hope I got the focus ‘close enough’ for the camera.  I don’t know of a technique to correct focus after the fact with photo editing software, so if I didn’t get it as close as I could, I would be stuck with slightly blurry photos.

Partial Solar Eclipse
Pre-eclipse photo of sun (click image for rest of album)

The eclipse began earlier than I thought it would, by about five minutes. I took several photographs over the next hour, as the sun (and moon) continued to sink through the clouds towards the western horizon. I had some problems with the wind and of course the clouds. With about ten minutes left before the sun (and moon) dipped below the horizon, I detached the camera from the telescope and instead took some photos of the stunning sunset occurring simultaneously with the solar eclipse.

Solar Eclipse Sunset
Sunset during Solar Eclipse (click image for rest of album)

Several people stopped by and asked about the eclipse. I could even show them some of the photos I’d taken using the preview feature and the view screen on the back of the Pentax.  Here are a couple of crowd favorites among the shots I took:

Partial Solar Eclipse

Partial Solar Eclipse

Partial Solar Eclipse

I gained great experience during this solar eclipse. I feel more prepared and confident for the Transit of Venus, which happens in just two weeks from tomorrow! I’ll be in the same spot, clouds permitting. Otherwise, I may be forced to settle for a webcast of the event, because one way or another, I will witness it.

From Full Moon to Crescent in Less Than Thirty Minutes

I almost overslept this morning.  Saturday mornings are like that.  Especially when you stay up late to watch a DVD.  But something snapped me awake at 5:45 a.m.  Probably my daily weather alert text message. I jumped out of bed, ran downstairs and yanked open the patio door.  A full moon shone brightly through the bare branches of my backyard silver maple.  Good, I still had time to get dressed, steep some tea and throw the tripod and camera in the car.  Too bad I forgot my coat, scarf and gloves since the temperature hovered just below or around twenty degrees.

I drove west from my house, watching the moon dip slowly closer to the western horizon.  I could still see the brightest stars and Jupiter, but the eastern horizon showed signs of the impending dawn.  I continued north along Desoto Road and again west on Eisenhower until I approached an industrial business park.  I drove down to the end of the street, but didn’t like the look of the western horizon because the cul-de-sac turnaround had lowered in elevation from Eisenhower Road and trees grew to the west, blocking my line-of-site to the horizon.  I retraced my route back to Eisenhower and continued west to 20th street.  I found a west facing driveway that dead ended in a clear field with no trees to the west (just a new housing development huddled on the horizon).  I setup the tripod and took a few preliminary shots to dial in the camera and decide what settings to use (AWB, shutter, aperture, delayed shutter to minimize shake, etc.)

I got settled down a couple of minutes before the official start of the eclipse.  According to the Earthsky post on the lunar eclipse, the official beginning of the event started at 12:46 UTC (that’s 6:46 am Central time for me).  The total eclipse would occur at 14:57 UTC (or 8:57 a.m. Central) which unfortunately for me was ninety minutes after the moon set.  According to the Old Farmer’s Almanac site (which I checked before leaving the house), moonset would occur at 7:29 a.m.  Interestingly, the sunrise would occur one minute before moonset, an indication that we are very close to the Winter Solstice (within ten to eleven days to be precise).

I spent the next forty-five minutes snapping photos every five or ten minutes.  My dad called me just before seven o’clock, asking me if I’d found a spot.  I told him where I was and sheepishly admitted I had forgotten appropriate attire for the cold conditions.  Of course, I sat snugly in my car with the motor running and the heater cranked to eighty degrees while sipping my piping-hot tea.

Just a couple of minutes before the mostly eclipsed moon kissed the western horizon, my dad drove up and brought me a jacket and a pair of gloves.  To be honest, I hadn’t noticed the cold in my excitement to capture the last few minutes of the eclipse.  We chatted for a few minutes, then loaded up the photographic equipment into my car.  I returned the jacket and gloves to my dad and we parted ways.  He headed north on 20th street, and I returned south to Lansing.  I promised Dad I’d upload the photos once I got home.  (Follow this link to the raw/uncut/unedited photos I took this morning of the lunar eclipse).

I’ll leave you with what I judge to be the best of the bunch.  I only cropped them.  I decided against adjusting for brightness or contrast as I don’t have any photo editing software (beyond what comes with Windows 7 and Office 2010).  I hope you enjoy them.  I’m off to run some errands.  Enjoy!

Start of Lunar Eclipse (6:45 a.m. Central)
Ten Minutes Later (6:55 a.m. Central)
Twenty Minutes In (7:05 a.m. Central)
Thirty Minutes In (7:15 a.m. Central)
Haze and Clouds Obscuring Lunar Eclipse
Five Minutes to Moon Set
Two Minutes to Moon Set
Moon Set (10 Dec 2011)

See the Last Lunar Eclipse of 2011 at Dawn

Quick reminder post via my Nook Color web browser (so pardon the typos, lack of photos or links) to rise bright and early tomorrow before the moon sets (or the sun rises) to catch the final lunar eclipse of the year.

I plan to take some photos, but not with the telescope; just a telephoto lens on the camera and a tripod. From where? Not sure yet. I will decide in the morning.

Sweet dreams everyone!

Saturday Eclipse Update:

See the next post for observation notes and photos for the lunar eclipse as seen from the Heart of America.