I heard about the lunar eclipse that was happening this evening, so I grabbed my digital camera, my big Nikon 12x50 5.5º binoculars and went out into the backyard.
The weather is perfect for taking pictures, with not a cloud in sight. It is cold, and clear.
In case you've forgotten (or never really knew, as in my case), a lunar eclipse takes place when the earth gets right in the way of the sun, (i.e. right exactly between the sun and the moon) such that the earth's shadow (lighter shadow is the penumbra, and the much darker umbral shadow appears later) appears across the face of the moon. The blood-red or orange colour is the result of the final bits of sunlight that are able to refract around the earth's atmosphere - the earth's atmosphere blocks the blue light and allows through predominantly the red portion of the spectrum which we see. Here in Toronto, the eclipse starts at 8:43 PM and will end just around midnight. The dark umbral Earth shadow will start to change the moon's colour around 9:00 PM and total eclipse will occur at 10:01 PM. Again, the moon will slip out of the dark umbral shadow and sit in the penumbral shadow until about 10:50 PM.
I used a lawn chair as a camera rest on this very cold night (about 15 degrees below Centigrade) and huddled in my pajamas, wrapped in a scarf, hat, 2 sweaters and a coat and shot off a few pictures. At first, most were pretty blurred as it was hard to control holding the binoculars in one hand, resting as firmly as possible on a lawn chair that was unstable on ice coating the bricks out back - and then with my other hand carefully holding the digital lens into one of the binocular lenses... Anyway, it seems to have worked pretty well and I got the hang of it after a while - necessity is the mother of invention so they say.
Here is the clearest shot I could take at 7:20 PM - the moon looks rather yellow - it was still about 30 degrees from the horizon and so I think the atmosphere was lending a deeper colour to it. The colour is not related to the eclipse.
This next one is really clear - I took this and the next three shots at 8:20 PM - the colour had whitened up as the moon had climbed the sky more to about 40º.
8:20 PM again. A branch from the neighbour's tree got in the way of this picture - but the combination of the camera lens and binocular really picks up great details of the moon's surface.
8:20 PM again. There is a blueish glow at the top of the moon - caused by the distortions of the lenses, not due to the moon's inhabitants hosting a late night baseball game and using high-powered sodium lamps to light up the stadium. The cold air has made me quite hilarious, you see. I am all a-twitter. I run inside for a moment to tell Spring. Spring is bundled up in bed, and promises to look at the photographs. That means she's not going outside. For a second I see myself as a deranged fool dressed in pajamas with an overcoat looking like Dr. Who. And then the insight goes away as I fumble my way out the back door again.
9:10 PM. The eclipse has begun! For some reason, perhaps because I had to move the lawn chair to a less stable area on the snow, the images are not as clear. Here though you clearly see the umbral shadow cloaking the brightness of the moon. Watching it through binoculars is magical really - quite amazing to observe. It's as though someone is drawing a dark, heavy cloth across the luminous surface of the moon.
9:15 PM. This one is taken without benefit of the binoculars - straight through the digital camera lense. Not great. But shiny.
9:26 PM. The umbral shadow has occluded about 50% of the moon's surface. I can hear the clattering of doors around the neighbourhood as people duck out into the cold night to see it. Planes occasionally track through the sky - I wonder if the pilots and passengers are looking, or if they are too caught up in the in-flight showing of Die Hard, and gin and tonics.
9:45 PM. Sixteen minutes until full eclipse - it's getting close. My fingers are beginning to freeze off. The pain has receded, only to be replaced with a slightly frightening numbness. My fingers don't work very well, hard to click the shutter button. It was Captain Lawrence Oates on the ill fated Scott Expedition to the South Pole who said "I am just going outside and may be some time" and deliberately left his tent and went out into a blizzard in an effort to save the rest of his compatriots by leaving them with more food. I am not at that stage yet, but it is sure is chilly.
9:47 PM. This one taken without binoculars. Kneeling on mitts in the snow. Knees cold. Monty is now outside running around in the snowy paths that I made for him the other day. He has located his stick and is galloping full bore around the backyard, proud as a peacock. Now he is peeing. Sorry, back to the moon.
9:55 PM. Shadow almost taking up all of the moon - it is looking a lot more dim in the sky, and the stars around it are beginning to show brightly. A dirty orange glow - soothing and a bit scary in a way.
10:00 PM. If you look at these photos, you can really see the 'man in the moon'. Just a slice of brightness remains. Amazing.
Well, that was fun. I'm inside now, my fingers have warmed up, and I'm getting tired. Time to go to sleep and hope that the moon returns from its eclipsed state and that the sun rises in the morning and that everything goes back to the way it is supposed to be.
We shall see.
Are you subscribed to the Mungo Says Bah! RSS feed yet? If not - you know what to do...
You can also follow my tweets at @MungoBah