The Pages of The Gray Wizard

Lunar Eclipse


Lunar Eclipse
Observation Notes


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OK. How many of us braved the late night cold to see the astronomical event of the season? Hands up! Hand up? Ok, so I'm one of the few LUNAtic enough to sit out in the cold and watch, so here's an account of my observations.


6:00am EST When I awoke this morning, it was snowing heavily here in Ole Virginny and the sky was a solid gray. It certainly didn't allow for much hope that the moon would even be visible this evening much less clear enough to see the eclipse. I remained grumpily disappointed all day.
7:00pm EST As the sky had darkened, I went out on the deck to check the view. It was still fairly cloudy, but the full moon was clearly visible low in the eastern sky. There was hope!
8:30pm EST Began to setup my equipment. Although the eclipse wouldn't start until 9:30 or so, I wanted to give my scopes a chance to cool down to reduce air turbulence within the tubes.  I had to shovel the snow off the deck before setting up.  I brought out both my 90mm ETX90 and my 8" Celestron Dobsonian so I could contrast the difference in view in a small vs. large aperture scope. I also intended to use a pair of 8X50 binoculars for a wider field of view. The binoculars belonged to my father-in-law and were made in Russia probably about 40-50 years ago. Quality like this is unavailable except at very high prices these days. As luck would have it, the battery for the focuser on the ETX90 was dead and I didn't have a handy replacement. Looked like it would be the 8", the binoculars and my naked eyes.
9:15pm EST Began to bundle up in warmer clothes (the layered effect undershirt, flannel shirt, wool sweater, coat). Coated and capped and scarved and gloved, I went out on the deck to begin my observations. It was bitter cold and verry windy and I hate the cold so I must really have been committed to this observation. The moon was well up in the sky now and the sky had begun to really clear up nicely. It looked as if the cloud obstructions would be cleared away in time. 
9:30-9:50pm EST At about 9:30, the moon was expected to enter the Earth's penumbra (outer shadow). Some fading should have been possible, however. faintly. Well, either my eyes are not yet trained for this or the cloud cover continued to obscure it, but I was unable to notice any change either by naked eye, binoculars or telescope.
10:05pm EST The moon began to enter the Earth's umbra (inner shadow). There could be no doubt now that the eclipse had begun. With the naked eye, one could see a rough darkening of the northeastern rim of the moon. Through the binoculars, you could distinctly make out the arc of the shadow. Through the telescope you could clearly see the Earth's shadow begin its march across the lunar surface. Cool! 
10:05pm-11:00pm EST I continued to watch the progression of the Earth's shadow across the Moon. At about halfway to totality, the naked eye view of the eclipse could be seen clearly and the darkened area of the Moon's surface started to become rusty in color. During this time, I coaxed Marlis, my wife,  to a back window where the moon was still visible. (She was unwilling to brave the cold). With the binoculars, she could clearly see the shadow even indoors and through the window pane. The best view turned out to be through the binoculars. While you could see the darkening with the naked eye, the binoculars clearly showed the line of the Earth's shadow. The telescopic view was actually less impressive. While you could see the shadow progress across the craters of the moon, the telescope gathers so much light that it appeared like a shadow in day time, faint and transparent.
11:05pm EST The moon was in totality now. It had taken on a deep reddish-orangey brown color and looked eerily more like a gigantic Mars high in the sky than the moon we all know. This was clearly visible to the naked eye now and was only slightly enhanced by the binoculars. Vanessa, my daughter, was surprised to discover that it was still dimly visible rather than totally dark.  Contrary to populat belief, sunlight scattered by the Earth's atmosphere continues to light the moon even during totality. I wish I had the equipment to have photographed this.
11:30-12:00 EST The moon would remain in totality for a while now, so I went inside to warm my tootsies. Unfortunately, I made the mistake of watching TV while my tootsies warmed and nothing is a better somnolent than TV. I quickly began to doze off. Figuring that the retreat of the Earth's shadow would mirror its progression, I packed up my equipment and went to bed.

All in all, I great night for an amateur astronomer. It is amazing how many times this event has been enacted in the skies above me these 50+ years and I never once looked up to see it until last night. We take to much of the beauty of the universe for granted. Look up! The stars shine for us.