This is my summary of the lunar eclipse in June 2011, which I enjoyed under clear skies from the sub-zero but beautiful surroundings of the Mt Buffalo plateau in north-east Victoria. Photos and more below!
For this eclipse, I booked two days off work and planned to travel where I needed to for the best weather. Access to weather models is getting better and so is their accuracy and usefulness for cloud forecasts. So I used information from the weather models to help put me in the right place to enjoy the eclipse (almost) free of clouds.
I was hoping to head west to catch more of the eclipse before moonset and catch the moon coming out of totality as it set in the west around sunrise. I’d even picked a caravan park/campground on Lake Fyans that offered a nice view west between trees, with the rugged outline of the Grampians low on the horizon and perhaps reflections of the setting moon in the lake (which even appeared to have water in it).
However, as the day approached the models were clear about a large area of high cloud heading over South Australia and Victoria. With a bit of trigonometry, I worked out that I really needed to be 200km east of the high cloud for it not to interfere with the moon so low in the west at the end of the eclipse. However, on the east side of the ranges there was heavy cloud and showers in easterly winds (very common recently!) which left only a small window of opportunity in between.
My plan on the day was to head to the area around Tumut in southern NSW (about six hours drive from Melbourne). But after a few hours driving north and a new model update once I had reached Wodonga in the afternoon, I decided what I would gain by going further north was pretty limited and the extra drive home the next day wasn’t all that appealing. I was also concerned about fog which seemed likely again in low lying areas. So instead I rang the ranger for Mt Buffalo and after speaking to ‘Mick’ decided to double-back and enjoy a trek up there.
While I have tyre chains at home, they’re not part of my usual astronomy pack list so I had to hire chains in Myrtleford adding to the delay before finishing the drive as moonlight took over from twilight. It was getting cold quick and by the time I got up on the Mt Buffalo plateau there was the odd patch of snow and ice over the road which had hung on from early season snowfalls the previous weekend. After driving as far as the gate blocking the unsealed ‘Horn’ road, I doubled back ~1km to the best western view I’d seen with room on the side to setup. I didn’t expect to see anybody else up here for the night so figured I didn’t need much room. You can imagine my surprise when somebody did pass me at 3am presumably heading up to ‘The Horn’ to watch the eclipse themselves!?
The temperature was sub-zero even when I arrived, and it wasn’t long before things were frosting up. But with the freezer suit on and the effort of unpacking all my gear, I wasn’t having any trouble staying warm.
It’s quite common for me to setup and run one scope, a second equatorial mount for widefield photography and even another tripod or two for star trails or sky brightness tests. But for this eclipse I borrowed two more cameras from a friend Neil Creek and so it probably ranks as my biggest imaging effort ever (and by effort I mean ‘hard work’!).
Once I had the two equatorial mounts setup and aligned, and then cooked myself some dinner over the camping stove, I started work on setting up my timelapse rig and dolly. While Fred’s time machine is working nicely, the dolly is a cheap, homemade affair. It all adds up to being ridiculously heavy, tedious and time-consuming to setup, particularly in the cold. At least the attractive location offered some motivation to persevere.
After the dolly and timelapse gear was ready, the night was quickly moving on. I still had quite a bit of work ahead of me to be ready for eclipse time. Here’s the complete list of what I setup that night:
Managing battery power for dew caps on all this scattered equipment added to the complexity. The batteries in the older 350D also made life tricky, as they weren’t in the same league as the new 5DmkII which happily ran for hours of continuous shooting even at -3 degrees.
Here is a selection of images from the main sequence I captured using the FS-102 and Canon 5DmkII.
And the reason I 'needed' so many cameras on the night was to capture several different kinds of widefield scenes. I managed moderate success with most of them:
After setting up the dolly and timelapse gear earlier in the night, I did a test run for an hour, tweaked the settings and then turned everything off but left the dew cap running, ready to initiate everything quickly at the right moment during the eclipse. (I had a maximum one hour run down the dolly track so had to time it for the right moment).
When I rushed back to the timelapse camera midway through the partial phase of the eclipse (while running between all the bits of equipment), some connection must have given up in the cold as the dew cap was off and the camera was completely iced up, although with the lens cap on. I powered everything up including the dew caps, took the lens cap off and started the sequence. But I figured that dew/frost would quickly form on the cold lens and it would take most of the hour for the dew cap to warm it all back up again. So at that point I thought the sequence was lost, and there would be nothing to show for all the effort.
A few hours later when the eclipse was over and I came back to the camera for the first time, I ran through the sequence on the camera and it looked promising. There is some effect of dew/frost early in the video below but I was happy with the end result. It’s a short sequence and the changing light and subject unfolds a little too quickly, but I still enjoy playing it back.
You can also watch the higher res versions at philhart.smugmug.com.
I won’t tackle quite so many cameras again, and would like to do better with the stacked tripod composite but otherwise I didn’t pay too many penalties for biting off more than I could chew. The location had a dramatic feel with the silhouette of the rocky outcrops against the sky and I always enjoy the rapid change from bright full moon to dark winter skies (which is why a lunar eclipse should be observed well away from the city). Overall, a very memorable and enjoyable night.