Mount Cameron Lunar Eclipse - 8th November 2022


Mount Cameron Lunar Eclipse - 8th November 2022

I booked myself in for foot surgery six weeks before this lunar eclipse, signing up only after confirming with the surgeon that I would be 'good to go' for an astrophotography expedition - a road trip across Victoria or into neighbouring states if required to find clear skies.

However, recovering patiently with my feet up wasn't helping to get gear tested and ready (I actually got seriously distracted by buying a new piece of land in that recovery period, which first appeared in my search results on the drive home from surgery). And the flooding rains of October didn't offer up many clear nights even as I become more mobile. Fortunately, the Friday and Saturday nights of the weekend beforehand were clear, but that only served to show that I was way under-prepared for my ambitious plans. The mozzies also had been making the most of the wet conditions which made for quite unpleasant outdoor evenings.

BoM ACCESS-VT high-resolution cloud forecast for 8pm on eclipse night, via CloudFreeNight

I had hoped to be driving towards clear skies on the Monday to setup and align gear that night, ready for the eclipse which started in twilight on the Tuesday night. However, with only frustrating progress on Saturday, and Sunday spent in Melbourne I came to accept that I was simply not going to have the car packed ready to hit the road in good time on Monday. Fortunately, the earlier weather forecasts that had me thinking of driving to an area west of Wagga Wagga started to indicate that around home was going to be as good as anywhere. West, south and east all looked considerably worse than central Victoria, and north just looked like a roll of the dice particularly with the afternoon cloud and summer showers. Thunderstorms popped up in earnest on Sunday, did so again on Monday and the forecast was similar but somewhat moderated for Tuesday.

But that at least meant I could leave the mount where it was already aligned at home and had another night of testing and ironing out the bugs so by eclipse day I was in better shape gearwise, and my feet were only complaining mildly. One of the things I achieved on Monday was at least a manual temperature calibration of the Seletek Limpet motorised focusser I was planning to use to adjust for changing tube temperature as the night cooled through the eclipse, without having to interrupt the fast cadence of exposures through the scopes.

Tuesday lunchtime I took a break from work, and headed out to setup two remote cameras. One camera was setup for timelapse, using qDslrDashboard on an old phone to ramp a 35mm wide angle timelapse from sunset through the evening twilight as the eclipse progressed to dark skies. The other camera had an 85mm lens, long enough to show some shape in the Moon, and intended to create a composite image of the stages of the eclipse over Mount Cameron, with a base image showing the Moon among the twilight colours close to the horizon. As I left that camera and drove back home, the bright but cloudy skies deliver a short afternoon shower of rain.

The main cameras back home were:

  • Sony a1 with SkyWatcher EvoStar 150 refractor and 1.5x extender, giving 1800mm at f12
  • Sony A7IV with Takahasi FS102 refractor and 1.6x extender, giving 1300mm at f13

Both cameras were set to 2EV, 5 shot brackets on camera. The a1 was being triggered by a beta version of Lunar Eclipse Maestro from Xavier Jubier, while the A7IV was being triggered with a timer remote, both on a cycle of 15 seconds to give 4 bracketed sets of exposures per minute all the way through the eclipse.

By sunset, skies were clearing nicely and things were looking quite promising. But some daggy bits of cloud hung around and continued to develop around the Moon, interfering with Moonrise and the early partial stages. I got a reasonably clear run from late in the partial stages through totality to almost mid-eclipse. I sat by the scopes, alternating between naked eye and binocular view of the eclipse, and monitoring the cameras silently clicking away capturing their bracketed exposures which looked great on the back of the camera.

Then, with 90% clear skies in all other directions, this slowly evolving and otherwise harmless patch of cloud in the north extended over the Moon and wiped out the next hour and twenty minutes. Skies only cleared for the last half or so and the return to Full Moon. As it panned out, I got extremely unlucky with the roll of the dice on the weather, but there was no way to know in advance where those small patches of cloud might end up. On the plus side, most weeks before and after the eclipse were consistently cloudy weather so to get any result was a good outcome.

The cloud of course was going to play havoc with the other cameras as well. Once the eclipse was nearly over after midnight, I left the scopes to go and collect the other cameras. When I got to the timelapse camera, I discovered that the exposure ramping control from the app had not been successful. I had not really tested this process enough times, and setting up in a rush and worrying about covering the camera and phone with bags to protect them from rain possibly distracted from getting the settngs right, although I still don't understand what was different from the successful tests I did complete. Anyway, clearly I need to do the ramped timelapses where I can supervise and monitor the camera before trying remote setups again.

The composite camera looking over Mount Cameron operated as intended, with a timer remote triggering three frame bracketed exposures every six seconds, after a delay of several hours from when I set it up. The clouds added something to the twilight aesthetic, and capture the conditions on the night. But they have made a bit of a mess of the planned composite image.

The following day there was some further frustration and heartache, as it appeared that the hour or so of the best telelescope images had not been saved to the card. After two attempts to recover files from the memory card, I realised that the camera had for some reason automatically switched memory cards after the first few test frames and video of the moon rising through the trees. When that card two was full, it had switched back to card one. Obvious afterwards, but extremely confusing at the time - it's very rare that I've been capturing so much data that I've used dual cards before. Another lesson learnt and thankfully without loss, aside from the time and heartache to figure it out.

This lunar eclipse and my moderately ambitious approach to it was an important test run for the solar eclipse in Exmouth on 20th April 2023, now six months away, and the last significant astronomical event until then. I've learnt a lot about what gear is and isn't ready and there is much work still to do!