Lunar Eclipse 2000

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6in f10 Intes Maksutov
Focal Length 1500mm
Minolta SRT-101
Fuji Superia 400
Exposures 1 second to 30 seconds

I was keen to get away from city lights for the eclipse, to be able to experience the full effect of totality. I was even more motivated when auroral activity warnings were released, enticing us with the possibility of seeing rare auroral activity during totality. So with a few observing companions, we found a site almost 100km north-east of Melbourne (Australia) at the foot of the Cathedral Ranges to witness this total eclipse. Observing conditions were excellent, an initially light breeze, making way for cold temperatures and severe dew later on as the temperature dropped to around 2 degrees Celsius.

I saw the sunset shining on the Cathedral Ranges behind me and then saw the moon rise above the Cathedral's Peaks later on, with the moon's rays shining through the trees on the ranges and glancing through slightly foggy air. During that time I was setting up, aligning telescopes and trackers and getting the camera focussed. I had trialled focussing at home the night before, and managed to successfully use knife-edge focussing on the night of the eclipse to complement focussing through the viewfinder. I was thus at least happy with the focus on the camera, which was a relief since I have done very little prime focus photography, usually this telescope is my guidescope for piggyback deep-sky photography. I also had a range of lenses capturing wide field views on a home-made tracking platform and tripods.

With the sounds of many frogs in the background, the eclipse started, as did my well planned photography sequence, aiming to capture photos every 22 minutes right through the umbral phase of the eclipse (although this would mean a late drive home). At first the earth's shadow appeared dark, but before long we could see deep reds near the darker edge of the moon. Our surroundings quickly darkened and the milky way began to appear in all its beauty as the moonlight faded.

I was expecting a relatively symmetrical and easy to predict pattern of changing light on the moon for this eclipse as the moon was passing right through the centre of earth's shadow. However, just before mid-totality, there were three bright points on the moon's limb, which an observing companion described as looking like a face with side-burns. The variation of brightness across the moon can be seen in the images of the eclipse, and while they make sense in the photos, they were a little harder to comprehend and make sense of during the eclipse.

Around mid-eclipse, when i had a complicated and busy sequence of photos i was attempting to take with a few cameras, I got heavy dew forming on the front of the telescope, despite having had dew caps running all night. This made a mess of my photos of mid-totality but the sequence shown above was not too badly affected, with shots roughly equally spaced either side of totality.

Fog was forming in the valley below us, which wasn't surprising given the heavy dew that was settling in and the dropping temperature. We were a little disappointed to see no signs of aurora, which just goes to show that trying too hard to see aurora rarely succeeds, although they had been seen in Melbourne the morning before the eclipse. As totality ended and the light of full moon built up again, my observing companions headed home, leaving me to complete my sequence of photos alone. Eventually, I too, packed up and headed home, driving most of the way through thick fog in the valleys illuminated by the light of the once again full moon overhead.

Straight after the eclipse, I was a little disappointed as I thought many of my photos had been ruined by dew and that I should have spent more time relaxing and just enjoying the show. In the end, the photos turned out as good as I had hoped, and serve to reinforce my visual impressions of the evening.

However, even a long eclipse such as this still seems far too short.