Lunar Eclipse May 15, 2003

The TV news people warned us: moonrise would be right about at sunset. The lunar eclipse would already be in full swing. The sky would be bright. And it would be hazy. We might not see anything until it was almost over, if then.

We have a decent view of the northern skies from our new apartment balcony, but can’t see the moon from that orientation. We trekked to the other end of the complex where there are some small public balconies with a southern exposure. Moonrise should have occurred from the southeast, but there are eucalyptus trees that obstruct the view near the horizon.

We couldn’t see a dang thing. We tossed in the towel at 8:55PM and trudged back. We have a little Orion 5″ Mak telescope, but I didn’t want to lug it around if we had to go balcony-hopping for a good view, and we did have to do that, with no success. So all I had to tote was a tripod, camera and a 200mm fixed manual telephoto lens.

I took one last look from the parking lot beefore we went back inside. “I’ll be dipped … there it is!”

The earth’s shadow was just beginning to reveal the Moon’s crescent on the left edge! It was looming up there now, big as life. It had moved clear of the haze. We hurried back to the balcony. I am as spoiled as everyone else by automatic cameras (no good at night), and have almost no experience with manual shooting at night with the new D100 digital. I wasted about 10 shots (only digital) figuring out that the illuminated “1000” number I was looking at through the viewfinder wasn’t the ISO speed I had pre-set, but shutter speed, or 1/1000 second. WAY too fast!

I set it to “8” (1/8 second) and images started appearing in the LED. The sequences shown below were taken at an average of about 1 minute intervals, from 9:05 to 9:19PM Pacific time. I tried shutter speeds varying from 1/2 to 1/40 second. They all came out pretty well. All photos were taken with a fixed 200mm lens. F-stop was held constant at about f7. Camera is Nikon D100; tripod is for standard day photography. Images were easy to manually center over such a short time span.

These are NOT high-resolution telephotos. Individual images were cropped to 292×292 pixels, assembled into a mosaic, and the composite was saved for the web. Sequence is left to right, top to bottom. Click on the scaled 500×500 image below, and you will get a new browser window with the detail of the 1200×1200 image. At that scale you can see some detail of the moon in shadow. You can also see some of the reddish hue predicted for this phase of the eclipse. The whole full-sized image is only 70K.

Viewing hints: Internet Explorer’s default setting is to resize large images to fit the current browser window. If you have not yet turned this off, consider doing so, in Internet Options. Or, save the image to your hard drive and view it locally at any size you like, with your own software.

Eclipse Mosaic Sequence, left to right, top to bottom

Exposure times

Further Reading

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