Lunar Eclipse - Februry 20, 2008

Greetings Hopkins, NWC and NSO students. It was a perfect night for lunar eclipse viewing in Minnesota. The temperature was -2F, the sky was crystal clear, once these wispy clouds blew away, and the "seeing" was great because there was no wind and a real stable atmpshpere. Under these wonderful conditions, I set up the telescope and camera at the front of our house in Plymouth and waited for the last lunar eclipse until 2010. The waiting was worth it, and it was relatively easy to run outside to the front yard, take a few pictures, and go back into the house and keep the camera warm. What is in this page is a series of pictures that I took. I attached a Canon 10D camera directly to the back of a Meade 10" Schmidt-Cassegrain Telescope with a focal-reducer in between so I could maximize the light gathering power, but keep the Moon images within the frame of the camera ... barely.

During the evening hours of February 20 (Wednesday evening), beginning at 7:43, the shadow of the Earth slowly crept across the face of the Moon. By 9:00, the Moon was fully eclipsed, and stayed that way for 51 minutes. At the height of the eclipse, Saturn could be easily seen to the left of the Moon, and Regulus was above the Moon, making a very pretty triangle of celestial lights. Since was the last lunar eclipse visible over North America until December, 2010, I was thrilled to witness the event, especially since the previous lunar eclipse over Minnesota was obscured by clouds..

The image above comes from You can click on their site to get more details of this event, but by the time you do that, the webpage will be covering other details of more current relevancy. This particular geometry pictured above shows that the aligmnent is not quite perfect, leaving the bottom of the moon near the edge of the umbra, which is the darkest part of the shadow. As a result, the bottom of the Moon was lit in a whiter shade while the rest of the Moon took on the traditional coppery color. Remember, the coppery color of the eclipsed Moon is caused by the Earth's atmosphere. While the Moon is in the shadow of the Earth, and you might expect a completely darkened Moon, sunlight still leaks through the "rim" on atmosphere surrounding the disk of the Earth. The atmosphere scatters the blue light, but allows the red, yellow, and orange wavelengths to pass through, bounce of the Moon, and be reflected back to the dark side of the Earth. During different eclipses, the color of the Moon can vary between bright orange to dark brown. These color variations are a direct result of global pollution from large fires, volcanic eruptions, or other forms of atmospheric dirt. The dirtier the air, the darker the eclipse. The cleaner the air, the brighter orange the eclipsed Moon will be.

7:30 pm ISO 200, 1/1000 exposure
7:45 pm ISO 200, 1/1000 sec exposure
7:55 pm ISO 200, 1/1000 exposure
8:20 pm ISO 200, 1/500 sec
8:45 pm ISO 200, 1 sec exposure
8:55 pm ISO 200, 1 sec exposure
9:10 pm ISO 200, 1 sec exposure

9:20 pm. Saturn to the left, and Regulus above.

200 mm F2.8, ISO 200, 10 sec exposure

I have already created an Eclipse page within the Astronomy online curriculum where you can go and learn the details behind eclipses, why they are rare events, and why the color of the Moon is red-orange instead of black.

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