Total Lunar Eclipse of 9 Nov 2003


A Fireworks Eclipse

The Prospects

This is the first lunar eclipse for nearly three years to have had reasonable visibility from the UK. It also occurred at a relatively sociable time, starting at 11.32pm on Saturday 8th, with the added bonus of not having to get up for work the following morning.

This eclipse was slightly unusual owing to each partial phase being uncommonly long at over 1.5 hours. This arises for two reasons:-

> The Moon travelling more slowly than average because it was near apogee (point in its orbit furthest from the Earth)

> The Moon was approaching the Earth's shadow very off-centre this time, making a much shorter duration of totality (only 20 minutes) but spending correspondingly longer in the partial region during its oblique approach and departure.

The weather forecast for the south of England was not good, with clouds sweeping in from the south east. The infra-red satellite photos at BBC Weather seemed to suggest breaks in it, but looking out from Oxted the sky was full of cloud that did not show up on the images.


Before Totality

After an evening with many overdue Guy Fawkes fireworks parties it was time for the sky to put in a display of its own. After a day of cloud the outlook was not good but at around 11pm the clouds began to clear and dazzling full Moon appeared. A slight but growing darkening to its upper left indicated the increasing penumbral phase, where somebody standing on the moon would see the Sun partially eclipsed by the Earth.

Penumbral eclipse: 20 minutes until 1st umbral contact

20 minutes until first umbral contact. A slight darkening to the upper left hand corner of the Moon is the only indication that something is about to happen.

Minolta Dimage 7 at 22mm zoom, afocal projection using 25mm eyepiece on Helios StarTravel 8cm f/5 refractor; 1/724s; ISO100

Unfortunately the clear sky was not to last and clouds rolled in after about 20 minutes. I therefore missed the first umbral contact at 23:32, when the Moon starts to enter the Earth's full shadow.

After only momentary glimpses between clouds a clear region afforded a decent view of the nearly totally eclipsed Moon for a couple of minutes around 1am. Battery failure on my digital camera and the brief duration meant that no picture was possible at this time, but the Moon presented an eerie sight, a deep coppery red with just a thin white crescent to the right. It was made more remarkable by the unexpected appearance of stars nearby, which had been completely drowned out when the Moon was full earlier.


After Totality

Totality started with second contact at 01:06 but was unseen owing to thick overcast, which persisted for over half an hour. Therefore the reappearance of the Moon with third contact at 01:31 was also missed, and I was on the verge of giving up when a few breaks began to appear in the clouds.

By 1.50am reasonable gaps appeared and the Moon was revealed as a mirror image to that of when I last saw it, with the white crescent to the left this time. With the camera having fresh batteries in place, I was able to grab a series of shots between and through thin cloud as little by little the Moon moved back into the sunlight.

Partial Eclipse: 20 minutes after 3rd contact

20 minutes after third umbral contact. The segment of the Moon in sunlight is very over-exposed as this shot tries to capture the beautiful red light refracted into the shadow by the Earth's atmosphere. Somebody standing on the Moon in the shadow region would see the Sun totally eclipsed by the Earth, but with a fiery red ring of sunset all around it - a fine sight yet to be witnessed by anybody.

Minolta Dimage 7 at 22mm zoom, afocal projection using 25mm eyepiece on Helios StarTravel 8cm f/5 refractor; 1s; ISO400; picture size reduced to 50% of original.

Natural view: 22 minutes after 3rd contact

22 minutes after third umbral contact. The colour and brightness of this shot is similar to how the Moon actually appeared to the eye at this time.

Minolta Dimage 7 at 22mm zoom, afocal projection using 25mm eyepiece on Helios StarTravel 8cm f/5 refractor; 1/2s; ISO400; picture size reduced to 50% of original.

35 minutes after third umbral contact. In order to reveal details of the part of the Moon in sunlight, the shadow region is underexposed to the point of being completely black. To the eye, with its greater ability to handle the difference in brightness, the reddish colour was still clearly visible.

Minolta Dimage 7 at 22mm zoom, afocal projection using 25mm eyepiece on Helios StarTravel 8cm f/5 refractor; 1/128s; ISO400; picture size reduced to 50% of original.

By about 2.30, with the show almost over, the clouds had practically disappeared. I was able to compile this time-lapse sequence of the Moon's return to sunlight up to and a little beyond 4th contact, the end of the umbral phase of the eclipse, at 03:04.

One and a half hours of eclipse after totality, running at 600 times natural speed. These images have been registered on the Earth's shadow so the movement of the Moon through space (about 3,000 miles) is clearly visible.

Minolta Dimage 7 at 22mm zoom, afocal projection using 25mm eyepiece on Helios StarTravel 8cm f/5 refractor; 1 - 1/724s; ISO400 - 100; pictures size reduced to 25% of original.


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