The Great Transit Expedition of 2019


Blog Title

On November 11, I traveled to the near-flung corners of my backyard to observe the rare transit of Mercury across the Sun.

History is replete with tales of astronomers traveling to the far corners of the Earth to watch dark objects pass in front of the Sun — the Moon in eclipses, and Mercury and Venus in transits.

On November 11, to take in the last transit of Mercury until 2032, I had planned a trip to a location more likely to have clear skies in November than at home. A 3-day drive to southern Arizona was the plan.

But to attend to work and priorities at home I cancelled my plans. Instead, I decided to stay home and take my chances with the Alberta weather, perhaps making a run for it a day’s drive away if needed to chase into clear skies.

Transit of Mercury Selfie with Sun

As it turned out, none of that was necessary. The forecast for clear, if cold, skies held true and we could not have had a finer day for the transit. Even the -20° C temperatures were no problem, with no wind, and of course sunshine!

Plus being only steps from home and a warming coffee helped!

As it turned out, the site in Arizona I had booked to stay was clouded out for the entire event. So I was happy with my decision!

For my site in Alberta, as for all of western North America, the Sun rose with the transit in progress. But as soon as the Sun cleared the horizon there was Mercury, as a small, if fuzzy, black dot on the Sun.

Low Sun with Mercury in Transit

As the Sun rose the view became sharper, and was remarkable indeed — of a jet black dot of a tiny planet silhouetted on the Sun.

The Transit of Mercury Across the Sun (10 am MST)

I shot through two telescopes, my 4-inch and 5-inch refractors, both equipped with solar filters of course. I viewed through two other telescopes, for white-light and hydrogen-alpha filtered views.

I was able to follow the transit for three hours, for a little more than half the transit, until Mercury exited the Sun just after 11 a.m. MST. The view below is from moments before Mercury’s exit, or “egress.”

The Transit of Mercury Across the Sun (11 am MST)

I shot still frames every 15 seconds with each of the two cameras and telescopes, for a time-lapse, plus I shot real-time videos.

Mercury at Mid-Transit (November 11, 2019)

At this transit Mercury passed closer to the centre of the Sun’s disk than it will for any other transit in the 21st century, making this event all the more remarkable. That point is recorded above, from a shot taken at 8:19 a.m. MST.

Stacking a selection of the time-lapse frames, ones taken 1-minute intervals, produced this composite of the transit, from just before mid-transit until Mercury’s egress.

Transit of Mercury Composite Across the Sun v2

I assembled all the best images and 4K videos together into a movie, which I narrated live at the telescope as the transit was happening. I hope this provides a sense of what it was like to view this rare event.

The Transit of Mercury from Alan Dyer on Vimeo.

We won’t see another until 2032, but not from North America. The next transit of Mercury viewable from here at home is not until 2049! This was likely my last transit, certainly for a while!

Transit of Mercury Trophy Shot

This was my trophy shot! Bagged the transit!

P.S.: For my video of the previous transit of Mercury in May 2016, see my blog post which includes a similar compilation video.

P.P.S.: And for tech details on the images and videos in this blog, please click through to Vimeo and the video description I have there of cameras, scopes, and settings.

Clear skies!

Alan, November 17, 2019 / © 2019 Alan Dyer / amazingsky.com

 

Chasing the Eclipse of the Cold Moon


Eclipsed Moon and Umbral Shadow

It took a chase but it was worth it to catch the January 20, 2019 total eclipse of the Moon in the winter sky.

While the internet and popular press fawned over the bogus moniker of “Super Blood Wolf” Moon, to me this was the “Cold Moon” eclipse. And I suspect that was true for many other observers and eclipse chasers last Sunday.

Total solar eclipses almost always involve a chase, usually to far flung places around the world to stand in the narrow shadow path. But total lunar eclipses (TLEs) come to you, with more than half the planet able to view the Moon pass through the Earth’s shadow and turn red for several minutes to over an hour.

The glitch is clouds. For several of the last TLEs I have had to chase, to find clear skies in my local area, creating pre-eclipse stress … and post-eclipse relief!

astrospheric map
A screen shot from Astrospheric

That was the case for the January 20, 2019 total lunar, as the weather predictions above, based on Environment Canada data, were showing east-central Alberta along the Saskatchewan border as the only clear hole within range and accessible.

The above is a screen shot from the wonderful app Astrospheric, a recommended and great aid to astronomers. In 2014, 2015, and 2018 the Environment Canada predictions led me to clear skies, allowing me to see an eclipse that others in my area missed.

So trusting the predictions, the day before the eclipse I drove the 5 hours and 500 km north and east to Lloydminster, a town where the provincial border runs right down the main street, Highway 17.

Theodolite_2019.01.20_11.35.06
A screen shot from Theodolite

The morning of the evening eclipse, I drove up and down that highway looking for a suitable site to setup. Scenery was not in abundance! It’s farm land and oil wells. I settled for a site shown above, an access road to a set of wells and tanks where I would likely not be disturbed, that had no lights, and had a clear view of the sky.

The image above is from the iOS app Theodolite, another fine app for planning and scouting sites, as it overlays where the camera was looking.

Scenery was not a priority as I was mostly after a telephoto view of the eclipsed Moon near the Beehive star cluster. Wide views would be a bonus if I could get them, for use in further ebook projects, as is the plan for the image below.

Looking at the Lunar Eclipse with Binoculars
This is a single untracked exposure of 25 seconds at f/2.8 and ISO 1600 with the Nikon D750 and Sigma 20mm Art lens, but with a shorter exposure of 1 second blended in for the Moon itself so it retains its color and appearance to the naked eye. Your eye can see the eclipsed Moon and Milky Way well but the camera cannot in a single exposure. The scene, taken just after the start of totality, just fit into the field of the 20mm lens. A little later in the night it did not. 

The site, which was east of the border in Saskatchewan, served me well, and the skies behaved just as I had hoped, with not a cloud nor haze to interfere with the view. It was a long and cold 5-hour night on the Prairies, with the temperature around -15° C.

It could have been worse, with -25° not uncommon at this time of year. And fortunately, the wind was negligible, with none of the problems with frost that can happen on still nights.

Nevertheless, I kept my photo ambitions in check, as in the cold much can go wrong and running two cameras was enough!

Eclipsed Moon Beside the Beehive
The Moon in mid-total eclipse, on January 20, 2019, with it shining beside the Beehive star cluster, Messier 44, in Cancer. This view tries to emulate the visual scene through binoculars, though the camera picks up more stars and makes the Moon more vivid than it appears to the eye. However, creating a view that looks even close to what the eye can see in this case takes a blend of exposures: a 1-minute exposure at ISO 800 and f/2.8 for the stars, which inevitably overexposes the Moon. So I’ve blended in three shorter exposures for the Moon, taken immediately after the long “star” exposure. These were 8, 4 and 2 seconds at ISO 400 and f/4, and all with the Canon 200mm telephoto on a Fornax Lightrack II tracking mount to follow the stars. 

Above was the main image I was after, capturing the red Moon shining next to the Beehive star cluster, a sight we will not see again for another 18-year-long eclipse “saros,” in January 2037.

But I shot images every 10 minutes, to capture the progression of the Moon through the shadow of the Earth, for assembly into a composite. I’d pick the suitable images later and stack them to produce a view of the Moon and umbral shadow outline set amid the stars.

Eclipsed Moon and Umbral Shadow
The Moon in total eclipse, on January 20, 2019, in a multiple exposure composite showing the Moon moving from right to left (west to east) through the Earth’s umbral shadow. The middle image is from just after mid-totality at about 10:21 pm MST, while the partial eclipse shadow ingress image set is from 9:15 pm and the partial eclipse shadow egress image set is from 11:15 pm. I added in two images at either end taken at the very start and end of the umbral eclipse to add a more complete sequence of the lunar motion. The central image of totality includes a 1-minute exposure at ISO 800 and f/2.8 for the stars, which inevitably overexposes the Moon. So I’ve blended in three shorter exposures for the Moon, taken immediately after the long “star” exposure. These were 8, 4 and 2 seconds at ISO 400 and f/4, and all with the Canon 200mm telephoto. The two partial eclipse phases are stacks of 7 exposures each, from very short for the bright portion of the lunar disk, to long for the shadowed portion. They are blended with luminosity masks created with ADP Pro v3 panel for Photoshop, but modified with feathering to blend the images smoothly. 

Above is the final result, showing the outline of the circular umbral shadow of the Earth defined by the shadow edge on the partially eclipsed Moons. The umbra is about three times the size of the Moon. And at this eclipse the Moon moved across the northern half of the shadow.

So mission accomplished!

Success Selfie with Lunar Eclipse (Jan 20, 2019)
This is an untracked single exposure of 15 seconds at ISO 3200 and f/2.8 with the Sigma 20mm Art lens and Nikon D750. However, I blended in a shorter 1-second exposure for the red eclipsed Moon itself to prevent its disk from overexposing as it would in any exposure long enough to record the Milky Way. 

I usually try to take a “trophy” shot of the successful eclipse chaser having bagged his game. This is it, from mid-eclipse during totality, with the red Moon shining in the winter sky beside the Beehive.

With this eclipse I can now say I have seen every total lunar eclipse visible from my area of the world since May 2003. I’m not counting those TLEs that were visible from only the eastern hemisphere — I’m not so avid as to chase those. And there were a couple of TLEs in that time that were visible from North America, but not from Alberta. So I’m not counting those.

And a couple of TLEs that were visible from here I did not see from here in Alberta — I saw April 15, 2014 from Australia and April 4, 2015 from Utah.

With that tally I’ve seen all the locally visible TLEs over a full saros cycle, 18 years. The last local TLE I missed was January 20, 2000, exactly 19 years — a Metonic cycle — ago. It must have been cloudy!

may 21, 2021 eclipse

The next total eclipse of the Moon is May 26, 2021, visible from Alberta as the Moon sets at dawn. I’d like to be in Australia for that one (depicted above in a screen shot from StarryNight™), to see the eclipsed Moon beside the galactic centre as both rise in the east, a sight to remember. Being late austral autumn, that will be a “cool Moon.”

Happy eclipse chasing!

— Alan, January 22, 2019 / © 2019 Alan Dyer / AmazingSky.com 

 

Photographing the Total Eclipse of the Moon


Lunar Eclipse CompositeOn the evening of January 20 for North America, the Full Moon passes through the umbral shadow of the Earth, creating a total eclipse of the Moon. 

No, this isn’t a “blood,” “super,” nor “wolf” Moon. All those terms are internet fabrications designed to bait clicks.

It is a   total   lunar  eclipse  — an event that doesn’t need sensational adjectives to hype, because they are always wonderful sights! And yes, the Full Moon does turn red.

As such, on January 20 the evening and midnight event provides many opportunities for great photos of a reddened Moon in the winter sky. 

Here’s my survey of tips and techniques for capturing the eclipsed Moon. 


First … What is a Lunar Eclipse?

As the animation below shows (courtesy NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center), an eclipse of the Moon occurs when the Full Moon (and they can happen only when the Moon is exactly full) travels through the shadow of the Earth. 

The Moon does so at least two times each year, though often not as a total eclipse, one where the entire disk of the Moon enters the central umbral shadow. Many lunar eclipses are of the imperceptible penumbral variety, or are only partial eclipses.

Total eclipses of the Moon can often be years apart. The last two were just last year, on January 31 and July 27, 2018. However, the next is not until May 26, 2021.

For a short explanation of the geometry of lunar eclipses see the NASA/Goddard video at https://svs.gsfc.nasa.gov/11516 

At any lunar eclipse we see an obvious darkening of the lunar disk only when the Moon begins to enter the umbra. That’s when the partial eclipse begins, and we see a dark bite appear on the left edge of the Moon. 

While it looks as if Earth’s shadow sweeps across the Moon, it is really the Moon moving into, then out of, our planet’s umbra that causes the eclipse. We are seeing the Moon’s revolution in its orbit around Earth. 

At this eclipse the partial phases last 67 minutes before and after totality. 

Telescope CU-Stages
This shows the length of the eclipse phases relative to the start of the partial eclipse as the Moon begins to enter the umbra at right. The Moon’s orbital motion takes it through the umbra from right to left (west to east) relative to the background stars. The visible eclipse ends 196 minutes (3 hours and 16 minutes) after it began. Click or tap on the charts to download a high-res version.

Once the Moon is completely immersed in the umbra, totality begins and lasts 62 minutes at this eclipse, a generous length. 

The Moon will appear darkest and reddest at mid-eclipse. During totality the lunar disk is illuminated only by red sunlight filtering through Earth’s atmosphere. It is the light of all the sunsets and sunrises going on around our planet. 

And yes, it is perfectly safe to look at the eclipsed Moon with whatever optics you wish. Binoculars often provide the best view. Do have a pair handy!

Total Lunar Eclipse (December 20/21, 2010)
Total eclipse of the Moon, December 20/21, 2010, taken from home with 130mm AP apo refractor at f/6 and Canon 7D at ISO 400 for 4 seconds, single exposure, shortly after totality began.

At this eclipse because the Moon passes across the north half of the umbra, the top edge of the Moon will always remain bright, as it did above in 2010, looking like a polar cap on the reddened Moon.

Near the bright edge of the umbra look for subtle green and blue tints the eye can see and that the camera can capture.


Where is the Eclipse?

As the chart below shows, all of the Americas can see the entire eclipse, with the Moon high in the evening or late-night sky. For the record, the Moon will be overhead at mid-eclipse at local midnight from Cuba!

LE2019Jan21T
All of the Americas can see this eclipse. The eclipse gets underway as the Moon sets at dawn over Europe. Diagram courtesy EclipseWise.com

For more details on times see www.EclipseWise.com and the event page at http://www.eclipsewise.com/lunar/LEprime/2001-2100/LE2019Jan21Tprime.html 

I live in Alberta, Canada, at a latitude of 50 degrees North. And so, the sky charts I provide here are for my area, where the Moon enters the umbral shadow at 8:35 p.m. MST with the Moon high in the east. By the end of totality at 10:44 p.m. MST the Moon shines high in the southeast. This sample chart is for mid-eclipse at my site.

Framing TL-Mid-Eclipse
The sky at mid-eclipse from my Alberta site. Created with the planetarium software Starry Night, from Simulation Curriculum.

I offer them as examples of the kinds of planning you can do to ensure great photos. I can’t provide charts good for all the continent because exactly where the Moon will be during totality, and the path it will take across your sky will vary with your location. 

In general, the farther east and south you live in North America the higher the Moon will appear. But from all sites in North America the Moon will always appear high and generally to the south. 

To plan your local shoot, I suggest using planetarium software such as the free Stellarium or Starry Night (the software I used to prepare the sky charts in this post), and photo planning apps such as The Photographer’s Ephemeris or PhotoPills. 

The latter two apps present the sightlines toward the Moon overlaid on a map of your location, to help you plan where to be to shoot the eclipsed Moon above a suitable foreground, if that’s your photographic goal. 


When is the Eclipse?

While where the Moon is in your sky depends on your site, the various eclipse events happen at the same time for everyone, with differences in hour due only to the time zone you are in. 

While all of North America can see the entirety of the partial and total phases of this eclipse (lasting 3 hours and 16 minutes from start to finish), the farther east you live the later the eclipse occurs, making for a long, late night for viewers on the east coast. 

Those in western North America can enjoy all of totality and be in bed at or before midnight.

Here are the times for the start and end of the partial and total phases. Because the penumbral phases produce an almost imperceptible darkening, I don’t list the times below for the start and end of the penumbral eclipse. 

Eclipse Times Table

PM times are on the evening of January 20.

AM times are after midnight on January 21.

Note that while some sources list this eclipse as occurring on January 21, that is true for Universal Time (Greenwich Time) and for sites in Europe where the eclipse occurs at dawn near moonset. 

For North America, if you go out on the evening of January 21 expecting to see the eclipse you’ll be a day late and disappointed! 


Picking a Photo Technique

Lunar eclipses lend themselves to a wide range of techniques, from a simple camera on a tripod, to a telescope on a tracking mount following the sky. 

If this is your first lunar eclipse I suggest keeping it simple! Select just one technique, to focus your attention on only one camera on a cold and late winter night. 

Lunar Eclipse Closeup with Stars
The total eclipse of the Moon of September 27, 2015, through a telescope, at mid-totality with the Moon at its darkest and deepest into the umbral shadow, in a long exposure to bring out the stars surrounding the dark red moon. This is a single exposure taken through a 92mm refractor at f/5.5 for 500mm focal length using the Canon 60Da at ISO 400 for 8 seconds. The telescope was on a SkyWatcher HEQ5 equatorial mount tracking at the lunar rate.

Then during the hour of totality take the time to enjoy the view through binoculars and with the unaided eye. No photo quite captures the glowing quality of an eclipsed Moon. But here’s how to try it.


Option 1: Simple — Camera-on-Tripod

The easiest method is to take single shots using a very wide-angle lens (assuming you also want to include the landscape below) with the camera on a fixed tripod. No fancy sky trackers are needed here. 

During totality, with the Moon now dimmed and in a dark sky, use a good DSLR or mirrorless camera in Manual (M) mode (not an automatic exposure mode) for settings of 2 to 20 seconds at f/2.8 to f/4 at ISO 400 to 1600. 

That’s a wide range, to be sure, but it will vary a lot depending on how bright the sky is at your site. Shoot at lots of different settings, as blending multiple exposures later in processing is often the best way to reproduce the scene as your eyes saw it. 

Shoot at a high ISO if you must to prevent blurring from sky motion. However, lower ISOs, if you can use them by choosing a slower shutter speed or wider lens aperture, will yield less digital noise.

Focus carefully on a bright star, as per the advice below for telephoto lenses. Don’t just set the lens focus to infinity, as that might not produce the sharpest stars.

Total Lunar Eclipse (December 20/21, 2010)
Total eclipse of the Moon, December 20/21, 2010, with 15mm lens at f/3.2 and Canon 5D MkII at ISO 1600 for a 1-minute tracked exposure. Without a tracker, use shorter exposures (less than 20 seconds) and higher ISOs or wider apertures to avoid trailing,

One scene to go for at this eclipse is similar to the above photo, with the reddened Moon above a winter landscape and shining east of Orion and the winter Milky Way. But that will require shooting from a dark site away from urban lights. But when the Moon is totally eclipsed, the sky will be dark enough for the Milky Way to appear. 

Framing Eclipse Sky
Click or tap on any of the charts to download a high-resolution copy.

The high altitude of the Moon at mid-eclipse from North America (with it 40 to 70 degrees above the horizon) will also demand a lens as wide as 10mm to 24mm, depending whether you use portrait or landscape orientation, and if your camera uses a cropped frame or full frame sensor. The latter have the advantage in this category of wide-angle nightscape. 

Framing Winter Milky Way & Moon

Alternatively, using a longer 14mm to 35mm lens allows you to frame the Moon beside Orion and the winter Milky Way, as above, but without the landscape. Again, this will require a dark rural site.

If you take this type of image with a camera on a fixed tripod, use high ISOs to keep exposures below 10 to 20 seconds to avoid star trailing. You have an hour of totality to shoot lots of exposures to make sure some will work best.

Total Lunar Eclipse, Dec 20, 2010 24mm Wide-Angle
Total eclipse of the Moon, December 20/21, 2010, with Canon 5D MKII and 24mm lens at f2.8 for stack of four 2-minute exposures at ISO 800. Taken during totality using a motorized sky tracker. The eclipsed Moon is the red object above Orion, and the stars appear bloated due to high haze and fog rolling in.

If you have a sky tracker to follow the stars, as I did above, exposures can be much longer — perhaps a minute to pick up the Milky Way really well — and ISOs can be lower to avoid noise. 


Option 1 Variation — Urban Eclipses

Unfortunately, point-and-shoot cameras and so-called “bridge” cameras, ones with non-interchangeable lenses, likely won’t have lenses wide enough to capture the whole scene, landscape and all. Plus their sensors will be noisy when used at high ISOs. Those cameras might be best used to capture moderate telephoto closeups at bright urban sites. 

With any camera, at urban sites look for scenic opportunities to capture the eclipsed Moon above a skyline or behind a notable landmark. By looking up from below you might be able to frame the Moon beside a church spire, iconic building, or a famous statue using a normal or short telephoto lens, making this a good project for those without ultra-wide lenses.

Total Lunar Eclipse, Feb. 20, 2008
Lunar eclipse, Feb 20, 2008 with a 135mm telephoto and Canon 20Da camera showing the Moon’s size with such a lens and cropped-frame camera. This is a blend of 8-second and 3-second exposures to bring out stars and retain the Moon. Both at ISO200 and f/2.8. Saturn is at lower left and Regulus at upper right.

Whatever your lens or subject, at urban sites expose as best you can for the foreground, trying to avoid any bright and bare lights in the frame that will flood the image with lens flares in long exposures. 

Capturing such a scene during the deep partial phases might produce a brighter Moon that stands out better in an urban sky than will a photo taken at mid-totality when the Moon is darkest. 


TIP: Practice, Practice, Practice!

With any camera, especially beginner point-and-shoots, ensure success on eclipse night by practicing shooting the Moon before the eclipse, during the two weeks of the waxing Moon leading up to Full Moon night and the eclipse.

The crescent Moon with Earthshine on the dark side of the Moon is a good stand-in for the eclipsed Moon. Set aside the nights of January 8 to 11 to shoot the crescent Moon. Check for exposure and focus. Can you record the faint Earthshine? It’s similar in brightness to the shadowed side of the eclipsed Full Moon.

The next week, on the nights of January 18 and 19, the waxing gibbous Moon will be closer to its position for eclipse night and almost as bright as the uneclipsed Full Moon, allowing some rehearsals for shooting it near a landmark.


Option 2: Advanced — Multiple Exposures

An advanced method is to compose the scene so the lens frames the entire path of the Moon for the 3 hours and 16 minutes from the start to the end of the partial eclipse. 

Framing TL-Start of Eclipse
This set of 3 charts shows the position of the Moon at the start, middle, and end of the eclipse, for planning lens choice and framing of the complete eclipse path. The location is Alberta, Canada.

Framing TL-Mid-Eclipse

Framing TL-End of Eclipse

As shown above, including the landscape will require at least a 20mm lens on a full frame camera, or 12mm lens on a cropped frame camera. However, these charts are for my site in western Canada. From sites to the east and south where the Moon is higher an even wider lens might be needed, making this a tough sequence to take.

With wide lenses, the Moon will appear quite small. The high altitude of the Moon and midnight timing won’t lend itself to this type of multiple image composite as well as it does for eclipses that happen near moonrise or moonset, as per the example below. 

Lunar Eclipse From Beginning to End, To True Scale
This is a multiple-exposure composite of the total lunar eclipse of Sunday, September 27, 2015, as shot from Writing-on-Stone Provincial Park, Alberta, Canada. For this still image composite of the eclipse from beginning to end, I selected just 40 frames taken at 5-minute intervals, out of 530 I shot in total, taken at 15- to 30-second intervals for the full time-lapse sequence included below.

A still-image composite with the lunar disks well separated will need shots only every 5 minutes, as I did above for the September 27, 2015 eclipse. 

Exposures for any lunar eclipse are tricky, whether you are shooting close-ups or wide-angles, because the Moon and sky change so much in brightness. 

As I did for the image below, for a still-image composite, you can expose just for the bright lunar disk and let the sky go dark.

Exposures for just the Moon will range from very short (about 1/500th second at f/8 and ISO 100) for the partials, to 1/2 to 2 seconds at f/2.8 to f/4 and ISO 400 for the totals, then shorter again (back to 1/500 at ISO 100) for the end shots when the Full Moon has returned to its normal brilliance. 

That’ll take constant monitoring and adjusting throughout the shoot, stepping the shutter speed gradually longer thorough the initial partial phase, then shorter again during the post-totality partial phase.

You’d then composite and layer (using a Lighten blend mode) the well-exposed disks (surrounded by mostly black sky) into another background image exposed longer for 10 to 30 seconds at ISO 800 to 1600 for the sky and stars, shot at mid-totality.

To maintain the correct relative locations of the lunar disks and foreground, the camera cannot move.

Lunar Eclipse Sequence from Monument Valley
The total lunar eclipse of April 4, 2015 taken from near Tear Drop Arch, in western Monument Valley, Utah. I shot the totality images during the short 4 minutes of totality. The mid-totality image is a composite of 2 exposures: 30 seconds at f/2.8 and ISO 1600 for the sky and landscape, with the sky brightening blue from dawn twilight, and 1.5 seconds at f/5.6 and ISO 400 for the disk of the Moon itself. Also, layered in are 26 short exposures for the partial phases, most being 1/125th sec at f/8 and ISO 400, with ones closer to totality being longer, of varying durations.

That technique works best if it’s just a still image you are after, such as above. This image is such a composite, of the April 4, 2015 total lunar eclipse from Monument Valley, Utah.

This type of composite takes good planning and proper exposures to pull off, but will be true to the scene, with the lunar disk and its motion shown to the correct scale and position as it was in the sky. It might be a composite, but it will be accurate.


My Rant! 

That’s in stark contrast to the flurry of ugly “faked” composites that will appear on the web by the end of the day on January 21, ones with huge telephoto Moons pasted willy-nilly onto a wide-angle sky.

Rather than look artistic, most such attempts look comically cut-and-pasted. They are amateurish. Don’t do it!  


Option 3: Advanced — Wide-Angle Time-Lapses

If it’s a time-lapse movie you want (see the video below), take exposures every 10 to 30 seconds, to ensure a final movie with smooth motion.

Unlike shooting for a still-image composite, for a time lapse each frame will have to be exposed well enough to show the Moon, sky, and landscape. 

That will require exposures long enough to show the sky and foreground during the partial phases — likely about 1 to 4 seconds at f/2.8 and ISO 400. In this case, the disk of the partially-eclipsed Moon will greatly overexpose, as it does toward the end of the above time-lapse from September 27, 2015.. 

But the Moon will darken and become better exposed during the late stages of the partial eclipse and during totality when a long exposure — perhaps now 10 to 20 seconds at f/2.8 and ISO 800 to 1600 — will record the bright red Moon amid the stars and winter Milky Way. 

Maintaining a steady cadence during the entire sequence requires using an interval long enough throughout to accommodate the expected length of the longest exposure at mid-totality, with similar camera settings to what you’ve used for other Milky Way nightscapes. If you’ve never taken those before, then don’t attempt this complex sequence. 

After totality, as the Moon and sky re-brighten, exposures will have to shorten again, and  symmetrically in reverse fashion for the final partial phases.

Such a time-lapse requires consistently and incrementally adjusting the camera over the three or more hours of the eclipse on a cold winter night. The high altitude of the Moon and its small size on the required wide angle lenses will make any final time lapse less impressive than at eclipses that occur when the Moon is rising or setting. 

But … the darkening of the sky and “turning on” of the Milky Way during totality will make for an interesting time-lapse effect. The sky and scene will be going from a bright fully moonlit night to effectively a dark moonless night, then back to moonlit. It’s a form of “holy grail” time lapse, requiring advanced processing with LRTimelapse software. 

Again, do not move the camera. Choose your lens and frame your camera to include the entire path of the Moon for as long as you plan to shoot. 

Even if the final movie looks flawed, individual frames should still produce good still images, or a composite built from a subset of the frames. 


Option 4: Simple — Telephoto Close-Ups

The first thought of many photographers is to shoot the eclipse with as long a telephoto lens as possible. That can work, but …

The harsh reality is that the Moon is surprisingly small (only 1/2-degree across) and needs a lot of focal length to do it justice, if you want a lunar close-up.

Telescope FOV-400 & 800mm

You’ll need a 300mm to 800mm lens. Unfortunately, the Moon and sky are moving and any exposures over 1/4 to 2 seconds (required during totality) will blur the Moon badly if its disk is large on the frame and all you are using is a fixed tripod.

If you don’t have a tracking mount, one solution is to keep the Moon’s disk small (using no more than a fast f/2 or f/2.8 135mm to 200mm lens) and exposures short by using a high ISO speed of 1600 to 3200. Frame the Moon beside the Beehive star cluster as I show below.

Take a range of exposures. But … be sure to focus!


TIP: Focus! And Focus Again!

Take care to focus precisely on a bright star using Live View. That’s true of any lens but especially telephotos and telescopes. 

Focus not just at the start of the night, but also more than once again later at night. Falling temperatures on a winter night will cause long lenses and telescopes to shift focus. What was sharp at the start of the eclipse won’t be by mid totality. 

The catch is that if you are shooting for a time-lapse or composite you likely won’t be able to re-point the optics to re-focus on a star in mid-eclipse. In that case, be sure to set up the gear well before you want to start shooing to let it cool to ambient air temperature. Now focus on a star, then frame the scene. Then hope the lens doesn’t shift off focus. You might be able to focus on the bright limb of the Moon but it’s risky.

Fuzzy images, not bad exposures, are the ruin of most attempts to capture a lunar eclipse, especially with a telephoto lens. And the Moon itself, especially during totality, is not a good target to focus on. Use a bright star. The winter sky has lots!


Option 5: Advanced — Tracked Telescopic Close-Ups 

If you have a mount that can be polar aligned to track the sky, then many more options are open to you. 

Sigma on SAM on Stars

You can use a telescope mount or one of the compact and portable trackers, such as the Sky-Watcher Star Adventurer (I show the Mini model above) or iOptron Sky Tracker units. While these latter units work great, you are best to keep the payload weight down and your lens size well under 300mm. 

Framing Telephoto CU

That’s just fine for this eclipse, as you really don’t need a frame-filling Moon. The reason is that the Moon will appear about 6 degrees west of the bright star cluster called the Beehive, or Messier 44, in Cancer.

As shown above, a 135mm to 200mm lens will frame this unique pairing well. For me, that will be the signature photo of this eclipse. The pairing can happen only at lunar eclipses that occur in late January, and there won’t be any more of those until 2037! 

That’s the characteristic that makes this eclipse rare and unique, not that it’s a “super-duper, bloody, wolf Moon!” But it doesn’t make for a catchy headline.

Total Lunar Eclipse, Dec 20, 2010 Total HDR
A High Dynamic Range composite of 7 exposures of the Dec 20/21, 2010 total lunar eclipse, from 1/2 second to 30 seconds, to show the more normally exposed eclipsed Moon with the star cluster M35, at left, in Gemini, to show the scene as it appeared in binoculars. Each tracked photo taken with a 77mm Borg apo refractor at f/4.2 (300mm focal length) and Canon 5D MkII at ISO 1600.

Exposures to show the star cluster properly might have to be long enough (30 to 120 seconds) that the Moon overexposes, even at mid-totality. If so, take different exposures for the Moon and stars, then composite them later, as I did above for the December 20, 2010 eclipse near the Messier 35 star cluster in Gemini. 

If really you want to shoot with even more focal length for framing just the Moon, a monster telephoto lens will work, but a small telescope such as an 80mm aperture f/6 to f/7 refractor will provide enough focal length and image size at much lower cost and lighter weight, and be easier to attach to a telescope mount. 

But even with a 500mm to 800mm focal length telescope the Moon fills only a small portion of the frame, though cropped frame cameras have the advantage here. Use one if it’s a big Moon you’re after! 

No matter the camera, the lens or telescope should be mounted on a solid equatorial telescope mount that you must polar align earlier in the night to track the sky. 

Alternatively, a motorized Go To telescope on an alt-azimuth mount will work, but only for single shots. The rotation of the field with alt-az mounts will make a mess of any attempts to shoot multiple-exposure composites or time-lapses, described below. 

Whatever the mount, for the sharpest lunar disks during totality, use the Lunar tracking rate for the motor. 

Total Lunar Eclipse Exposure Series
This series shows the need to constantly shift exposure by lengthening the shutter speed as the eclipse progresses. Do the same to shorten the exposure after totality. The exposures shown here are typical. 

Assuming an f-ratio of f/6 to f/8, exposures will vary from as short as 1/250th second at ISO 100 to 200 for the barely eclipsed Moon, to 4 to 20 seconds at ISO 400 to 1600 for the Moon at mid-totality. 

It’s difficult to provide a precise exposure recommendation for totality because the brightness of the Moon within the umbra can vary by several stops from eclipse to eclipse, depending on how much red sunlight manages to make it through Earth’s atmospheric filter to light the Moon.


TIP: Shoot for HDR

Total Lunar Eclipse, Dec 20, 2010 Partial HDR
Total eclipse of the Moon, December 20/21, 2010, with 5-inch refractor at f/6 (780mm focal length) and Canon 7D (cropped frame camera) at ISO 400. This is an HDR blend of 9 images from 1/125 second to 2 seconds, composited in Photoshop. Note  the blue tint along the shadow edge.

As I did above, during the deep partial phases an option is to shoot both long, multi-second exposures for the red umbra and short, split-second exposures for the bright part of the Moon not yet in the umbra.

Take 5 to 7 shots in rapid succession, covering the range needed, perhaps at 1-stop increments. Merge those later with High Dynamic Range (HDR) techniques and software, or with luminosity masks. 

Even if you’re not sure how to do HDR processing now, shoot all the required exposures anyway so you’ll have them when your processing skills improve. 


Option 6: Advanced — Close-Up Composites and Time-Lapses

With a tracking telescope on an equatorial mount you could fire shots every 10 to 30 seconds, and then assemble them into a time-lapse movie, as below. 

But as with wide-angle time-lapses, that will demand constant attention to gradually and smoothly shift exposures, ideally by 1/3rd-stop increments every few shots during the partial and total phases. Make lots of small adjustments, rather than fewer large ones.

If you track at the lunar rate, as I did above, the Moon should stay more or less centred while it drifts though the stars, assuming your mount is accurately polar aligned, an absolutely essential prerequisite here.  

Lunar Eclipse Composite
Composite image digitally created in Photoshop of images taken during October 27, 2004 total lunar eclipse, from Alberta Canada. Images taken through 5-inch apo refractor at f/6 with Canon Digital Rebel 300D camera at ISO 200.

Conversely, track at the sidereal rate and the stars will stay more or less fixed while the Moon drifts through the frame from right to left (west to east) as I show above in a composite of the October 27, 2004 eclipse.

But such a sequence takes even more careful planning to position the Moon correctly at the start of the sequence so it remains “in frame” for the duration of the eclipse, and ends up where you want at the end.

In the chart below, north toward Polaris is at the top of the frame. Position the Moon at the start of the eclipse so it ends up just above the centre of the frame at mid-eclipse. Tricky! 

Telescope CU-Stages
Repeated from earlier, this chart shows the path of the Moon through the north half of the umbra, a path that will be the same for any site, as will be the timing. North is up here.

As I show above, for this type of “Moon-thru-shadow” sequence a focal length of about 400mm is ideal on a full frame camera, or 300mm on a cropped frame camera.

From such a time-lapse set you could also use several frames selected from key stages of the eclipse, as I did in 2004, to make up a multiple-image composite showing the Moon moving through the Earth’s shadow. 

Again, planetarium software such as Starry Night I used above, which can be set to display the field of view of the camera and lens of your choice, is essential to plan the shoot. Don’t attempt it without the right software to plan the framing. 

I would consider the telescopic time-lapse method the most challenging of techniques. Considering the hour of the night and the likely cold temperatures, your best plan might be to keep it simple. 

It’s what I plan to do.

I’ll be happy to get a tracked telephoto close-up of the Moon and Beehive cluster as my prime goal, with a wide-angle scene of the eclipsed Moon beside Orion and the Milky Way as a bonus. A few telescope close-ups will be even more of a bonus.

Astrospheric
The Astrospheric website, with astronomy-oriented weather predictions. It’s also available as a great mobile app.

However, just finding clear skies might be the biggest challenge!

Try the Astrospheric app for astronomy-oriented weather predictions. The Environment Canada data it uses has led me to clear skies for several recent eclipses that other observers in my area missed. 

It’ll be worth the effort to chase!

The next total eclipse of the Moon anywhere on Earth doesn’t occur until May 26, 2021 in an event visible at dawn from Western North America. The next total lunar eclipse visible from all of North America comes a lunar year later, on May 15, 2022. 

Total Lunar Eclipse from Alan Dyer on Vimeo.

I leave you with a music video of the lunar eclipse of September 27, 2015 that incorporates still and time-lapse sequences shot using all of the above methods. 

Good luck and clear skies on eclipse night!

— Alan, January 1, 2019 / © 2019 Alan Dyer / amazingsky.com 

 

Red Moon Over the Rockies


Red Moon over the Rockies

Prospects looked bleak for seeing the January 31 total eclipse of the Moon. A little planning, a chase, and a lot of luck made it possible.

A mid-winter eclipse doesn’t bode well. Especially one in the cold dawn hours. Skies could be cloudy. Or, if they are clear, temperatures could be -25° C.

I managed to pull this one off, not just seeing the eclipse of the Moon, but getting a few photos.

The secret was in planning, using some helpful apps …

Starry Night
Starry Night™ / Simulation Curriculum

Because this eclipse was occurring before dawn for western North America the eclipsed Moon was going to be in the west, setting.

To plan any shoot the first app I turn to is the desktop planetarium program Starry Night™.

Shown above, the program simulates the eclipse with the correct timing, accurate appearance, and location in the sky at your site. You can set up indicators for the fields of various lenses, to help you pick a lens. The yellow box shows the field of view of a 50mm lens on my full-frame camera, essential information for framing the scene.

With that information in mind, the plan was to shoot the Moon over the Rocky Mountains, which lie along the western border of Alberta.

The original plan was a site in Banff on the Bow Valley Parkway looking west toward the peaks of the Divide.

But then the next critical information was the weather.

For that I turned to the website ClearDarkSky.com. It uses information from Environment Canada’s Astronomy forecasts and weather maps to predict the likelihood of clouds at your site. The day before the eclipse this is what it showed.

ClearDarkSky
ClearSkyChart

Not good! Home on the prairies was not an option. While Banff looked OK, the best prospects were from farther south in the Crowsnest Pass area of Alberta, as marked. So a chase was in order, involving a half-day drive south.

But what actual site was going to be useful? Where could I set up for the shot I wanted?

Time to break out another app, The Photographer’s Ephemeris. This is for desktop and mobile devices.

TPE
The Photographer’s Ephemeris

I needed a spot off a main highway but drivable to, and with no trees in the way. I did not know the area, but Allison Road looked like a possibility.

The TPE app shows the direction to the Sun and Moon to help plan images by day. And in its night mode it can show where the Milky Way is. Here, the thin blue line is showing the direction to the Moon during totality, showing it to the south of Mt. Tecumseh. I wanted the Moon over the mountains, but not behind a mountain!

With a possible site picked out, it was time to take a virtual drive with Google Earth.

Google Street View
Google Earth Street View

The background map TPE uses is from Google Earth. But the actual Google Earth app also offers the option of a Street View for many locations.

Above is its view from along Allison Road, on the nice summer day when the Google camera car made the drive. But at least this confirms there are no obstructions or ugly elements to spoil the scene, or trees to block the view.

But there’s nothing like being there to be sure. It looks a little different in winter!

vert_angle_deg=5.0 / horiz_angle_deg=1.2
Theodolite App

After driving down to the Crowsnest Pass the morning before, the first order of the day upon arrival was to go to the site before it got dark, to see if it was usable.

I used the mobile app Theodolite to take images (above) that superimpose the altitude and azimuth (direction) where the camera was aimed. It confirms the direction where the Moon will be is in open sky to the left of Tecumseh peak. And the on-site inspection shows I can park there!

All set?

There is one more new and very powerful app that provides another level of planning. From The Photographer’s Ephemeris, you can hand off your position to a companion mobile app (for iOS only) called TPE 3D

TPE 3D 50mm
TPE 3D with 50mm lens field

It provides elevation maps and places you on site, with the actual skyline around you drawn in. And with the Moon and stars in the sky at their correct positions.

While it doesn’t simulate the actual eclipse, it sure shows an accurate sky … and what you’ll frame with your lens with the actual skyline in place.

Compare the simulation, above, to the real thing, below:

Red Moon over the Rockies
This is a blend of a 15-second exposure for the sky and foreground, and a shorter 1-second exposure for the Moon to prevent its disk from being overexposed, despite it being dim and deep red in totality. Both were at f/2.8 with the 50mm Sigma lens on the Canon 6D MkII at ISO 1600.

Pretty amazing!

Zooming out with TPE 3D provides this preview of a panorama I hoped to take.

TPE 3D Panorama
TPE 3D zoomed out for 11mm lens simulation

It shows Cassiopeia (the W of stars at right) over the iconic Crowsnest Mountain, and the stars of Gemini setting to the right of Tecumseh.

Here’s the real thing, in an even wider 180° view sweeping from south to north. Again, just as predicted!

Red Moon over the Rockies Panorama
The panorama is from 8 segments, each with the 35mm lens at f/2.8 for 15 seconds at ISO 1600 with the Canon 6D MkII. Stitching was with Adobe Camera Raw. The Moon itself is blend of 4 exposures: 15 seconds, 4 seconds, 1 second, and 1/4 second to retain the red disk of the eclipsed Moon while bringing out the stars in the twilight sky.

Between the weather predictions – which proved spot on – and the geographical and astronomical planning apps – which were deadly accurate – we now have incredible tools to make it easier to plan the shot.

If only we could control the clouds! As it was, the Moon was in and out of clouds throughout the 70 minutes of totality. But I was happy to just get a look, let alone a photo.

Total Lunar Eclipse over the Continental Divide

The next total lunar eclipse is in six months, on July 27, 2018, but in an event visible only from the eastern hemisphere.

The next TLE for North America is a more convenient evening event on January 20, 2019. That will be another winter eclipse requiring careful planning!

Clear skies!

— Alan, February 1, 2018 / © 2018 Alan Dyer / AmazingSky.com

How to Photograph the Lunar Eclipse


Total Lunar Eclipse, Dec 20, 2010 Partial HDR

The first total lunar eclipse in 2.5 years provides lots of opportunities for some great photos.

On the morning of January 31, before sunrise for North America, the Full Moon passes through the umbral shadow of the Earth, creating the first total eclipse of the Moon since September 27, 2015.

The pre-dawn event provides many photo opportunities. Here’s my summary of tips and techniques for capturing the eclipsed Moon.


But First … What is a Lunar Eclipse?

As the animation (courtesy NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center) shows, an eclipse of the Moon occurs when the Full Moon (and they can happen only when the Moon is exactly full) travels through the shadow of the Earth.

The Moon does so at least two times a year, though often not as a total eclipse, one where the entire disk of the Moon is engulfed by the umbra.

When the Moon is within only the outer penumbral shadow we see very little effect, with a barely perceptible darkening of the Moon, if that. I don’t even list the times below for the start and end of the penumbral phases.

Earth Shadow Edge Colors (Oct 8, 2014)
An HDR stack of images to encompass the range of brightness from the bright portion of the lunar disk (at right here) still just in the penumbral shadow, to the dark portion of the disk at left deep in the umbral shadow. I shot this at the October 8, 2014 total lunar eclipse, from Writing-on-Stone Park in southern Alberta. Taken 7 to 5 minutes before totality began.

It’s only when the Moon begins to enter the central umbral shadow that we see an obvious effect. That’s when the partial eclipse begins, and we see a dark bite appear on the left edge of the Moon. The shadow appears to creep across the Moon to darken more of its disk. While it looks like the shadow is moving across the Moon, it is really the Moon moving into, then out of, the umbral shadow that causes the eclipse.

At this eclipse the partial phases last about an hour before and after totality.

Once the Moon is completely immersed in the umbra, totality begins, and lasts 77 minutes at this eclipse, a generous length. However, in North America, only sites in the western half of the continent get to see all or most of totality.


Where is the Eclipse?

ec2018-Fig01
Courtesy Fred Espenak and Royal Astronomical Society of Canada (Observer’s Handbook)

As the chart above shows, the Pacific area including Hawaii, Australia, and eastern Asia can see the entire eclipse with the Moon high in the evening or midnight sky.

Most of North America (my tips are aimed at North American photographers) can see at least some part of this eclipse.

From the eastern half of the continent the Moon sets at sunrise during either totality (from the central areas of North America), or during the first partial phases (from eastern North America). Those in the east can take advantage of interesting photo opportunities by capturing the partially eclipsed Moon setting in the west in the dawn twilight.

Total Lunar Eclipse (Dec 10, 2011)
The total eclipse of the Moon on December 10, 2011, taken from the the Rothney Astrophysical Observatory, near Priddis, Alberta, and looking west to the Rockies. This is a 2 second exposure at ISO 800 with the Canon 5DMkII and Canon 200mm lens at f/4. This was taken toward the end of totality at 7:48 a.m. local time.

However, the most dramatic images of a deep red Moon in the western sky, such as above, will be possible only from the west. And even then, the further north and west you live, the better your view.

Even from the southwestern United States the Moon sets just after the end of totality, requiring a site with a low and clear horizon to the west in order to see the whole event.

I live in Alberta, Canada, and the diagrams I provide here are for my area, where the Moon sets during the final partial phase. I offer them as examples of the kinds of planning you can do to ensure great photos. But exactly where the Moon will be during totality, and where and when it will set on your horizon, will depend on your location.

To plan your local shoot, I suggest using planetarium software such as Stellarium or Starry Night (the software I used to prepare the charts below), and photo planning apps such as The Photographer’s Ephemeris or PhotoPills

The latter two apps present the sightlines toward the Moon overlaid on a map of your location, to help you plan where to be to shoot the eclipsed Moon setting behind a suitable foreground.


When is the Eclipse?

While where the Moon is in your sky depends on your site, the various eclipse events happen at the same time for everyone, with differences in hour due only to the time zone you are in.

Here are the times for the start and end of the partial and total phases.

Note that all times are A.M., in the early morning, before sunrise, on January 31. Go out at 6 P.M. on the evening of January 31 and you’ll be 12 hours too late. You missed it!

Eclipse Times Table

All times are A.M. on January 31. “—“ means the event is not visible; the Moon has set.

The time of moonset at your site will vary with your location. Use planning apps to calculate your local moonset time.


Picking a Site

No matter where you are in North America you want a site with a good view to the west and northwest, preferably with a clear view of a relatively unobstructed but photogenic horizon.

While having an eclipse occur at dawn (or at dusk) does limit the amount of eclipse we can see, it has the benefit of providing many more photo opportunities of the eclipsed Moon above a scenic landscape or foreground element.

Eclipse Moonrise at Writing-on-Stone
The Full Moon rises in partial eclipse over the sandstone formations of Writing-on-Stone Provincial Park in southern Alberta, on the evening of September 27, 2015. Shot with the 200mm lens and 1.4x extender, on the Canon 5DMkII.

From eastern North America you will have to be content with images of the partially eclipsed Moon setting, similar to the image above of a rising partially-eclipsed Moon.

From the centre of the continent, where the Moon sets during totality, the dim, reddened Moon is likely to disappear into the brightening sky. Remember, when the Moon is full it sets just as the Sun rises. So shots of a red Moon right on the horizon aren’t likely to be possible. The Moon will be too dim and the sky too bright.

From sites in the west, the Moon will set either just at the end of totality or shortly afterwards, making the Moon brighter and more obvious in the sunrise sky, as the foreground in the west lights up with red light from the Sun rising in the east.

It is that same red sunlight filtered by our atmosphere that continues on into our planet’s shadow and lights the Moon red during totality.


Picking a Technique

Lunar eclipses lend themselves to a wide range of techniques, from a simple camera on a tripod, to a telescope on a tracking mount following the sky.

What you use depends not only on the gear you have on hand, but also on your site. It might not be practical to set up loads of gear at a scenic site you have to trek into — especially when you have to set up in the wee hours of a cold winter morning.

You could set up earlier that night on January 30, but only if your site is safe enough to leave the gear unattended while you sleep.

Keep it simple!


Option 1: Simple Camera-on-Tripod

Eclipsed Moon over Writing on Stone
The Moon in totality in the deep twilight on September 27, 2015, with a 35mm lens on a full-frame camera. This is one frame from a time-lapse sequence. A 5-second exposure at f/2.8 and at ISO 800.

The easiest method is to take single shots with a moderate wide-angle or normal lens with the camera on a fixed tripod. No fancy trackers are needed here.

If the sky is bright with twilight, you might be able to meter the scene and use Auto exposure.

Jan 31 Eclipse-50mm Mid-Totality (Courtesy Starry Night™/Simulation Curriculum)
Composing a single shot during mid-totality from southern Alberta, framed to include Castor and Pollux in Gemini.

But earlier in the night, with the Moon in a darker sky, as I show above, use Manual exposure and try settings of 1 to 10 seconds at f/2.8 to f/4 at ISO 400 to 1600. That’s a wide range, to be sure, but it will vary a lot depending on when you shoot and where you are, factors that will affect how bright the sky is at your site. Just shoot, check, and adjust.


Option 2: Advanced Camera-on-Tripod

A more advanced method is to compose the scene so the lens frames the entire path of the Moon from the start of the partial eclipse until moonset.

Jan 31 Eclipse-35mm Lens Sequence
Framing a time-lapse sequence for southern Alberta. (Courtesy Starry Night™/Simulation Curriculum)

As shown above, that will take at least a 35mm lens on a full frame camera, or 20mm lens on a cropped frame camera.

Take exposures every 15 to 30 seconds if you want to turn the set into a time-lapse movie. But a still-image composite with the lunar disks well separated will need shots only every 5 to 10 minutes.

Such a composite takes good planning and proper exposures to pull off, but will be true to the scene, with the lunar disk and its motion shown to the correct scale as it was in the sky. That’s in stark contrast to the flurry of ugly “faked” composites that will appear on the web by the end of February 1, ones with huge telephoto Moons pasted willy-nilly onto a wide-angle sky. Don’t do it!

Exposures for any lunar eclipse are tricky, whether you are shooting closeups or wide-angles, because the Moon and sky change so much in brightness.

For wide-angle composites, you can expose just for the bright lunar disk and let the sky go dark. Exposures for just the Moon will range from very short (about 1/500th second at ISO 100) for the partials, to 1 to 2 seconds at ISO 400 for the totals, then shorter again (1/15 to 1/2 second at ISO 400) for the end shots in twilight when the Moon and sky may be similar in brightness. That’ll take constant monitoring and adjusting throughout the shoot.

As I did below, you’d then composite and layer the well-exposed disks into another background image exposed longer for the sky, likely shot in twilight. To maintain the correct relative locations of the lunar disks and foreground, the camera cannot move.

That technique works best if it’s just a still image you are after, such as below.

Lunar Eclipse Sequence from Monument Valley
The total lunar eclipse of April 4, 2015 taken from near Tear Drop Arch, in Monument Valley, Utah. I shot the totality images at 6:01 a.m. MDT, during mid-totality during the very short 4 minutes of totality. The mid-totality image is a composite of 2 exposures: 30 seconds at f/2.8 and ISO 1600 for the sky and landscape, with the sky brightening blue from dawn twilight, and 1.5 seconds at f/5.6 and ISO 400 for the disk of the Moon itself. Also, layered in are 26 short exposures for the partial phases, most being 1/125th sec at f/8 and ISO 400, with ones closer to totality being longer, of varying durations. All are with a 24mm lens and Canon 6D on a static tripod, with the camera not moved through the entire sequence. The short duration of totality at this eclipse lent itself to a sequence with one total phase image flanked by partial phases.

The above image is a composite of the April 4, 2015 total lunar eclipse from Monument Valley, Utah. That eclipse occurred under similar circumstances as this month’s eclipse, with the eclipse underway as the Moon set in the west at sunrise.

Lunar Eclipse From Beginning to End, To True Scale
A multiple-exposure composite of the total lunar eclipse of Sunday, September 27, 2015, as shot from Writing-on-Stone Provincial Park, Alberta, Canada. NOTE: The size of the Moon and its path across the sky are accurate here, because all the images for this composite were taken with the same lens using a camera that did not move during the shoot.

By comparison, the composite here is made of a few selected frames out of hundreds I took at 15-second intervals, and with each frame exposed for the sky, for use in a time-lapse movie. In this case, the Moon became overexposed at the end as it emerged from the umbra.

Indeed, if it’s a time-lapse movie you want (see the video linked to below), then each frame will have to be exposed well enough to show the sky and landscape.

While this method will overexpose the partially-eclipsed Moon, the Moon will darken and become better exposed throughout totality when the same long exposure for the reddened Moon might also work for the sky, to pick up stars. Exposures will have to shorten again as the sky brightens with twilight.

Again, constant baby-sitting and adjusting the camera will be needed. So if it’s cold where you are prepare for a frigid multi-hour shoot. I doubt you’ll be able to leave the camera on Auto exposure to run on its own, not until at least bright twilight begins.


Option 3: Telephoto Close-Ups

Jan 31 Eclipse-Telescope
Size of the Moon with a 600mm telephoto on a full-frame and cropped-frame camera. (Courtesy Starry Night™/Simulation Curriculum)

The Moon is surprisingly small (only 1/2-degree across) and needs a lot of focal length to do it justice.

For an “in-your-face” close-up of the eclipse you’ll need a 300mm to 800mm (!) lens. Unfortunately, the Moon and sky are moving and any exposures over 1 to 2 seconds (required during totality) will blur the Moon badly if its disk is large on the frame.

If you don’t have a tracking mount, one solution is to keep the Moon’s disk small (using no more than a fast f/2.8 200mm lens) and exposures short by using a high ISO speed.

Total Lunar Eclipse (Dec 10, 2011)
The eclipse of December 10, 2011, with the Moon setting in deep partial eclipse at sunrise.

Or plan to shoot with a telephoto only when the Moon is low in the sky, as I did above, when you can include the horizon which you would want to be sharp anyway. Framing the Moon and horizon won’t need a super telephoto.

The sky will then also be brighter and require short exposures that don’t need to be tracked. However, how bright and obvious the Moon will be will again depend on your location. This may or may not be a practical option, certainly not if the Moon is setting during mid-totality where you are.

Option 4: Tracked Telescopic Close-Ups 

Jan 31 Eclipse-Telephoto Lenses
Framing the eclipsed Moon and the Beehive star cluster (Messier 44). (Courtesy Starry Night™/Simulation Curriculum)

If you have a mount that can be polar aligned to track the sky, then more options are open to you.

You can use a telescope mount or one of the compact and portable trackers, such as the Sky-Watcher Star Adventurer or iOptron Sky Tracker units. While these latter units work great, you are best to keep the payload weight down and your lens size under 300mm.

That’s just fine for this eclipse, as you really don’t need a frame-filling Moon. The reason is that the Moon will appear about 4 degrees away from the bright star cluster called the Beehive, or Messier 44, in Cancer. As shown above, a 200mm to 300mm lens will frame this unique pairing well.

Even so, exposures to show the cluster properly might have to be long enough that the Moon overexposes, even at mid-totality. If so, take different exposures for the Moon and stars and composite them later, as I did below.

Total Lunar Eclipse, Dec 20, 2010 Total HDR
A High Dynamic Range composite of 7 exposures of the Dec 20/21, 2010 total lunar eclipse, from 1/2 second to 30 seconds, to show the more normally exposed eclipsed Moon with the star cluster M35 at left in Gemini, to show the scene more like it appeared in binoculars. Each photo taken with a 77mm aperture Borg apo refractor at f/4.2 (300mm focal length) and Canon 5D MkII camera at ISO 1600.

If you do want to shoot with more focal length, a monster telephoto lens will work, but a small telescope such as an 80mm aperture f/6 to f/7 refractor will provide enough focal length and image size at much lower cost. But either way, the lens or telescope should be mounted on a solid equatorial telescope mount, and polar aligned to track the sky.

For the sharpest lunar disks, use the Lunar tracking rate.

Exposures will vary from as short as 1/500th second at ISO 100 to 200 for the barely eclipsed Moon, to 4 to 16 seconds at f/6 to f/8 and at ISO 400 to 1600 for the Moon at mid-totality.

Total Lunar Eclipse, Dec 20, 2010 Partial HDR
Total eclipse of the Moon, December 20/21, 2010, taken with a 130mm AP apo refractor at f/6 and Canon 7D at ISO 400. An HDR composite of 9 images from 1/125 second to 2 seconds, composited in Photoshop.Taken at about 12:21 a.m. MST on Dec 21, about 20 minutes before totality began, during the partial phase.

As I did above, during the deep partial phases shoot both long exposures for the red umbra and short exposures for the bright part of the Moon not yet in the umbra. Merge those later with High Dynamic Range (HDR) techniques and software, or with luminosity masks.

Even if you’re not sure how to do this now, shoot all the required exposures anyway so you’ll have them when your processing skills improve.

Option 5: Time-Lapse Close-Ups 

Total Lunar Eclipse (December 20/21, 2010)
Total eclipse of the Moon, December 20/21, 2010, taken from home with 130mm AP apo refractor at f/6 and Canon 7D at ISO 400 for 4 seconds, single exposure, shortly after totality began.

With a tracking telescope you could fire shots every 30 seconds or so, and then assemble them into a time-lapse movie.

But as with wide-angle time-lapses, that will take constant attention to gradually and smoothly shift exposures, ideally by 1/3rd-stop increments every few shots during the partial and total phases.

If you track at the lunar rate, as I did in the still image below and in the music video linked to at bottom, the Moon will stay centred while it drifts though the stars.

Total Lunar Eclipse-August 28, 2007
Taken with 90mm Stowaway AP Refractor, with Borg .85x compressor/flattener for f/5.6. With Canon 20Da camera at ISO 400 for a 13 second exposure, on a Skywatcher HEQ5 mount tracking at Lunar rate. Exposure was long to bring out star background.

Track at the sidereal rate and the stars will stay more or less fixed while the Moon drifts through the frame from right to left (west to east). But that takes even more careful planning to position the Moon correctly at the start of the sequence so it remains “in frame” for the duration of the eclipse and ends up where you want at the end, which will occur with the Moon low in a bright sky.

Again, planetarium software such as Starry Night, which can be set to display a camera frame, is essential to plan the shoot.

Either way, do take care to accurately polar align your mount, or you’ll be confronted with the monumental task of having to manually align hundreds of images later. Trust me, I know!

Watching the Lunar Eclipse
Me enjoying the September 27, 2015 total lunar eclipse while various cameras snapped away, but still requiring constant attention and adjustments.

I would consider the telescopic time-lapse method the most challenging of techniques.

Considering the hour of the night and the likely cold temperatures, your best plan might be to keep it simple. It’s what I plan to do. I’ll be happy to get a few good wide-angle still images, and perhaps a tracked telephoto close-up of the Moon and Beehive as a bonus.

While there is another total lunar eclipse (TLE) in six months on July 27/28, it is not visible at all from North America.

Our next TLE occurs 12 Full Moons, or one lunar year from now, on the night of January 20/21, 2019, when all of North America gets to watch totality at a more reasonable hour, though perhaps not at a more reasonable temperature.

I leave you with a music video of the last TLE, on September 27, 2015 that incorporates still and time-lapse sequences shot using all of the above methods.

Enjoy!

Selfie Success Shot at Lunar Eclipse
Success! A post-totality trophy shot.

Good luck and clear skies on eclipse morning!

— Alan, January 6, 2018 / © 2018 Alan Dyer / amazingsky.com

 

Totality over the Tetons — the Music Video


Totality over Tetons Title Image

I present the final cut of my eclipse music video, from the Teton Valley, Idaho.

I’ve edited my images and videos into a music video that I hope captures some of the awe and excitement of standing in the shadow of the Moon and gazing skyward at a total eclipse.

Totality over the Tetons from Alan Dyer on Vimeo.

The video can be viewed in up to 4K resolution. Music is by the Hollywood session group and movie soundtrack masters, Audiomachine. It is used under license.

Eclipse Triumph Selfie (Wide)
Me at the 2017 total solar eclipse celebrating post-eclipse with four of the camera systems I used, for close-up stills through a telescope, for 4K video through a telephoto lens, and two wide-angle time-lapse DSLRs. A fifth camera used to take this image shot an HD video selfie.
Never before have I been able to shoot a total eclipse with so many cameras to capture the scene from wide-angles to close-ups, in stills, time-lapses, and videos, including 4K. Details on the setup are in the caption for the video on Vimeo. Click through to Vimeo.

I scouted this site north of Driggs, Idaho two years earlier, in April 2015. It was perfect for me. I could easily set up lots of gear, it had a great sightline to the Grand Tetons, and a clear horizon for the twilight effects. And I had the site almost to myself. Observing with a crowd adds lots of energy and excitement, but also distraction and stress. I had five cameras to operate. It was an eclipse experience I’ll likely never duplicate.

If you missed this eclipse, you missed the event of a lifetime. Sorry. Plain and simple.

2017 Eclipse Time Sequence Composite
A composite of the 2017 eclipse with time running from left to right, depicting the onset of totality at left, then reappearance of the Sun at right. Taken with the 4-inch telescope shown above.
If you saw the eclipse, and want to see more, then over the next few years you will have to travel far and wide, mostly to the southern hemisphere between now and 2024.

But on April 8, 2024 the umbral shadow of the Moon once again sweeps across North America, bringing a generous four minutes of totality to a narrow path from Mexico, across the U.S., and up into eastern Canada.

It will be the Great North American Eclipse. Seven years to go!

— Alan, September 2, 2017 / © 2017 Alan Dyer / www.amazingsky.com

 

The Great American Eclipse, from Idaho


2017 Total Solar Eclipse – Contacts and Totality

What a day! What a sky! What an eclipse! 

Thank you Idaho for providing the finest sky we could have hoped for on eclipse day.

After several days of predictions that went from good, to bad, to not so good, prompting worries about having to escape west to clearer skies, August 21 turned out to be wonderfully clear, both cloudless and smoke free.

My site was the one I had planned from a scouting trip in April 2015, off the West 5000 Road north of Driggs, Idaho. It had a sightline to the Tetons, a great horizon, and I could drive to it with my carload of gear, a rare opportunity.

I had never driven to any total solar eclipse before, allowing me to shoot with all the telescope and camera gear I could muster and handle. And I had the site almost all to myself, a first for any total solar eclipse.

Eclipse Triumph Selfie (Wide)
Me at the 2017 total solar eclipse celebrating post eclipse with four of the camera systems I used, for close-up stills through a telescope, for 4K video through a telephoto lens, and two wide-angle time-lapse DSLRs. A fifth camera used to take this image shot an HD video selfie.

This was only the fourth eclipse out of the 16 I have been to that I shot though a telescope.

The lead image is a composite of second and third contact images with a blended exposure composite of totality, taken with the telescope shown here. However, this was the first time I’ve shot a total solar eclipse with an equatorial mount that was accurately polar aligned (at 5 a.m. that morning!) and tracking the Sun.

2017 Eclipse - Third Contact Composite
This is a composite of two images taken seconds apart: a 1/15th second exposure for the corona and a 1/1000 sec exposure for the prominences and chromosphere. Taken with the 106mm Astro-Physics apo refractor at f/5 and Canon 6D MkII camera at ISO 100. On the Mach One equatorial mount, polar aligned and tracking the sky.

This is a composite of a long exposure of totality with a short exposure of the third contact diamond ring just beginning to break out from behind the dark disk of the Moon, just before it overpowered the red prominences that lined the edge of the Sun that day. making for an amazing sight through binoculars or telescopes.

The Solar Corona at the 2017 Total Solar Eclipse
This is a composite of 7 images blended with luminosity masks applied using ADP Panel+ Pro extension for Photoshop. Adjustment layers of successively smaller High Pass filters were also added to bring out the coronal structure.

No single exposure can capture the huge range in brightness in the corona.

The image above is a blend of seven exposures, from 1/1000 second to 0.4 seconds, creating a view that better resembles what the eye saw – with the exception of the faint Earthshine on the Moon. It is so faint, I don’t think it is visible to the eye, but the camera picks it up.

Regulus is the star at left, with several other fainter stars in Leo also visible.

Eclipse over the Tetons - Totality Starts
This is from a 700-frame time-lapse and is of second contact just as the diamond ring is ending and the dark shadow of the Moon is approaching from the west at right, darkening the sky at right. With the Canon 6D and 14mm SP Rokinon lens at f/2.5 for 1/10 second at ISO 100.

While I had a telescope at the ready inches from my eyes for just visual looks, as it so often is, the naked eye scene was so compelling I forgot to look through the telescope until the last few seconds of totality.

The scene above captures the wide view, of the eclipsed Sun over the Grand Tetons, as seen from the Idaho side. The dark blue at right is the shadow of the Moon.

I shot the wide scene with two cameras and wide-angle lenses for time-lapse sequences. I’ve compiled them into a short video here.

Moonshadows: Eclipse Sky Time-Lapses from Alan Dyer on Vimeo.

A more extensive music video is in the works.

For tips and techniques on how to process eclipse images, see my eBook on How to Photograph the Solar Eclipse. While most of the content is now past history, the chapter on processing images is more valuable than ever. The eBook is now just $2.99, on Apple, as a PDF, and on Amazon. Sorry for the shameless plug!

Thanks! It can now be cloudy for the next few months. It was clear when it needed to be!

— Alan, August 31, 2017 / © 2017 Alan Dyer / AmazingSky.com

 

Top 10 Tips for Practicing for the Eclipse


Total Eclipse from Chile

I present suggestions for how to ensure everything under your control will go well on eclipse day. The secret is: Practice, Practice, Practice!

The techniques I suggest practicing are outlined in my previous blog, Ten Tips for the Solar Eclipse. It’s prerequisite reading.

However, while you can read all about how to shoot the eclipse, nothing beats actually shooting to ensure success. But how do you do that, when there’s only one eclipse?

Here are my “Top 10” suggestions:

Total Eclipse of the Sun from the Atlantic (Nov 3, 2013)
Total eclipse of the Sun, November 3, 2013 as seen from the middle of the Atlantic Ocean, from the Star Flyer sailing ship. I took this with a Canon 5D MkII and 16-35mm lens at 19mm for 1/40s at f/2.8 and ISO 800 on a heavily rolling ship.

Wide-Angle Shots – Shoot a Twilight Scene

The simplest way to shoot the eclipse is to employ a camera with a wide lens running on auto exposure to capture the changing sky colors and scene brightness.

  1. Auto Exposure Check in Twilight

    If you intend to shoot wide-angle shots of the eclipse sky and scene below, with anything from a mobile phone to a DSLR, practice shooting a time-lapse sequence or a movie under twilight lighting. Does your camera expose properly when set to Auto Exposure? If you are using a phone camera, does it have any issues focusing on the sky? How big a file does a movie create? 

 


PRACTICE2-Voyager Alt-Az Mount

With Telephotos and Telescopes – Shoot the Filtered Sun

The toughest techniques involve using long lenses and telescopes to frame the eclipsed Sun up close. They need lots of practice. 

  1. Framing and Focusing

    You’ll need to have your safe and approved solar filter purchased (don’t wait!) that you intend to use over your lens or telescope. With the filter in place, simply practice aiming your lens or telescope at the Sun at midday. It’s not as easy as you think! Then practice using Live View to manually focus on the edge of the Sun or on a sunspot. Can you get consistently sharp images?

 


Partial Solar Eclipse in Cloud #1 (Oct 23, 2014)
The partial eclipse of the Sun, October 23, 2014, shot through thin cloud, but that makes for a more interesting photo than one in a clear sky. Despite the cloud, this was still shot through a Mylar filter, on the front of telescope with 450mm focal length, using the Canon 60Da for 1/25 sec exposure at ISO 100.
  1. Exposure Times

Exposures of the filtered Sun will be the same as during the partial phases, barring cloud or haze, as above, that can lengthen exposure times. Otherwise, only during the thin crescent phases will shutter speeds need to be 2 to 3 stops (or EV steps) longer than for a normal Sun.

 


PRACTICE4-Kendrick and Seymour Filters
Solar filters that clamp around the front of lenses are easier to remove than ones that screw onto lenses. They will bind and get stuck!
  1. Filter Removal

With the camera aimed away from the Sun (very important!), perhaps at a distant landscape feature, practice removing the filter quickly. Can you do it without jarring the camera and bumping it off target? Perhaps try this on the Moon at night as well, as it’s important to also test this with the camera and tripod aimed up high.

 


PRACTICE5-Nikon Screens on 80mm
Articulated LCD screens are a great aid for framing and viewing the eclipse in Live View when the camera is aimed up high, as it will be!
  1. Ease of Use

With the Sun up high at midday (as it will be during the eclipse from most sites), check that you can still look through, focus, and operate the camera easily. Can you read screens in the bright daylight? What about once it gets darker, as in twilight, which is how dark it will get during totality.

 


PRACTICE6-Sun Motion Composite
The east-to-west motion of the sky will carry the Sun its own diameter across the frame during totality, making consistent framing an issue with very long lenses and telescopes.
  1. Sun Motion

If you are using an untracked tripod, check how much the Sun moves across your camera frame during several minutes. For videos you might make use of that motion. For still shots, you’ll want to ensure the Sun doesn’t move too far off center.

 


PRACTICE7-HEQ5 with 80mm Mount N
An equatorial mount like this is great but needs to be at least roughly polar aligned to be useful.
  1. Aligning Tracking Mounts

If you plan to use a motorized equatorial mount capable of tracking the sky, “Plan A” might be to set it up the night before so it can be precisely polar aligned. But the reality is that you might need to move on eclipse morning. To prepare for that prospect, practice roughly polar aligning your mount during the day to see how accurate its tracking is over several minutes. Do that by leveling the mount, setting it to your site’s latitude, and aiming the polar axis as close as you can to due and true north. You don’t need precise polar alignment to gain the benefits of a tracking mount – it keeps the Sun centered – for the few minutes of totality.

 


The March Mini-Moon
The Full Moon is the same brightness as the Sun’s inner corona.

Telephotos and Telescopes – Shoot Full Moon Closeups 

  1. Exposure Check

Shoot the Full Moon around July 8 or August 7. If you intend to use Auto Exposure during totality, check how well it works on the Full Moon. It’s the same brightness as the inner corona of the Sun, though the Moon occupies a larger portion of the frame and covers more metering sensor points. This is another chance to check your focusing skill.

 


Impending Occultation of Beta Capricorni
The crescent Moon has a huge range in brightness and serves as a good test object. Remember, the Moon is the same size as the Sun. That’s why we get eclipses!

Telescopes and Telescopes – Shoot Crescent Moon Closeups

  1. Exposure Check

Shoot the waxing crescent moon in the evening sky during the last week of June and again in the last week of July. Again, test Auto Exposure with your camera in still or movie mode (if you intend to shoot video) to see how well the camera behaves on a subject with a large range in brightness. Or step through a range of exposures manually, from short for the bright sunlit crescent, to long for the dark portion of the Moon lit by Earthshine. It’s important to run through your range of settings quickly, just as you would during the two minutes of totality. But not too quickly, as you might introduce vibration. So …

 


PRACTICE10-2006 Libya-Short
Good focus matters for recording the fine prominences and sharp edge of the Moon.
  1. Sharpness Check

In the resulting images, check for blurring from vibration (from you handling the camera), from wind, and from the sky’s east-to-west motion moving the Moon across the frame, during typical exposures of 1 second or less.

 


By practicing, you’ll be much better prepared for the surprises that eclipse day inevitably bring. Always have a less ambitious “Plan B” for shooting the eclipse simply and quickly should a last-minute move be needed.

However, may I recommend …

How to Photograph the Solar Eclipse
My 295-page ebook on photographing the August 21 total eclipse of the Sun is now available. See http://www.amazingsky.com/eclipsebook.html It covers all techniques, for both stills, time-lapses, and video, from basic to advanced, plus a chapter on image processing. And a chapter on What Can Go Wrong?! The web page has all the details on content, and links to order the book from Apple iBooks Store (for the best image quality and navigation) or as a PDF for all other devices and platforms.

For much more detailed advice on shooting options and techniques, and for step-by-step tutorials on processing eclipse images, see my 295-page eBook on the subject, available as an iBook for Apple devices and as a PDF for all computers and tablets.

Check it out at my website page

Thanks and clear skies on August 21!

— Alan, June 24, 2017 / © 2017 Alan Dyer / amazingsky.com

 

Ten Tips for the Solar Eclipse


Total Eclipse from Libya 2006I present my Top 10 Tips for photographing the August 21 total eclipse of the Sun.

If the August total eclipse will be your first, then you could heed the advice of many and simply follow “Tip #0:” Just don’t photograph it! Look up and around to take in the spectacle. Even then, you will not see it all.

However, you might see less if you are operating a camera.

But I know you want pictures! To help you be successful, here are my tips for taking great photos without sacrificing seeing the eclipse.


TIP1-iPhone on Siriu Tripod
An iPhone in a tripod bracket and on a small tabletop tripod.

TIP #1: Keep It Simple

During the brief minutes of totality, the easiest way to record the scene is to simply hold your phone camera up to the sky and shoot. Zoom in if you wish, but a wide shot may capture more of the twilight effects and sky colors, which are as much a part of the experience as seeing the Sun’s gossamer corona around the dark disk of the Moon.

Better yet, use an adapter to clamp your phone to a tripod. Frame the scene as best you can (you might not be able to include both the ground and Sun) and shoot a time-lapse, or better yet, a video.

Start it 2 or 3 minutes before totality (if you can remember in the excitement!) and let the camera’s auto exposure take care of the rest. It’ll work fine.

That way you’ll also record the audio of your excited voices. The audio may serve as a better souvenir than the photos. Lots of people will have photos, but nobody else will record your reactions!

Just make sure your phone has enough free storage space to save several minutes of HD video or, if your camera has that feature, 4K video.


TIP2-2006 Libya Wide-Angle
A wide shot of the 2006 eclipse in Libya with a high altitude Sun. 10mm lens on a cropped-frame Canon 20Da camera.

TIP #2: Shoot Wide With a DSLR

For better image quality, step up to this hands-off technique.

Use a tripod-mounted camera that accepts interchangeable lenses (a digital single lens reflex or a mirrorless camera) and use a lens wide enough to take in the ground below and Sun above.

Depending on where you are and the sensor size in your camera, that’ll likely mean a 10mm to 24mm lens.

By going wide you won’t record details in the corona of the Sun or its fiery red prominences. But you can record the changing sky colors and perhaps the dark shadow of the Moon sweeping from right to left (west to east) across the sky. You can also include you and your eclipse group silhouetted in the foreground. Remember, no one else will record you at the eclipse.


TIP3-2012 Eclipse Movie Clip
A sequence of shots of the 2012 eclipse from Australia, with a wide 15mm lens and camera on Auto Exposure showing the change of sky color.
Total Eclipse of the Sun, Mid-Eclipse (Wide-Angle)
The total eclipse of the Sun, November 14, 2012, from a site near Lakeland Downs, Queensland, Australia. Shot with the Canon 5D Mark II and 15mm lens for a wide-angle view showing the Moon’s conical shadow darkening the sky and the twilight glow on the horizon. Taken near mid-eclipse.

TIP #3: Shoot on Auto Exposure

For wide shots, there’s no need to attend to the camera during the eclipse. Set the camera on Auto Exposure – Aperture Priority (Av), the camera ISO between 100 to 400, and your lens aperture to f/2.8 (fast) to f/5.6 (slow).

Use a higher ISO if you are using a slower lens such as a kit zoom. But shoot at ISO 100 and at f/2.8 if you have a wide lens that fast.

In Av mode the camera will decide what shutter speed to use as the lighting changes. I’ve used this technique at many eclipses and it works great.


TIP4-Pixel Intervalometer CU
An accessory intervalometer set for an interval of 1 second.

TIP #4: Let the Camera Do the Shooting

To make this wide-angle technique truly hands-off use an intervalometer (either built into your camera or a separate hardware unit) to fire the shutter automatically.

Once again, start the sequence going 3 to 5 minutes before totality, with the intervalometer set to fire the shutter once every second. Don’t shoot at longer intervals, or you’ll miss too much. Shutter speeds won’t likely exceed one second.

Again, be sure your camera’s memory card has enough free space for several hundred images. And don’t worry about a solar filter on your lens. It’ll be fine for the several minutes you’ll have it aimed up.

Out of the many images you’ll get, pick the best ones, or turn the entire set into a time-lapse movie.


TIP5-Manual Focus Switches Nikon
A Nikon DSLR and lens set to Manual Focus.

TIP #5: Shoot on Manual Focus

Use Auto Exposure and an intervalometer. But … don’t use Auto Focus.

Switch your lens to Manual Focus (MF) and focus on a distant scene element using Live View.

Or use Auto Focus to first focus on something in the distance, then switch to Manual and don’t touch focus after that. If you leave your lens on Auto Focus the shutter might not fire if the camera decides it can’t focus on the blank sky.


TIP6-Lightoom Wide-Angle
A comparison of a Raw image as it came from the camera (left) and after developing in Lightroom (right).

TIP #6: Shoot Raw

For demanding subjects like a solar eclipse always shoot your images in the Raw file format. Look in your camera’s menus under Image Quality.

Shoot JPGs, too, if you like, but only Raw files record the widest range of colors and brightness levels the camera sensor is capable of detecting.

Later in processing you can extract amazing details from Raw files, both in the dark shadows of the foreground, and in the bright highlights of the distant twilight glows and corona around the Sun. Software to do so came with your camera. Put it to use.


TIP7-200mm Lens on Tripod
A 200mm telephoto and 1.4x Extender, with the camera on a sturdy and finely adjustable tripod head.

TIP #7: OK, Use a Telephoto Lens! But …

If you really want to shoot close-ups, great! But don’t go crazy with focal length. Yes, using a mere 135mm or 200mm lens will yield a rather small image of the eclipsed Sun. But you don’t need a monster 600mm lens or a telescope, which typically have focal lengths starting at 600mm. With long focal lengths come headaches like:

 Keeping the Sun centered. The Earth is turning! During the eclipse that motion will carry the Sun (and Moon) its own diameter across your frame from east to west during the roughly two minutes of totality. While a motorized tracking mount can compensate for this motion, they take more work to set up properly, and must be powered. And, if you are flying to the eclipse, they will be much more challenging to pack. I’m trying to keep things simple!

 Blurring from vibration. This can be an issue with any lens, but the longer your lens, the more your chances of getting fuzzy images because of camera shake, especially if you are touching the camera to alter settings.

An ideal focal length is 300mm to 500mm. But …

When using any telephoto lens, always use a sturdy tripod with a head that is easy to adjust for precise aiming, and that can aim up high without any mechanical issues. The Sun will be halfway, or more, up the sky, not a position some tripod heads can reach.


Total Solar Eclipse (2012 from Australia)
A re-processed version of a still frame of the total solar eclipse of November 14, 2012 taken from our site at Lakeland Downs, Queensland, Australia. This is a still frame shot during the shooting of an HD video of the eclipse, using the cropped-frame Canon 60Da and Astro-Physics Traveler 4-inch apo refractor telescope at f/5.8 (580mm focal length). The image is 1/60th second at ISO 100. This is a full-sized still not a frame grab taken from the movie.
TIP8-Eclipse Movie Clip 2012
A sequence from a movie showing the camera adjusting the exposure automatically when going from a filtered view (left) to an unfiltered view of the diamond ring (right).

TIP #8: Use Auto Exposure, or … Shoot a Movie

During totality with your telephoto, you could manually step through a rehearsed set of exposures, from very short shutter speeds (as short as 1/4000 second) for the diamond rings at either end of totality, to as long as one or two seconds at mid-totality for the greatest extent of the corona’s outermost streamers.

But that takes a lot of time and attention away from looking. Yes, there are software programs for automating a camera, or techniques for auto bracketing. But if this is your first eclipse an easier option is to simply use Auto Exposure/Aperture Priority and let the camera set the shutter speed. Again, you could use an intervalometer to fire the shutter so you can just watch.

Don’t use high ISO speeds. A low ISO of 100 to 400 is all you need and will produce less noise. The eclipsed Sun is still bright. You don’t need ISO 800 to 3200.

Even on Auto Exposure, you’ll get good shots, just not of the whole range of phenomena an eclipsed Sun displays.

Or, once again and better yet – put your camera into video mode and shoot an HD or 4K movie. Auto Exposure will work just fine, allowing you to start the camera then forget it.

Place the Sun a solar diameter or two to the left of the frame and let the sky’s motion drift it across the frame for added effect. Start the sequence running a minute or two before totality with your solar filter on. Then just let the camera run … except …


TIP9-66mm on Stellarvue
A small refractor telescope with a solar filter over the front aperture. That filter has to be removed for totality.

TIP #9: Remember to Remove the Filter!

You will need a safe solar filter over your lens or telescope to shoot the partial phases of the eclipse, and to frame and focus the Sun. This cannot be a photo neutral density or polarizing filter. It must be a filter designed for observing and shooting the Sun, made of metal-coated glass or Mylar plastic. Anything else is not safe and likely far too bright.

But you do NOT need the filter for totality.

Remove it … when?

The answer: a minute or so before totality if you want to capture the first diamond ring just before totality officially starts. Set a timer to remind you, as visually it is very difficult to judge the right moment with your unaided eye. The eclipse will start sooner than you expect.

If you have your camera on Auto Exposure, it will compensate just fine for the change in brightness, from the filtered to the unfiltered view.

But don’t leave your unfiltered camera aimed at the Sun. Replace the filter no more than a minute or so after totality and the second diamond ring ends.


Partial Solar Eclipse and Sunspot #2
The partial eclipse of the Sun, October 23, 2014, shot through a mylar filter, on the front of the 66mm f/7 apo refractor shown above (450mm focal length), using a cropped-frame Canon 60Da camera for 1/8000 second exposure at ISO 100. Focus on the sharp tips of the crescent Sun or a sunspot if one is present.

TIP #10: Focus!

Everyone worries about getting the “best exposure.” Don’t! You’ll get great looking telephoto eclipse close-ups with any of a wide range of exposures.

What ruins most eclipse shots, other than filter forgetfulness, is fuzzy images, from either shaky tripods or poor focus.

Focus manually using Live View on the filtered partially eclipsed Sun. Zoom up on the edge of the Sun or sharp tip of the crescent. Re-focus a few minutes before totality, as the changing temperature can shift the focus of long lenses and telescopes.

But you needn’t worry about re-focusing after you remove the filter. The focus will not change with the filter off.


Me at 2006 Eclipse
Me in Libya in 2006 with my eclipse setup: a small telescope on an alt-azimuth mount.

TIP #1 AGAIN: Keep It Simple!

I’ll remind you to keep things simple for a reason other than giving you time to enjoy the view, and that’s mobility.

You might have to move at the last minute to escape clouds. Complex photo gear can be just too much to take down and set up, often with minutes to spare, as many an eclipse chaser can attest is often necessary. Keep your gear light, easy to use, and mobile. Committing to an overly ambitious and inflexible photo plan and rig could be your undoing.

To help ensure success, check out my next blog entry, Top 10 Tips for Practicing for the Eclipse.

By following both my “Ten Tips” advice blogs you should be able to get great eclipse images to wow your friends and fans, all without missing the experience of actually seeing … and feeling … the eclipse.

However … may I recommend …


How to Photograph the Solar Eclipse
My 295-page ebook on photographing the August 21 total eclipse of the Sun is now available. See http://www.amazingsky.com/eclipsebook.html  It covers all techniques, for both stills, time-lapses, and video, from basic to advanced, plus a chapter on image processing. And a chapter on What Can Go Wrong?! The web page has all the details on content, and links to order the book from Apple iBooks Store (for the best image quality and navigation) or as a PDF for all other devices and platforms. Thanks! Clear skies on eclipse day, August 21, 2017.

For much more detailed advice on shooting options and techniques, and for step-by-step tutorials on processing eclipse images, see my 295-page eBook on the subject, available as an iBook for Apple devices and as a PDF for all computers and tablets.

Check it out at my website page

Thanks and clear skies on August 21!

— Alan, June 23, 2017 / © 2017 Alan Dyer / amazingsky.com

 

How to Shoot the Solar Eclipse


Total Eclipse of the Sun Composite (2006 Libya)

The most spectacular sight the universe has to offer is coming to a sky near you this summer. 

On August 21 the Moon will eclipse the Sun, totally!, along a path that crosses the continental USA from coast to coast. All the details of where to go are at the excellent website GreatAmericanEclipse.com

If this will be your first total solar eclipse, you might want to just watch it. But many will want to photograph or video it. It can be easy to do, or it can be very complex, for those who are after ambitious composites and time-lapses.

To tell you how to shoot the eclipse, with all types of cameras, from cell phones to DSLRs, with all types of techniques, from simple to advanced, I’ve prepared a comprehensive ebook, How to Photograph the Solar Eclipse.

eclipseebookcover

It is 295 pages of sage advice, gathered over 38 years of shooting 15 total solar eclipses around the world.

The book is filled with illustrations designed specifically for the 2017 eclipse – where the Sun will be, how to frame the scene, what will be in the sky, how the shadow will move, where the diamond rings will be, what lenses to use, etc.


Here are a few sample pages:

eclipseebook-1

I cover shooting with everything from wide-angle cameras for the entire scene, to close-ups with long telephotos and telescopes, both on tripods and on tracking mounts.


eclipseebook-5

I cover all the details on exposures and camera settings, and on focusing and ensuring the sharpest images. Most bad eclipse pix are ruined not by poor exposure but poor focus and blurry images – the Sun is moving!


eclipseebook-6

A big chapter covers processing of eclipse images, again, from simple images to complex stacks and composites.


Total Solar Eclipse C3 Diamond Ring and Totality (2012 Australia

For example, I show how to produce a shot like this, from 2012, combining a short diamond ring image with a long-exposure image of the corona.


chapter-10

A final chapter covers “what can go wrong!” and how to avoid the common mistakes.


For details on the ebook content, see my webpage for the book at http://www.amazingsky.com/eclipsebook.html 

The ebook is available on the Apple iBooks Store for Mac and iOS devices. This version has the best interactivity (zoomable images), higher quality images (less compression), and easiest content navigation.

However, for non-Apple people and devices, the ebook can also be purchased directly from my website as a downloadable PDF, which has embedded hyperlinks to external sites.

I think you’ll find the ebook to be the most comprehensive guide to shooting solar eclipses you’ll find. It is up to date (as of last week!) and covers all the techniques for the digital age.

Many thanks, and clear skies on August 21, wherever you may be in the shadow of the Moon!

— Alan, February 28, 2017 / © 2017 Alan Dyer / amazingsky.com

 

The Beauty of Solar Eclipses


Beauty of Solar Eclipses Title

This is a video 37 years in the making, compiling images and videos I’ve shot of total solar eclipses since my first in 1979.

Though I’ve “sat out” on the last couple of total eclipses of the Sun in 2015 and 2016, I’m looking forward to once again standing in the shadow of the Moon in 2017 – on August 21.

If you have not yet seen a total eclipse of the Sun, and you live in North America, next year is your chance to. It is the most spectacular and awe-inspiring event you can witness in nature.

I hope my video montage relays some of the excitement of being there, as the Moon eclipses the Sun.

As always, click HD and enlarge to full screen.

My montage features images and movies shot in:

• Manitoba (1979)

• Chile (1994)

• Curaçao (1998)

• Turkey (1999)

• Zimbabwe (2001)

• Australia (2002)

• Over Antarctica (2003)

• South Pacific near Pitcairn Island (2005)

• Libya (2006)

• Over Arctic Canada (2008)

• South Pacific near the Cook Islands (2009)

• Australia (2012)

• Mid-Atlantic Ocean (2013)

Out of the 15 total solar eclipses I have been to, only the 1991 and 2010 eclipses that I did go to are not represented in the video, due to cloud. Though we did see much of the 1991 eclipse from Baja, clouds intervened part way through, thwarting my photo efforts.

And I only just missed the 2010 eclipse from Hikueru Atoll in the South Pacific as clouds came in moments before totality. Of course, it was clear following totality.

Cameras varied a lot over those years, from Kodachrome film with my old Nikon F, to digital SLRs; from 640×480 video with a Sony point-and-shoot camera, to HD with a DSLR.

I shot images through telescopes to capture the corona and prominences, and with wide-angle lenses to capture the landscape and lunar shadow. I rarely shot two eclipses the same way or with the same gear.

I hope you enjoy the video and will be inspired to see the August 21, 2017 eclipse. For more information about that eclipse, visit:

GreatAmericanEclipse.com

EclipseWise.com

eclipse2017.org

In addition, meteorologist and eclipse chaser Jay Anderson has the first and last words on eclipse weather prospects at:

eclipseophile.com

Clear skies in 2017!

— Alan, May 25, 2016 / © 2016 Alan Dyer / www.amazingsky.com

 

 

Transit of Mercury


Transit of Mercury near Sunrise

On May 9, a last-minute chase into clear skies netted me a view of the rare transit of Mercury across the Sun.

The forecast called for typical transit weather – clear the day before, and clear the day after. But the day of the transit of Mercury? Hopeless at home in Alberta, unless I chanced the prospects of some clearing forecast for central Alberta.

As the satellite image below, for 8:30 a.m. MDT on May 9, shows, that clearing did materialize. But I headed west, as far west as I needed to go to be assured of clear skies – to central BC. Kamloops in fact.

IMG_8031

I stayed at the Alpine Motel, got a great room as the end, and set up in the parking lot away from traffic. Not the most photogenic of observing sites, but I was happy! I had my clear skies!

IMG_8037

I set up two telescopes, above: a 130mm refractor to shoot through, and an 80mm refractor to look through. Both with dense solar filters!

Both worked great. However, low cloud prevented me seeing the Sun as soon as it cleared the eastern hills. So this was my first good look, below, at the transit as the Sun rose above the clouds.

Transit of Mercury near Sunrise
The May 9, 2016 transit of Mercury taken about half an hour after sunrise, as the Sun emerged from low horizon cloud. Taken from Kamloops, British Columbia, where the transit was well underway at sunrise. Mercury appears as the circular dot at lower left, with a sunpot group above centre. I shot this with the 130mm Astro-Physics refractor at f/6 prime focus with the Canon 60Da camera at ISO 100. Shot through a Kendrick white light solar filter. The low atltitude added much of the yellow colouration.

There it was – the fabled “little black spot on the Sun today.” Mercury is the dot at lower left, with a sunspot group at upper right. This was the first transit of Mercury since November 8, 2006. We see only about 13 Mercury transits a century, so in a lifetime of stargazing (the Sun is a star!) even the most avid amateur astronomer might see only a handful. This was only my third transit of Mercury.

Transit of Mercury in Clouds
The May 9, 2016 transit of Mercury taken about 45 minutes after sunrise, as the Sun emerged from low horizon cloud. I shot this with the 130mm Astro-Physics refractor at f/6 prime focus with the Canon 60Da camera at ISO 100. Shot through a Kendrick white light solar filter.

This was the view, above, a little later, as the Sun entered more assuredly clear skies. From about 7 a.m. PDT on, the Sun was in the clear most of the morning, with just occasional puffy clouds intervening now and then.

I shot still images every 30 seconds, to eventually turn into a time-lapse movie (after a ton of work hand registering hundreds of frames!).

But for now, I’ll be content with this composite of 40 frames, below, taken at 7-minute intervals. It shows the progress of Mercury across the Sun over the last 4.5 hours or so of the event, until egress at 11:38 a.m. PDT.

This motion is due to Mercury’s movement around the Sun. A transit is one of the few times you can easily see a planet actually orbiting the Sun.

Transit of Mercury (May 9, 2016) Composite with Arrow
For all images I used the 130mm f/6 Astro-Physics refractor with a 2X Barlow for an effective focal length of 1560mm and the Canon 60Da camera (at ISO 100) to yield an image size with the Sun just filling the frame. Exposures were 1/250th second through a Kendrick white light Mylar filter. Yellow colouration of the solar disk added in processing.

In this composite, the disks of Mercury are not all perfect dots. The wobbly seeing conditions distorted the images from frame to frame. But I used the actual images taken at that moment, rather than clone some perfect image across the disk to simulate the path.

To wrap up, here’s Mercury Transit: The Movie! I shot several HD and zoomed-in “crop mode” movies at the beginning of the transit and again at the final egress. Commentary is from me talking live into the camera mic as I was shooting the clips. Background noise is courtesy Pacific Drive and the Trans-Canada Highway!

Enjoy, and do enlarge to HD and full-screen for the best look.

 

The next transit of Mercury is November 11, 2019. If you are hoping for a transit of Venus, good luck. The next is not until December 10, 2117!

– Alan, May 15, 2016 / © 2016 Alan Dyer / www.amazingsky.com

 

The Lunar Eclipse, to True Scale


This is a multiple-exposure composite of the total lunar eclipse of Sunday, September 27, 2015, as shot from Writing-on-Stone Provincial Park, Alberta, Canada. From this location the Moon rose in the east at lower left already in partial eclipse. As it rose it moved into Earth’s shadow and became more red and the sky darkened from twilight to night, bringing out the stars. Then, as the Moon continued to rise higher it emerged from the shadow, at upper right, and returned to being a brilliant Moon again, here overexposed and now illuminating the landscape with moonlight. The disks of the Moon become overexposed here as the sky darkened because I was setting exposures to show the sky and landscape well, not just the Moon itself. That’s because I shot the frames used to assemble this multiple-exposure still image primarily for use as a time-lapse movie where I wanted the entire scene well exposed in each frame. Indeed, for this still image composite of the eclipse from beginning to end, I selected just 40 frames taken at 5-minute intervals, out of 530 I shot in total, taken at 15- to 30-second intervals for the full time-lapse sequence. All were taken with a fixed camera, a Canon 6D, with a 35mm lens, to nicely frame the entire path of the Moon, from moonrise at left, until it left the frame at top right, as the partial eclipse was ending. The ground comes from a blend of 3 frames taken at the beginning, middle and end of the sequence, so is partly lit by twilight, moonlight and starlight. Lights at lower left are from the Park’s campground. The sky comes from a blend of 2 exposures: one from the middle of the eclipse when the sky was darkest and one from the end of the eclipse when the sky was now deep blue. The stars come from the mid-eclipse frame, a 30-second exposure. PLEASE NOTE: The size of the Moon and its path across the sky are accurate here, because all the images for this composite were taken with the same lens using a camera that did not m

My multiple-exposure composite shows the complete September 27, 2015 total lunar eclipse to true scale, with the Moon accurately depicted in size and position in the sky.

From my location at Writing-on-Stone Provincial Park in southern Alberta, Canada, the Moon rose in the east at lower left already in partial eclipse.

As it rose it moved into Earth’s shadow and became more red, while the sky darkened from twilight to night, bringing out the stars.

Then, as the Moon continued to rise higher it emerged from Earth’s shadow, at upper right, and returned to a brilliant Full Moon again, here overexposed and now illuminating the landscape with moonlight.


TECHNICAL

The disks of the Moon become overexposed in my composite as the sky darkened because I was setting exposures to show the sky and landscape well, not just the Moon itself. That’s because I shot these frames – and many more! – primarily for use as a time-lapse movie where I wanted the entire scene well exposed in each frame.

Indeed, for this still-image composite of the eclipse from beginning to end, I used just 40 frames taken at 5-minute intervals, selected from 530 I shot, taken at 15- to 30-second intervals for the full time-lapse sequence.

All were taken with a fixed camera, a Canon 6D, with a 35mm lens, to nicely frame the entire path of the Moon, from moonrise at lower left, until it exited the frame at top right, as the partial eclipse was ending.

In the interest of full disclosure, the ground comes from a blend of three frames taken at the beginning, middle, and end of the sequence, and so is partly lit by twilight and moonlight, to reveal the ground detail better than in the single starlit frame from mid-eclipse. Lights at lower left are from the Park’s campground.

The background sky comes from a blend of two exposures: one from the middle of the eclipse when the sky was darkest, and one from the end of the eclipse when the sky was now lit deep blue. The stars come from the mid-eclipse frame, a 30-second exposure.


MY RANT FOR REALITY

So, yes, this is certainly a composite assembled in Photoshop – a contrast to the old days of film where one might attempt such an image just by exposing the same piece of film multiple times, usually with little success.

However … the difference between this image and most you’ve seen on the web of this and other eclipses, is that the size of the Moon and its path across the sky are accurate, because all the images for this composite were taken with the same lens using a camera that did not move during the 3-hour eclipse.

This is how big the Moon actually appeared in the sky in relation to the ground and how it moved across the sky during the eclipse, in what is essentially a straight line, not a giant curving arc as in many viral eclipse images.

And, sorry if the size of the Moon seems disappointingly small, but it is small! This is what a lunar eclipse really looks like to correct scale.

By comparison, many lunar eclipse composites you’ve seen are made of giant moons shot with a telephoto lens that the photographer then pasted into a wide-angle sky scene, often badly, and pasted in locations on the frame that usually bear no resemblance to where the Moon actually was in the sky, but are just placed where the photographer thought would look the nicest.

You would never, ever do that for any other form of landscape photography, at least not without having your reputation tarnished. But with the Moon it seems anything is permitted, even amongst professional landscape photographers.

No, you cannot just place a Moon anywhere you like in your image, eclipse or no eclipse, then pass it off as a real image. Fantasy art perhaps. Fine. But not a photograph of nature.

Sorry for the rant, but I prefer accuracy over fantasy in such lunar eclipse scenes, which means NOT having monster-sized red Moons looming out of proportion and in the wrong place over a landscape. Use Photoshop to inform, not deceive.

– Alan, October 4, 2015 / © 2015 Alan Dyer / www.amazingsky.com 

A Super Eclipse of the Moon


The Full Moon rises in partial eclipse over the sandstone formations of Writing-on-Stone Provincial Park in southern Alberta, on the evening of September 27, 2015. This was the night of a total lunar eclipse, which was in progress in its initial partial phase as the Moon rose this night. The blue band on the horizon containing the Moon is the shadow of Earth on our atmosphere, while the dark bite taken out of the lunar disk is the shadow of Earth on the Moon. The pink band above is the Belt of Venus. This is a two-image panorama stitched to extend the scene vertically to take in more sky and ground than one frame could accommodate. Both shot with the 200mm lens and 1.4x extender, on the Canon 5DMkII.

I could not have asked for a more perfect night for a lunar eclipse. It doesn’t get any better!

On Sunday, September 27, the Moon was eclipsed for the fourth time in two years, the last in a “tetrad” of total lunar eclipses that we’ve enjoyed at six-month intervals since April 2014. This was the best one by far.

The Full Moon rising in partial eclipse on the night of September 27, 2015, night of a total eclipse that began with the partial phase in progress at moonrise from my location. The pink Belt of Venus colours the sky at top. The Moon sits in the blue shadow of the Earth, which also partly obscures the disk of the Moon. I shot this from Writing-on-Stone Provincial Park, Alberta. This is through the TMB 92mm refractor for a focal length of 550mm using the Canon 60Da at ISO 400 for 1/250 second.
This is through the TMB 92mm refractor for a focal length of 500mm using the Canon 60Da at ISO 400 for 1/250 second.

The timing was perfect for me in Alberta, with the Moon rising in partial eclipse (above), itself a fine photogenic site.

In the top image you can see the rising Moon embedded in the blue band of Earth’s shadow on our atmosphere, and also entering Earth’s shadow on its lunar disk. This was a perfect alignment, as lunar eclipses must be.

For my earthly location I drove south to near the Montana border, to a favourite location, Writing-on-Stone Provincial Park, to view the eclipse over the sandstone formations of the Milk River.

The image below shows a screen shot of my site plan and viewing angles using The Photographer’s Ephemeris app.

IMG_2515

More importantly, weather forecasts for the area called for perfectly clear skies, a relief from the clouds forecast – and which did materialize – at home to the north, and would have been a frustration to say the least. Better to drive 3 hours!

This was the second lunar eclipse I viewed from Writing-on-Stone, having chased clear skies to here in the middle of the night for the October 8, 2014 eclipse.

Me, in a selfie, observing a total eclipse of the Moon with binoculars on September 27, 2015, from Writing-on-Stone Provincial Park, Alberta. I had three cameras set up to shoot the eclipse and a fourth to shoot the scene like this. The night was perfect for the eclipse. The Moon is in totality here, with the stars and Moon trailed slightly from the long exposure.

I shot with three cameras: one doing a time-lapse through the telescope, one doing a wide-angle time-lapse of the Moon rising, and the third for long-exposure tracked shots during totality, of the Moon and Milky Way.

The Moon in total eclipse on September 27, 2015 – the “supermoon” eclipse – shining red over the Milk River and sandstone formations at Writing-on-Stone Provincial Park in southern Alberta, with the Milky Way in full view in the sky darkened by the lunar eclipse. The Sweetgrass Hills of Montana are to the south. The centre of the Milky Way is at far right. The Andromeda Galaxy is at upper left. The Moon was in Pisces below the Square of Pegasus. It was a perfectly clear night, ideal conditions for shooting the eclipse and stars. This is a stack of 5 x 2-minute tracked exposures for the sky and 5 x 4-minute untracked exposures for the ground to smooth noise. The Moon itself comes from a short 30-second exposure to avoid overexposing the lunar disk. Illumination of the ground is from starlight. All exposures with the 15mm lens at f/2.8 and Canon 5D MkII at ISO 1600. The camera was on the iOptron Sky-Tracker.
This is a stack of 5 x 2-minute tracked exposures for the sky and 5 x 4-minute untracked exposures for the ground to smooth noise. The Moon itself comes from a short 30-second exposure to avoid overexposing the lunar disk. Illumination of the ground is from starlight. All exposures with the 15mm lens at f/2.8 and Canon 5D MkII at ISO 1600. The camera was on the iOptron Sky-Tracker.

That image is above. It shows the eclipsed Moon at left, with the Milky Way at right, over the Milk River valley and with the Sweetgrass Hills in the distance.

The sky was dark only during the time of totality. As the Moon emerged from Earth’s shadow the sky and landscape lit up again, a wonderful feature of lunar eclipses.

While in the above shot I did layer in a short exposure of the eclipsed Moon into the long exposure of the sky, it is still to accurate scale, unlike many dubious eclipse images I see where giant moons have been pasted into photos, sometimes at least in the right place, but often not.

Lunar eclipses bring out the worst in Photoshop techniques.

The total eclipse of the Moon of September 27, 2015, in closeup through a telescope, at mid-totality with the Moon at its darkest and deepest into the umbral shadow, in a long exposure to bring out the stars surrounding the dark red moon. This was also the Harvest Moon for 2015 and was the perigee Full Moon, the closest Full Moon of 2015. This is a single exposure taken through the TMB 92mm refractor at f/5.5 for 500 mm focal length using the Canon 60Da at ISO 400 for 8 seconds, the longest I shot during totality. The telescope was on the SkyWatcher HEQ5 mount tracking at the lunar rate.
This is a single exposure taken through the TMB 92mm refractor at f/5.5 for 500 mm focal length using the Canon 60Da at ISO 400 for 8 seconds, the longest I shot during totality. The telescope was on the SkyWatcher HEQ5 mount tracking at the lunar rate.

Above is a single closeup image taken through the telescope at mid-totality. I exposed for 8 seconds to bring out the colours of the shadow and the background stars, as faint as they were with the Moon in star-poor Pisces.

I shot a couple of thousand frames and processing of those into time-lapses will take a while longer, in particular registering and aligning the 700 I shot at 15-second intervals through the telescope. They show the Moon entering, passing through, then exiting the umbra, while it moves against the background stars.

Me celebrating a successful total eclipse of the Moon during the final partial phases, observed and shot from Writing-on-Stone Provincial Park, Alberta, on September 27, 2015. I shot with 3 cameras, with a 4th to record the scene. Two of the cameras at centre are still shooting time-lapses of final partial phases. The camera at right was used to take long tracked exposures of the Milky Way during totality. The telescope at left was used just to look!

So I was a happy eclipse chaser! I managed to see all four of the lunar eclipses in the current tetrad, two from Alberta, one from Australia, and one from Monument Valley.

With the latest success, I’ve had my fill of lunar eclipses for a while. Good thing, as the next one is not until January 31, 2018, before dawn in the dead of winter.

With the mild night, great setting, and crystal clear skies, this “supermoon” eclipse could not have been better. It was a super eclipse.

– Alan, September 29, 2015 / © 2015 Alan Dyer / www.amazingsky.com

Red Moon over the Red Rocks of Monument Valley


Lunar Eclipse Sequence from Monument Valley

What a great site to watch the Moon turn red in a total eclipse.

I can’t recall a more scenic total eclipse of the Moon. I planned this site as best I could from Google maps and other apps, and the location proved ideal.

As the Moon went into the Earth’s shadow it set into the notch between the two peaks of this mesa at Monument Valley, Utah. It was a stunning celestial sight seen from one of the most dramatic scenic sites on the planet.

This was the total lunar eclipse on the morning of April 4, 2015, an eclipse that was barely total with just 4 minutes of totality with the Moon within Earth’s umbral shadow. The top of the Moon, grazing the edge of our planet’s shadow, always appeared bright white, as expected.

The lead image is a composite of many exposures: short ones for the partial phases that flank a longer exposure for the single image of totality and and even longer exposure for the sky and landscape, all taken over the course of 2.5 hours with a fixed camera – don’t bump the tripod!

Lunar Eclipse over Monument Valley Mesa

I shot this image with the second camera riding on a tracking platform. It is a bend of three exposures: two long ones for the sky and ground and a short exposure to retain the Moon and avoid it turning into a white overexposed blob.

The long sky exposure was taken with the tracker on, to keep the stars as pinpoints, while for the ground exposure I turned the tracker motor off to keep the ground sharp. I layered and masked these with Photoshop.

Lunar Eclipse at Dawn from Monument Valley

The last image is a single image only, just one exposure, taken a few minutes after the end of totality as the sky was quickly brightening with the blue of dawn. It captures the naked-eye scene.

I shot all these from my B&B for the weekend, the Tear Drop Arch B&B, named for the arch on the mesa at left in these images. I chose the spot to provide a scenic foreground to the western-sky eclipse without having to drive miles in the pre-dawn hours. I was moments away from bed as the sun rose and the eclipsed Moon set.

Next lunar eclipse: September 27, 2015, in the evening for North America.

– Alan, April 4, 2015 / © 2015 Alan Dyer / www.amazingsky.com

Heads Up! – The Easter Eclipse of the Moon


Total Eclipse of the Hunter's Moon

On the morning of April 4 (for North America) the Moon turns bright red in the third of four lunar eclipses in a row.

We’ve been enjoying a spate of total lunar eclipses over the last year. We had one a year ago on April 15 and again on October 8, 2014. This weekend, we can enjoy the third lunar eclipse in a year.

This Saturday, the Moon undergoes a total eclipse lasting just 4 minutes, making this the shortest total lunar eclipse since the year 1529. Typically, lunar eclipses last 30 to 60 minutes for the total phase, when the Full Moon is completely within Earth’s shadow.

But this eclipse is barely total, with the Moon grazing across the northern edge of the umbral shadow, as this diagram courtesy of SkyNews magazine illustrates. (Click on the image to enlarge it.)

Lunar Eclipse Diagram

• The partial eclipse begins at 4:15 a.m. Mountain Daylight Time on the morning of Saturday, April 4 for North America.

• Totality (when the Moon is reddest and darkest) is from 5:58 to 6:02 a.m. MDT.

• The partial eclipse ends at 7:44 a.m. MDT.

Add one hour for Central time, and subtract one hour for Pacific time.

LE2015Apr04T

This lunar eclipse is best from western North America where totality can be seen. From eastern North America, in the grey zones here, the Moon sets while in the initial partial phase and before totality begins. Those in Australia and New Zealand can also see the eclipse, but late on the night of April 4 into April 5. Europe and Africa miss out.

Total Lunar Eclipse (Dec 10, 2011)

Even from western North America, the Moon will be eclipsed while it is setting into the west, and the sky is brightening with dawn twilight, presenting a view such as in the above photo, which I took in December 2011.

This eclipse occurs over the Easter and Passover weekend – and actually on Easter for some time zones. The last time we had a total lunar eclipse on Easter Sunday was March 23, 1913. The next to occur on Easter won’t be until April 14, 2340.

If you miss this eclipse, you have one more chance this year. On Sunday, September 27, conveniently timed for the evening in North America, we have the last in a “tetrad” series of four total lunar eclipses. After that, we wait until January 31, 2018.

For more details, see the April/May issue of SkyNews magazine.

Clear skies!

– Alan, March 30, 2015 / © 2015 Alan Dyer / www.amazingsky.com

A Stellar Occultation by the Moon


Impending Occultation of Beta Capricorni

The double star Beta Capricorni disappears in a wink behind the Earthlit edge of the Moon.

The evening of Wednesday, November 26 provided a bonus celestial event, the eclipse of a double star by the Moon.

The star is Beta Capricorni, also known as Dabih. I had a ringside seat Wednesday night as the waxing Moon hid the star in what’s called an occultation.

Dabih is a wide double star, composed of a bright magnitude 3 main star, Beta1 Capricorni, and a fainter magnitude 6 companion, Beta 2 Capricorni. You can see both in the still image view at top. Their wide separation makes them easy to split in binoculars.

In reality, they are separated in space by an enormous gap of 21,000 times the distance from the Earth to the Sun. By comparison, distant Pluto lies an average of just 40 times the Earth-Sun distance.

With such a wide separation Beta1 and Beta2 take an estimated 700,000 years to orbit each other.

Beta1 is a giant orange star 600 times more luminous than our own Sun and 35 times bigger. Beta2 is a blue subgiant 40 times more luminous that the Sun.

Adding to the complexity of the system, Beta2 is also a close double, while Beta1 is a tight triple star, making for a quintuple star system.

The movie below records each occultation, first of the fainter blue Beta2 star, then of the brighter Beta1 star.

Each occultation happens in an instant to the eye. However, stepping through the video shows that the brighter star took 4 video frames to dim, about 1/10th of a second. Whether this is real, due to the star’s giant size, or just an effect of the twinkling of the atmosphere, is questionable.

Technical notes:

The still photo is a “high dynamic range” stack of 12 exposures from 4 seconds to 1/500th second, taken with the Canon 60Da camera at ISO 400, to capture the huge range in brightness, from the dark side of the Moon and stars, to the bright sunlit crescent. I used Photoshop’s HDR Pro module to stack the images and Adobe Camera Raw in 32-bit mode to do the tone-mapping, the process that compresses the brightness range into a final image.

I shot the video with the 60Da camera as well, setting it to ISO 6400, and using its video mode to record real-time video clips, both in HD 1920×1080 for the wide-field “establishing shots,” and in its unique 640×480 Movie Crop mode for the close-ups of the actual occultations. Those two clips appear as inset movies. I edited and processed the clips, plus added the titles, using Photoshop and its video capabilities.

All were shot from New Mexico with the TMB 92mm refractor at f/5.5.

– Alan, November 28, 2014 / © 2014 Alan Dyer

Red Moon over Writing-on-Stone


Red Moon over Writing-on-Stone

The red eclipsed Moon shines over the Milk River, with Orion over the Sweetgrass Hills.

This was the scene at 4:45 this morning, October 8, from my observing site for the lunar eclipse, Writing-on-Stone Provincial Park in southern Alberta.

The eclipsed red Moon shines at far right over the Milk River and sandstone formations of Writing-on-Stone Park, home to ancient petroglyphs, and a sacred site to First Nations people.

At left are the Sweetgrass Hills across the border in Montana. Above shine the stars of Orion, with his Dog Star Sirius below. Above is Taurus, with Aldebaran and the Pleiades cluster.

The night was fairly clear for the hour of totality, though with high haze fuzzing the stars and Moon. But considering the cloud I had driven 3 hours to escape I was happy.

Self-Portrait at Oct 8, 2014 Total Lunar Eclipse

Here I am in a 5:30 a.m. selfie by starlight and moonlight, with the clouds I had escaped now rolling in to cover the Moon as it began to emerge from Earth’s shadow.

No matter. I had captured what I had come for: the nightscape above (with a 14mm lens), and close-ups shot through this telescope gear, one of which I featured in my previous post.

– Alan, October 8, 2014 / © 2014 Alan Dyer

 

Eclipse of the Hunter’s Moon


Total Eclipse of the Hunter's Moon

The Hunter’s Moon of 2014 turned deep red during a total lunar eclipse.

It wouldn’t be an eclipse without a chase!

To see and shoot this total eclipse of the Hunter’s Moon I had to chase clear skies, seeking out the only clear area for hundreds of miles around, requiring a 3-hour drive to the south of me in Alberta, to near the Canada-US border, at Writing-on-Stone Provincial Park.

It was worth the midnight trek, though I arrived on site and got set up with just 10 minutes to go before the start of totality.

But I was very pleased to see the sky remain mostly clear for all of totality, with only some light haze adding the glow around the eclipsed Moon. Remarkably, the clouds closed in and hid the Moon just after totality ended.

This is a single 15-second exposure at ISO 400 with a Canon 60Da, shooting through an 80mm apo refractor at f/6 and on an equatorial mount tracking the sky at the lunar rate. I shot this shortly after mid-totality. It shows how the Moon’s northern limb, closest to the edge of the umbral shadow, remained bright throughout totality.

It shows lots of stars, with the brightest being greenish Uranus at the 8 o’clock position left of the Moon, itself shining in opposition and at a remarkably close conjunction with the Moon at eclipse time.

More images are to come! But this is the result of fast processing after a dawn drive back home and an all-nighter chasing and shooting an eclipse.

– Alan, October 8, 2014 / © 2014 Alan Dyer

 

The Rising of a Pre-Eclipse Moon


Rising Pre-Eclipse Moon #4 (Oct 6, 2014)

‘Twas the night before the night before … an eclipse of the Moon.

This was the beautiful moonrise tonight, on Monday, October 6, two days – by calendar date – before the total lunar eclipse on October 8.

However, as the eclipse occurs at pre-dawn on October 8, it’s really just a day and half to go before the Moon turns red as it passes through Earth’s shadow.

I shot these as the gibbous Moon, waxing toward Full, rose over the harvested field to the east of home. The setting Sun nicely lit the clouds which partly hide the Moon.

Rising Pre-Eclipse Moon #1 (Oct 6, 2014)

Earlier in the evening, I grabbed this shot as the Moon appeared and two white-tailed deer ran through the yard and out into the field below the rising Moon. Moon deer!

TLE2014Oct08-MDT

This is the sequence that will happen early on October 8, in a diagram courtesy Fred Espenak at EclipseWise.com. The times are for Mountain Daylight, my local time zone. The eclipse will be total from 4:25 to 5:24 a.m. MDT (6:25 to 7:24 a.m. EDT) when the Moon will be immersed in the umbral shadow and will appear deep red.

Use binoculars for the best view of the colours. An eclipsed Moon looks wonderful, like a glowing red globe lit from within, but it’s really lit by the red sunlight from all the sunsets and sunrises going on around the world at once.

The next total lunar eclipses are April 4, 2015 (again pre-dawn) and September 27, 2015 (at convenient early evening hours), both visible from North America.

Clear skies and happy eclipsing!

– Alan, October 6, 2014 / © 2014 Alan Dyer

 

Lunar Eclipse from Oz


Total Lunar Eclipse (April 15, 2014) #1

The eclipsed red Moon rises over the waters of Lake Macquarie on the east coast of Australia.

I was still in Australia for this eclipse and managed to see and shoot it, but only just!

Total Lunar Eclipse (April 15, 2014) #2

I was on the Central Coast of New South Wales, where clouds and rain have been prevalent all week, in part caused by departing remnants of Cyclone Ita. The prospects for seeing this eclipse from the coast looked bleak indeed.

Total Lunar Eclipse (April 15, 2014) #3

From eastern Australia, the Moon rose at sunset in mid-eclipse on our evening of April 15. I was with family in Australia and so we made an evening picnic of the event, joining a few others in the lakeside park who were there to also see the eclipsed Moon over Lake Macquarie, Australia’s largest salt water lake. I wanted to catch this eclipse over water, to see the effect above — the “glitter path” from the Moon but one turned red by the eclipsed Moon.

Total Lunar Eclipse (April 15, 2014) #4

As we were about to give up, I caught sight of the Moon as it rose into breaks in the cloud, revealing the red Moon near Spica and Mars. We saw the last of totality and the early stages of the final partial eclipse. But later in the evening clouds rolled in again and the rain poured down. Indeed, I took my last images of the eclipse with light rain falling and the cameras getting wet. This isn’t the first eclipse I’ve watched in the rain!

I shot with fixed cameras with 50mm and 135mm lenses. The top image is a 135mm telephoto shot, the other three are with the 50mm lens.

— Alan, April 16, 2014 / © 2014 Alan Dyer

 

 

 

The Eclipse in Time-Lapse


Total Solar Eclipse - 2nd Contact Diamond Ring (Nov 3 2013)

Here’s the Atlantic Crossing eclipse in time-lapse from the deck of the spv Star Flyer.

The above image is a still frame from the time-lapse movie I took on November 3, 2013 of the 44-second-long total eclipse of the Sun from the mid-Atlantic Ocean. It shows the first diamond ring (second contact) as totality began.

Below is the full time-lapse.

The movie is from 385 frames shot from before totality until well after. It shows just how lucky were were at seeing this eclipse, with the Sun coming out into a deep blue sky moments before totality and going back into thin cloud just as the total eclipse ends.

You’ll also appreciate the rolling of the ship, sped up here in the time-lapse, with frames taken one second apart.

Below is a still frame of the final diamond ring (third contact). Notice the difference in the brightness of the distant clouds in this image versus the one above. In the main image at top the clouds below the Sun had not yet entered the Moon’s umbral shadow.

But in the image below, the clouds are immersed in the lunar shadow and are about to be lit up again as the shadow races away from us in the direction toward the Sun.

Total Solar Eclipse - 3rd Contact Diamond Ring (Nov 3 2013)

In the time-lapse you can see the shadow enter the scene at top, then depart at the bottom of the frame below the Sun. As it shoots away from us, the shadow darkens the horizon far in the distance further down the path, bringing totality to those on the path to the east.

– Alan, November 11, 2013 / © 2013 Alan Dyer

Red Sky at Night … Sailor’s Delight


Sunset over the Atlantic (Nov 8, 2013) #2

We saw many wonderful sunsets on our sail across the Atlantic, but this was one of the finest.

This was the sky two nights ago, on the evening of November 8, as the Sun, now below the horizon, lit up the clouds to the west. You can see a few people out in the netting of the bow sprit taking in the view.

Sunset and Sails (Nov 8, 2013)

Here was the view looking up into the square rigged sails on the foremast. “The sky is on fire” was the comment I heard from folks on deck.

Red Rainbow over the Atlantic (Nov 8, 2013)

Contributing to our theme of a rainbow eclipse trip, a red rainbow appeared to the east, lit by the light of the setting Sun. What a wonderful sky this was!

Indeed, one of the other astronomers on board tallied up the number of naked eye sky sights he had seen on the voyage. It was an impressive list, equalling what had previously taken him over 30 years of sky gazing to accumulate.

I’m writing this post from back on land, now in Barbados at a latitude of 13° north. However, now that I have high-speed connectivity I can get caught up with posts from the sea voyage, with a couple of more to come from at sea.

– Alan, November 10, 2013 / © 2013 Alan Dyer

The Post-Eclipse Moon over the Atlantic


Moon & Venus Post Eclipse (Nov 6, 2013) #1

Following any total solar eclipse it’s traditional to look for the crescent Moon as it returns to the evening sky.

This was the view on November 6, three days after Sunday’s total solar eclipse when the waxing Moon was near Venus, with both high in our tropical sky as we finish our sail across the Atlantic. As I write this, we have just sighted the lights of Barbados off the port side as we round the north end of the island. It’s our first sighting of any other sign of civilization in two weeks, since we left the Canary Islands.

Moon & Venus Post Eclipse (Nov 7, 2013) #2

This view is from the next night, November 7, with the Moon higher and well above Venus, set amid the square rigged sails of the Star Flyer clipper ship.

It’s been a fabulous voyage across the Atlantic, with largely calm seas and beautiful weather on most days.

Tomorrow I start a week stay in Barbados.

– Alan, November 9, 2013 / © 2013 Alan Dyer

 

 

 

 

Eclipse on the Atlantic – Success!


Total Eclipse of the Sun from the Atlantic (Nov 3, 2013)With minutes to go until totality it was unclear – literally! – if we were going to see the eclipse.

We have a happy ship of 150 eclipse chasers. On Sunday, November 3 a morning of gloomy faces gave way to smiles and exclamations of joy as the captain of spv Star Flyer piloted our ship into a clear hole in the clouds. We enjoyed a stunningly clear view of totality – all 49 seconds of it – with the eclipsed Sun set in a deep blue sky.

My image above captures some aspects of the scene as it appeared off the port bow of the ship.

But it fails to show just how colourful this eclipse was. Because it was a short eclipse, with the Moon’s disk barely large enough to cover the Sun, the hallmark of this eclipse was the brilliant pink chromosphere that was visible all around the Sun during the entire eclipse, with bits of prominences sticking out.

The pink ring was set amid the silvery-white and symmetrical corona, which in turn was set in a dark blue sky, above the yellow twilit horizon. The naked eye view and the view through binoculars was stunning. It was the most colourful eclipse I can recall, and this was total eclipse #15 for me.

This was also the first eclipse where we had the ability to adjust its time to suit our schedule. We should have been in the -3h GMT time zone at our longitude in the mid-Atlantic. But in a pre-eclipse planning meeting we decided to keep the ship’s clocks on -1 GMT until after the eclipse. This put totality at 10:30 a.m. our time, making it convenient for everyone to have breakfast before the eclipse and not interfere with lunch! That’s the luxury of being on a small ship dedicated to seeing the eclipse. The captain and crew have been fantastic.

The second contact diamond ring was prolonged, with the last bits of the Sun breaking up into beads of light as the Sun disappeared behind valleys and craters on the Moon. The third contact diamond ring appeared as a sharp, tiny but brilliant point of light exploding off the top edge of the Moon. It happened all too soon.

In the days leading up to the eclipse we worked with Captain Yuriy Slastenin to choose a new intercept point 160 nautical miles east of our original site, one that would give us another 6 seconds of totality but still allow us to maintain our schedule of reaching Barbados on Sunday, November 10.

Our new site was 17° 0’ 0” North and 37° 11’ 56” West, smack on the centreline. The captain got us to that precise spot about an hour before sunrise, exactly when planned.

But after a week of beautifully clear skies on the sail down from the Canary Islands, the sky on eclipse morning was filled with cloud and unsettled weather. We had rain showers and rainbows Sunday morning, but with tantalizing clear holes coming and going all morning and dappling the ocean with spots of sunlight in the distance.

Partial Eclipse Through Filter (Nov 3, 2013)

I shot this view during one of the clear breaks leading to totality when the Sun and spirits brightened, only to be dashed again as clouds rolled in. The weather took us on an emotional roller coaster all morning.

In the minutes leading up to totality the captain was at the helm and propelled us under full engine power into a clear hole that opened up just before totality. We ended up 1.7 nautical miles east of our choice position and slightly south of the centre line, but with the same 49 seconds of totality.

Eclipse Site Map

The image above shows our ship’s track during the eclipse, from the intended site, first drifting around the intercept point, then heading southeast toward clear skies. The track then heads straight west, as we set sail again toward Barbados soon after totality while the champagne was being served.

Our success speaks to the maneuvering advantage of a ship in tropical climates. I’ve now seen three total eclipses from ships at sea at tropical latitudes, and we’ve always had to move at the last minute to get into clear holes.

Of course, the worst weather we’ve encountered so far on the voyage was on eclipse day and the day after, yesterday. As I write this, on Tuesday, November 5, the day is hot and sunny, and the ocean as calm as we’ve seen it. (I’ve not been able to post anything until now as our ship’s connection to the internet via the Inmarsat satellite has been off-line for the last few days.)

As totality ended the Sun went into thin cloud again. From then on that morning we saw the Sun only briefly during the final partial phases.

But no one cared. We saw what we had sailed across the Atlantic to see. It is a happy ship of shadow chasers.

The trip was organized by Betchart Expeditions who chartered the Star Flyer, a 4-masted sailing ship, one of three sailing ships in the Star Clipper line. I’m serving as one of the guest speakers on a program packed with speakers and great talks. After all, we are at sea for two full weeks, crossing the Atlantic from the Canaries to Barbados, with nothing but a limitless horizon in view for all that time. And the eclipse!

– Alan, November 5, 2013 / © 2013 Alan Dyer

Sailing to the Sun


Cloud Shadows Near Sunset over the Atlantic

As we continue our sail across the Atlantic, our heading takes us southwest, directly toward the setting Sun.

This was the scene last night, a day out from the Canary Islands, as we set our course toward the eclipse intercept point. Our heading of roughly 245° takes us into the setting Sun each evening.

We’re now often under sail alone, with engines off. As Columbus and all trans-Atlantic explorers did, we’re letting the northeast trade winds blow us across the ocean. Under their steady force, we’re making a good 8 to 9 knots, sufficient to get us to the eclipse path on the appointed day and time on November 3.

Moon Amid the Rigging

On that day the Moon, seen here as a waning crescent in yesterday morning’s sky amid our square-rigged sails on the 4-masted Star Flyer, will cover the Sun for 44 seconds.

Tonight, October 28, was a magical night. Many of the eclipse tour folks gathered on the aft deck with all the lights off to lie back on deck chairs and gaze up at the Milky Way, with us now hundreds of kilometres away from any other lights.

We had the Milky Way above, while below, the ocean in our wake was exploding with flashes of bioluminescence. The night was warm and of course windless because we’re travelling with the wind. It was an amazing experience.

— Alan, October 28, 2013 / © 2013 Alan Dyer

Sailing in the Wake of Columbus


Constellation Ceiling in Columbus Museum

Columbus set out from the Canary Islands, following the stars, in his voyages across the Atlantic Ocean.

Today we visited the Casa de Colon, the Columbus Museum, in the capital city of Las Palmas in the Canary Islands. It was here, in what was then the Governor’s house, that Columbus is believed to have stayed before embarking on many of his voyages across the Atlantic.

Above is the painted ceiling in one of the galleries, depicting the northern constellations and stars he would have followed to guide him across the Atlantic. You can recognize all the modern constellations and the Milky Way.

Columbus Ship Model

Tonight, we set sail ourselves across the Atlantic, in a two week voyage away from land. Our ship, the Star Flyer, chartered by Betchart Expeditions, has a mix of square and staysails that we’ll use, as Columbus did, to catch the trade winds that will blow us south and west toward the eclipse intercept point and eventually to Barbados.

16th Century Astrolabe

This is an authentic astrolabe from 1500, one of the tools Columbus would have used to navigate the high seas. Today we have GPS.

Columbus Church

Columbus Street Sign

This is the church Columbus prayed at before embarking on his voyages. It was closed the day we visited. We hope we won’t be needing its services!

– Alan, October 26, 2013 / © 2013 Alan Dyer

 

The Subtle Shading of a Penumbral Lunar Eclipse


Penumbral Eclipse of the Moon (Oct 18, 2013)

This is about as subtle as an eclipse can be – a partial penumbral eclipse of the Moon.

I was perfectly positioned to see this eclipse, such as it was. At mid-eclipse when I took this image, the Moon was due south and as high in the sky as it was going to get for the night.

My location was the hotel poolside bar and rooftop patio 10 floors up overlooking the harbour in Malaga, Spain.

Can you see the effect of the eclipse? Barely, perhaps. The Full Moon travelled through the top of the Earth’s penumbral shadow, creating a slight darkening of the lower portion of the Moon. I’ve boosted contrast a lot in processing yet the effect is still barely perceptible.

No matter. With luck, in two weeks time we’ll experience just the opposite – the most spectacular eclipse the sky has to offer, a total eclipse of the Sun.

We set sail tomorrow.

– Alan, October 19, 2013 / © 2013 Alan Dyer

 

The Great Australian Eclipse – The Closeup Movie


This is the “director’s cut” movie of the November 14 total eclipse of the Sun in Australia, unabridged and unedited.

I shot this movie of the eclipse through a telescope to provide a frame-filling closeup view of totality. This is the entire eclipse, from just before totality until well after. So it includes both diamond rings: at the onset of totality and as totality ends.

A few seconds into the movie I remove the solar filter which produces a flash of light until the camera readjusts to the new exposure. Then you really see the eclipsed Sun!

We got 1m28s of totality from our viewing site near Lakeland Downs, Queensland. But the movie times out at slightly less, because at several points where you hear a shutter click, I took a still frame which interrupts the movie. You can see some of those still images in earlier blog posts.

My timing was a little off, as I opened up the exposure to reveal more of the outer corona only moments before the end of totality, so the first moment of the final diamond ring is a little overexposed. During totality I was looking with binoculars, and made the mistake of going over and checking on my other wide-angle time-lapse camera. That wasted time needlessly. I should have spent more time attending to the movie camera and taking more stills at various exposures. No eclipse every goes quite as planned. Losing 30 seconds of totality in order to seek out clearer skies did cost me some images and enjoyment time in the umbra. But our experience was far less stressful than those who dodged clouds (or failed to miss the clouds, in some cases) at sites closer to or at the coast.

The original of this movie is in full 1920 x 1080 HD, shot with the Canon 60Da through the 105mm f/5.8 Astro-Physics apo refractor, on an equatorial mount tracking the Sun. I rarely have the luxury of shooting an eclipse through such extravagant gear, as I would never haul that type of hefty gear now on an aircraft to remote sites. But this equipment emigrated to Australia in 2002 for the total eclipse in South Australia and has been here down under ever since. So this is its second Australian eclipse. Mine, too!

– Alan, November 21, 2012 / © 2012 Alan Dyer

 

The Great Australian Eclipse – Stars & Planets in the Darkened Sky


During last week’s total eclipse, Venus was obvious above the Sun well before the shadow descended and the sky darkened. But during totality other stars and planets appeared.

But I suspect few noticed! During an eclipse your eyes are transfixed on the Sun and its corona. And on the other phenomena of light and shadow happening around you. However, I inspected my wide-angle frames and found faint images of Saturn and the stars Spica, Alpha and Beta Centauri, and three stars of the Southern Cross. I’ve labeled them here but you might not be able to pick them out on screen in the reduced resolution that appears in the blog. Similarly, I doubt anyone saw them visually. If you did you were wasting your time looking at the wrong stuff!

– Alan, November 18, 2012 / © 2012 Alan Dyer

 

Endeavour’s Site at Cooktown, Queensland


I began my journey to Australia with a visit to the replica of James Cook’s ship Endeavour in Sydney. I’m ending this part of my trip with a visit to where Cook beached the HMB Endeavour for repairs at what is now Cooktown in far north Queensland. This is where Cook spent the most time in Australia, though not by intention.

In 1770 Cook was sailing north along the Queensland coast, after visiting Tahiti the year before to see the transit of Venus. He inadvertently discovered the Great Barrier Reef. Endeavour ran aground on what is now called Endeavour Reef. The crew was able to repair the ship well enough and save themselves by getting Endeavour to this harbour at what is now Cooktown where the Cook River meets the Coral Sea. There, with the ship beached, they were able to effect more permanent repairs to its damaged hull.

The site is just below this viewpoint at an idyllic harbour. They stayed there for two months in July and August 1770, effecting repairs and sighting, among other curiosities, kangaroos for the first time.

I visited Cooktown yesterday as part of a 4WD trek up the Bloomfield Track north of Cape Tribulation and through the Daintree Rain Forest. At Cooktown its museum, converted from an old convent, contains the original main anchor and one of the large canons from Endeavour, recovered from where the crew tossed them overboard to lighten the ship’s load and gain draft to sail off the reef. They are some of the few pieces of Endeavour that still remain.

– Alan, November 17, 2012 / © 2012 Alan Dyer

The Great Australian Eclipse – The Shadow Movie


This is 6 minutes of pre- and post-eclipse – and the all too short eclipse itself – compressed into 30 seconds. You can see the dark blue shadow of the Moon sweeping across the sky.

The long oval shadow comes in from behind us from the west and comes down to meet the Sun which is rising in the east. That moment when the shadow edge meets the Sun is second contact when totality begins in a diamond ring effect, and the Sun is entirely hidden behind the Moon.

The shadow then moves off to the right. As its left edge hits the Sun, the Sun emerges in another diamond ring and the eclipse is over. All too soon. Even at mid-eclipse the Sun is not centred in the oval shadow because we were not centred in the path of the shadow but instead drive well north of the centreline, to avoid cloud farther south. We saw 1m28s of totality, 30 seconds less than people at the centreline or on the coast. But we had no annoying clouds to worry about.

Also note Venus at upper left. And the hugs and kisses at the end!

– Alan, November 15, 2012 / © Alan Dyer 2012

 

The Great Australian Eclipse – Our Happy Group!


OK, one last eclipse post! Here’s our happy band of Canadian chasers, post-eclipse.

Some were seeing their first eclipse. A few others, myself included, were chalking up eclipse #14. Eclipse virgin or veteran, the experience is always breathtaking and unbelievable. Moments after the eclipse ends you cannot believe you saw what you did – the sight is so unearthly. And you want to see another. The next total eclipse of the Sun is November 3, 2013, in the mid-Atlantic and over central Africa.

– Alan, November 14, 2012 / © 2012 Alan Dyer

 

The Great Australian Eclipse – Second Diamond Ring


This is the sight eclipse chasers hate to see, yet celebrate the most! It is the diamond ring that ends totality.

This was the “third contact” diamond ring when the Sun returned in an explosion of light from behind the edge of the Moon.

Compare this view to my earlier blog, and you’ll see that the second diamond ring at the end of totality did not happen opposite the first diamond ring. That’s because we were well off the centreline of the Moon’s shadow, so from our perspective the Moon travelled across the Sun’s disk slightly off-centre.

From where we ended up in our chase for clear skies, we experienced 1m28s of totality, well under the 2 minutes maximum that others saw near the centreline. But we felt 1m28s of clear skies was better than 2 minutes under partly cloudy skies. Indeed, some on the coast saw the Sun only briefly during totality, or not at all.

Instead, while the last minute move was stressing, once we were set up, we had relaxed assurance we were going to see the whole show!

– Alan, November 14, 2012 / © 2012 Alan Dyer

The Great Australian Eclipse – Outer Corona


For this shot I overexposed the inner corona on purpose to reveal more of the extent of the streamers in the Sun’s outer corona.

The pink at left is the chromosphere layer shining from behind the Moon just before the Moon uncovered the blindingly bright photosphere with a burst of light, the diamond ring.

It takes a lot of specialized processing, far beyond what I’ve done here, and stacking of multiple exposures to reveal the delicacy of structures that you can see with your aided eyes during a total eclipse. There is nothing more astonishing in the sky for its complexity and yet subtleness than the Sun’s corona. It is the main attraction at any total solar eclipse. You have not lived astronomically until you have seen the corona of the Sun with your own eyes.

– Alan, November 14, 2012 / © 2012 Alan Dyer

 

The Great Australian Eclipse – Inner Corona


Taken shortly into totality, this shot shows some of the complex structure of the Sun’s corona, and a cluster of red prominences peaking out from behind the bottom edge of the Moon.

For the November 14, 2012 eclipse I shot two cameras. One, with a wide-angle lens, was automatically taking a frame every second. Three of those frames are in a previous blog. For this shot I used a second camera looking through a 4-inch refractor telescope I keep stored in Australia. It worked great! I seldom get to shoot an eclipse through a telescope, as so many eclipses are in remote locations where carting a telescope and mount are impractical. But for an Oz eclipse (I’ve seen two from Australia now, in 2002 and now in 2012) I get to use my Oz gear.

Because the Sun is nearing solar maximum its corona appeared evenly distributed around the Sun, with streamers reaching out in all directions. At solar minima eclipses the corona extends just east-west with little over the poles.

This image, like the other closeups I’m posting, are still frames shot while the camera was taking an HD movie. Firing the shutter while the movie is recording interrupts the movie but records a full-resolution still frame, a very nice way to get two forms of media with one camera.

– Alan, November 14, 2012 / © 2012 Alan Dyer

 

The Great Australian Eclipse – Diamond Ring #1


The last bit of the Sun shines from behind the ragged edge of the Moon as the total eclipse begins in Australia.

This is “second contact,” and the first diamond ring effect that heralds the start of totality. The Moon (the dark disk) is just about to completely cover the Sun. You can see the pink chromosphere layer of the Sun’s surface and a flame-like prominence at 4 o’clock position. The Sun’s atmosphere, the corona, is just beginning to show.

I took this November 14, 2012 from a site near Lakeland Downs, Queensland, Australia. While we did look through some thin cirrus clouds, they didn’t hamper viewing at all, and were not the concern that the thicker clouds were at other sites, especially at the beaches.

– Alan, November 14, 2012 / © 2012 Alan Dyer

The Great Australian Eclipse – Success!


It wouldn’t be an eclipse without a chase. But in the end we had a nearly perfect and cloudless view of the entire eclipse — the Great Australian Eclipse. We were ecstatic!

This collage of wide-angle shots shows the motion of the Moon’s conical shadow. At top, you can see the bottom edge of the shadow just touching the Sun. This was second contact and the diamond ring that begins totality. The middle frame was taken near mid-eclipse and shows the bright horizon beyond the Moon’s shadow. However, the Sun is not centred on the shadow because we ended up well north of the centreline, sacrificing as much as 30+ seconds of totality to get assured clear skies. The bottom frame was taken at the end of totality as the first bit of sunlight bursts out from behind the Moon at third contact and the final diamond ring. Notice the Sun sitting at the well-defined left edge of the Moon’s shadow. The shadow moved off to the right.

Why did we end up off-centre? Clouds! The day before, at our 11 am weather briefing meeting, we decided not to stay on the beach but to move inland to one of the sites we selected from the previous day’s reconnaissance. The forecast was not even accurately “predicting” the current conditions at the time, saying the sky should then have been clear. It was raining. We did not trust the predictions that skies would clear by eclipse time on Wednesday morning.

We drove inland on Tuesday afternoon, getting to our choice site at the James Earl Lookout on the Development Road about 4 pm, to avoid driving in the dark and to get there before the parking area filled up. It was a good plan. We arrived to find a few people there but with room for all our cars filled with 20+ Canadians. We staked our ground with tripods, did a little stargazing after dark, then settled in to spend the night in our cars.

At dawn we got everything ready to go, only to see puffs of orographic clouds forming over the hills in the direction of the Sun. I did not like it. So with an hour to go before totality we packed up and moved down onto the plains away from the hills to a site near Lakeland Downs, the site you see here. Apart from some high cirrus clouds, skies were superb.

As it turned out, folks a few miles away at the Lookout did see it, but by the skin of their teeth. Clouds obscured the Sun just before and just after totality. That’s too nerve-wracking for me. And from the beaches, some people were clouded out, others saw all of totality, others saw just a portion of the main event. It was hit and miss. From home at Oak Beach we might have seen it but only just. We were very happy with our decisions to move and flexibility to be able to do so.

I’ll post some close-up shots of the eclipse shortly.

Tonight, we party!

– Alan, November 14, 2012 / © 2012 Alan Dyer

 

Our Eclipse Group at Work


Nothing could be farther from an astrophoto than this, but this is what it takes to get a great shot – planning!

Here is our little group of Canadian eclipse chasers sitting around the patio table planning alternate viewing sites that we had inspected earlier that day on the Monday, two days before the eclipse. Maps, photos and weather forecasts all go into the mix to make a decision where best to be for the total eclipse of the Sun.

We found some good inland sites but getting to those would require leaving the comforts of home the afternoon before the eclipse to be in place for dawn on Wednesday and avoid driving the roo and cattle infested outback roads at night. We would prefer to stay on the beach, and weather prospects are improving. But if the eclipse had been this morning we would not have seen it from this location.

– Alan, November 13, 2012 / © 2012 Alan Dyer

 

Sign on the Centreline


I’m in eclipse country here, as the sign proclaims, just about on the centreline of the coming Moon’s shadow.

Today we drove 3 to 4 hours out onto what is called the Development Road or the Mulligan Highway, inland from the beaches where we are staying. This is the road that goes up to Cooktown (where Captain James Cook beached the Endeavour in 1770) from Port Douglas, but via the inland route. As you can see it is dry! That’s a good thing. While the coast was cloudy and rainy today, Monday, the inland sites we inspected were sunny, with word from the locals that the morning at eclipse time was perfectly clear. As it always is they promised us!

So we have some Plan B sites selected, and checked out with the local Queensland Police to make sure we’re OK to use them. However, weather forecasts for Wednesday morning at eclipse time are promising clear skies on the coast where we would prefer to stay in convenient comfort.

Not far from here, near the Palmer River Roadhouse, some 8,000 people have gathered in the dusty Outback for a festival of music and “new age healing.” We’re seeing lots of the participants on the road (often driving beat-up vans) looking like they’ve been transported by time machine from the 1960s and Woodstock. Eclipses attract many people of all interests to the track of the Moon’s shadow. Good luck to them … and us, two days from now.

– Alan, November 12, 2012 / © 2012 Alan Dyer

 

Two Days to Go Until the Eclipse


This was the sky at eclipse time, two days prior to the total eclipse of the Sun.

Had the eclipse been today we likely would have missed it. The Sun broke through briefly but minutes later the rain seen here off shore was over us. But a few minutes later it was clear and sunny again. It will be a game of chance to be sure.

Today, we travel inland to scout out viewing sites 3 hours away over the Dividing Range on the Development Road as a Plan B.

– Alan, November 12, 2012 / © 2012 Alan Dyer

 

Three Days to Go Until the Eclipse


Skies and spirits brightened this morning as we were greeted to a wonderfully clear sunrise.

I took this moments ago on the morning of Sunday, November 11, three days before the total eclipse. If the eclipse had been this morning we would have seen it in grand style.

Nevertheless, we will continue our scouting of inland locations over the Dividing Range, at sites some 2 to 3 hours drive away. If the weather forecast looks gloomy the day before we will make a run for it inland but will have to make that call the afternoon before the eclipse to avoid driving in the dark with roos on the road. The eclipse happens an hour after sunrise on Wednesday, with the Sun a little higher than its position here. Ideally, we watch the eclipse from where I took this photo! But one must always have a Plan B and C in pocket.

– Alan, November 11, 2012 / © 2012 Alan Dyer

 

Four Days to Go Until the Eclipse


 

This is sunrise, four days before the November 14 total eclipse of the Sun, from our preferred viewing site on the coast of Queensland, Australia.

In four days, the Moon, which you can see as a waning crescent at upper left, will pass across the face of the Sun.

We’re here at our Beach House at Oak Beach, just south of Port Douglas, right on the eclipse centreline. The site is fantastic and we may have the beach pretty much to ourselves, or at least just for the residents of the beach houses long Oak Beach Road. However, the clouds are worrying. A system moving through is blanketing the area in cloud but promises to move off by eclipse morning. The total eclipse occurs about an hour after sunrise. So this is the view we’ll have, though we have a kilometre of beach to pick from.

However, we just spent one of several days scouting out alternative Plan B sites along the coast and inland. Mobility is often the key to success when chasing eclipses. It is a chase after all, and being able to see an eclipse right from your front yard (or in our case, front beach) is always the ideal plan. But plans often change.

There are lots of eclipse chasers here — about 40,000 have converged on Port Douglas area, which even at peak tourist season (which it is not now) handles only 10,000 people at a given time.

– Alan, November 10, 2012 / © @ 2012 Alan Dyer

 

Crossing the Tropic of Capricorn


Today on my drive north to the path of the November 14 total eclipse in Australia, I crossed the Tropic of Capricorn and am now officially in the tropics.

This is one of the many monuments that the demarcates this important line around the world, all located at 23.5° south latitude (or thereabouts). This one is in Rockhampton, Queensland. It’s actually at 23° 23′ 59″ S but that’s close enough for tourists. For photos of other Tropic of Capricorn monuments see Wikipedia’s page.

The Tropic of Capricorn is one of the world’s four main lines of latitude defined by the tilt of the Earth: The Arctic and Antarctic Circles at 66.5° N and S, and the Tropics of Cancer and Capricorn, at 23.5° N and S. The names for the Tropic lines come from the two constellations where the Sun used to be located millennia ago on the June and December solstices: Cancer and Capricornus. The precession motion of the Earth’s axis has since moved the Sun into Gemini and Sagittarius on those key annual dates.

The Tropic of Capricorn is the southernmost latitude on our planet where the Sun can appear directly overhead at the zenith, and then only on one day, the December solstice. I was here close to that date a few years ago and can attest to the lack of shadows at “high noon” at solstice on a Tropic line.

The zone on Earth between the two Tropic lines, between 23.5° N and 23.5° S, is of course called the Tropics. While the Sun may not always be overhead in the tropics it certainly is always high at mid-day. And hot!

Next stop: Magnetic Island, named by James Cook in 1770 as he thought the island was affecting his compass in strange ways.

– Alan, November 6, 2012 / © 2012 Alan Dyer

Endeavour in Dock


Its modern day namesake ship, the Space Shuttle Endeavour, made the news of late, on its last voyage to its museum home. But this is the Endeavour that the Shuttle is named for and a ship that also made scientific history.

This is the modern but authentically crafted replica of HMB Endeavour, the ship Lt. James Cook commanded on his first round the world expedition. The principle goal was to observe the June 1769 transit of Venus from Tahiti. But Cook sailed on to map the then unknown coastline of New Zealand and the east coast of New Holland, now Australia. It was an astronomical expedition that changed the world.

The replica Endeavour just completed a circumnavigation of Australia, something the original ship never did, and now is moored at the National Maritime Museum in Darling Harbour, Sydney. I visited it October 30 as part of my homage to Cook and my own astronomical expedition to see the total eclipse of the Sun. In a couple of weeks I’ll be in Cooktown near the top end of Queensland where, in 1770, the original Endeavour ran aground on the Barrier Reef. An anchor from the original ship is still there.

– Alan, November 1, 2012 / © 2012 Alan Dyer

Eclipse Site Bound


This isn’t a photo I’ve taken. Instead it’s where I plan to be in three weeks taking photos.

The blue line is the centreline of the November 14 total eclipse of the Sun. The scene is on the Cook Highway coastal road just south of Port Douglas in northern Queensland, Australia.

Three of the beach houses on Oak Beach Road on the Queensland coast is where several of us Canadian eclipse chasers will gather to view the total eclipse, weather permitting! The eclipsed Sun will be to the east, over the ocean shortly after sunrise. We’ve had the houses rented since late 2009.

Eclipse chasing usually takes long term planning. Very few people can say years in advance where they will be on a date like November 14, 2012. But we can!

Eclipses govern a good part of our lives. And we love it!

– Alan, October 21, 2012

 

 

Venus Disappears


 

On the afternoon of Monday, August 13 the waning crescent Moon slid in front of Venus in broad daylight. This sequence captures the disappearance.

It was touch and go getting this as high cloud kept moving through. A few minutes earlier the Moon and Venus were in clear blue sky, but at the time of the occultation, haze whitened the sky and cut down the  contrast on an event that takes a telescope to see well. When the sky was clear it was easy to sight the Moon with unaided eyes and therefore focus your eyes on infinity. Venus next to the Moon popped into view, even naked eye. It was a rare chance to easily sight Venus in the daytime. But as it got close to the Moon Venus became harder to see naked eye, and the haze then made it impossible. But through a telescope it was just the opposite — Venus’s bright disk stood out even when the Moon was washed out and invisible.

For southern Alberta the occultation took place at 2:11 pm MDT. I missed seeing it emerge from behind the Moon. I was already inside processing this image.

It has been quite a year for Venus. It’s not over yet, as Venus continues its morning show and has close encounters with the Moon and the star Regulus this autumn.

— Alan, August 14, 2012 / © 2012 Alan Dyer

Venus: 6 Degrees of Separation


This was my first look at Venus following Tuesday’s transit. Here, it’s just six degrees west of the Sun as a thin crescent in the afternoon sky. It was a beautiful sight in the eyepiece, far enough away from the Sun to not be in its glare but close enough to still appear as a razor-thin backlit crescent.

Each day now Venus is widening the gap between it and the Sun, shortly to become a brilliant morning star in the eastern sky before dawn through the rest of June, July and August.

I shot these images in broad daylight through a 130mm f/6 refractor. The big image is a full-frame shot with the Canon 60Da and a 2X Barlow lens, for an effective focal length of about 1500mm. The inset is a single frame grabbed from a 30-frame-per-second movie shot with the Canon in its Movie Crop mode, which yields a high-magnification view suitable for planet shooting, but only 640 x 480 pixels. But this mode is certainly ideal for capturing planets, though none ever appear as large as Venus is here. This is an uncommon instance of Venus as close and as large as any planet gets.

— Alan, June 9, 2012 / © 2012 Alan Dyer

 

Transit of Venus: From One Cloudy Planet to Another


The day looked hopeless with not a chance of clear skies. But a small hole opened, revealing Venus on the Sun.

I had seen this sight before, in 2004 from Egypt. But my first reaction upon seeing it again, albeit briefly, was [Expletive Deleted]!!! No photos really provide the visual impression of just how enormous Venus appears on the Sun. We’re used to sunspots (and there were lots today) and some quite large. But nothing we ever see on the Sun matches the size of Venus. The eyepiece impression is of something much larger than the photos show. It’s like Moon illusion at work on the Sun.

It had been hopelessly cloudy all day in Calgary. Interpretive obligations over at the science centre (where we showed the NASA webcast from Hawaii), I hit the highway in search of a clear hole … and found one northeast of the city, one at first that seemed to be wide and stable. I stopped, looked with the filtered naked eye, then drove on seeking slightly less cloud, getting greedy! I should have stopped sooner. By the time I did stop  and hurriedly set up the little 80mm refractor telescope, I had about 30 seconds for a great clean view, then switched to the camera. By the time I got it set, clouds were coming out of nowhere and thickening fast. I couldn’t shoot through the solar filter. This is a filterless shot, at 1/8000th second! Clouds provided the natural filtration. Fine! At least I got the camera focused, for a crisp view of Venus next to the clusters of sunspots, something no one alive has seen — in 2004 the Sun was virtually spotless.

So, not a view or photo under the best of conditions, but an experience I am happy to settle for. Now, I just want clear skies in Australia for November’s total solar eclipse. Please!!

— Alan, June 5, 2012 / © 2012 Alan Dyer

 

A Prairie Partial Eclipse


This was the kind of eclipse chasing I like — just to the end of my driveway … to shoot the partial eclipse of the Moon before dawn on June 4.

While the car is all packed with gear for a possible flight or cross-country chase to clear skies to catch the Venus transit tomorrow, the lunar eclipse required no travel at all. Not that I was going to make too much effort at 4 am!

While some clouds got in the way, a clear hole opened up at the right time, with the remaining clouds adding a photogenic touch. I’m hoping to be as lucky for the transit!

This was just a partial lunar eclipse, with only 37 percent of the Moon immersed in the Earth’s umbral shadow at mid-eclipse, shortly after this image was taken. Even so, some of the reddening of the shadowed portion of the Moon’s disk does show up here.

I shot this from southern Alberta with a Canon 60Da and an 18-200mm lens at 115mm to frame the Moon and prairie landscape.

— Alan, June 4, 2012 / © 2012 Alan Dyer

Venus Descending


A wonderful sight tonight, as I caught Venus in its last days before the transit, shining as a glistening crescent low in the evening twilight.

Venus was visible to the unaided eye after sunset, but not for long. It set soon after the Sun. But for a short while it put on a beautiful show as a large crescent (large for a planet that is), easily resolvable in binoculars and stunning in a small telescope. One could almost make out, for brief moments, the sight of the backlit atmosphere going all the way around the disk. But I suspect it was more imagination at work than reality shining through.

The inset blows up the boxed area, to reveal the crescent-phased disk of Venus, despite this shot being taken with no more than a 200mm telephoto lens. I used a Canon 60Da camera at ISO 100. A plane is flying just below Venus.

So this was May 30, 6 days before the June 5 transit, with Venus 9.5° east of the Sun. How far up to the Sun can we catch it, before it crosses the Sun on Tuesday?

— Alan, May 30, 2012 / © 2012 Alan Dyer

Venus Sinks Sunward


Here’s a last look at Venus before its historic transit across the face of the Sun on June 5.

I took this Monday evening, May 28, with the Sun still up and Venus about 13 degrees east of the Sun but low in my evening sky. Venus appears as a razor-thin crescent, like a tiny “new Moon.” Most of the daylight side of Venus now faces away from us; on the side of Venus turned toward us now all but a sliver of a crescent is dark — we’re looking at the night side of Venus. On June 5, all we will see is this dark side of Venus, appearing in silhouette in front of the Sun’s brilliant disk as Venus moves across the Sun in a transit not to be repeated for another 105 years.

This is a single still-frame grab from a movie shot I shot with the Canon 60Da camera, set in Movie Crop Mode, for a movie 640 x 480 pixels wide. This mode magnified Venus considerably on the frame. I shot this through a small 80mm apo refractor at its f/6 prime focus, so with only 480mm of focal length. But Venus is now so large it doesn’t take a lot of extra magnification to show its disk and phase.

The view through the eyepiece was stunning. The rippling image and sparkling colours, though from distortion in our atmosphere, added to the beauty of Venus, fitting for the goddess of love.

– Alan, May 28, 2012 / © 2012 Alan Dyer

Eclipse — A Parking Lot Partial


This was the view Sunday evening as the Sun descended into the northwest sky, accompanied by the Moon covering part of its disk.

I shot this near mid-eclipse with a handheld camera and filter dimming what would have otherwise been a vastly overexposed Sun. A liberal use of Photoshop’s Highlight recovery and Shadow details tools compressed the dynamic range even more, to bring out details in the sky and clouds and in the dark filtered image. But this is a single image, not a composite.

As you can see, even at its best the Sun shone through light cloud, which added somewhat to the scenery of the sky and the weird quality of the light at mid-eclipse. But all told, I’d rather do without clouds at any eclipse. They make for anxious moments I could live without.

I took this shot from the TELUS Spark science centre, where we set up sidewalk telescopes for viewing the eclipse, looking over the parking lot and hill to the west of us. It’s where the Sun will also be for the transit.

— Alan, May 21, 2012 / © 2012 Alan Dyer

 

Partial Solar Eclipse — from Calgary


This was the first significant solar eclipse in many years that I did not travel to. For the May 20, 2012 eclipse I was content to stay at home on the sidelines and take in the partial eclipse of the Sun.

From Calgary, the Moon covered about 62% of the Sun at mid-eclipse, which this shot captures, taken at maximum eclipse for us. Here, a big sunspot group is just being uncovered by the passing Moon. Having lots of spots on the Sun this day made the partial eclipse all the more interesting, though still no comparison to the annular eclipse visible over the spectacular landscapes of the southwestern U.S.

I would have been there, in the Moon’s ant-umbral shadow, had it not been for the fact that at home I am very much involved in the opening of a new planetarium and digital dome theatre at the science centre, TELUS Spark, where I work. This is a milestone event in one’s life, one I’ve had the privilege of experiencing twice before, in 1984 in Edmonton with the opening of its new science centre and planetarium, and in 1996 when we converted the old Calgary Centennial Planetarium into a then state-of-the-art tilt-dome theatre. Oddly coincidental, I missed seeing the May 15, 1984 annular eclipse in the SE United States due to the imminent opening of the Edmonton theatre. History repeats itself — a Saros cycle of science centres perhaps?

For this eclipse we conducted a public viewing session and managed to grab excellent views once clouds cleared away before mid-eclipse. Eclipse anxiety was running high leading up to and through the initial minutes of the eclipse as it looked like clouds were going to skunk us. But wonder of wonders, the sky cleared and the eclipsed Sun was revealed, to my great relief. Missing the annular eclipse is bad enough; I didn’t want to miss the partial eclipse, too!

Now, we just need clear skies on June 5 for the transit of Venus.

— Alan, May 20, 2012 / © 2012 Alan Dyer

Total Eclipse of the Moon (December 10, 2011) #3


This is my favourite shot from the December 10 dawn eclipse. It’s the one I was after, with the red Moon in a blue sky over the snow-covered Rockies.

Lunar eclipses don’t have the dramatic and sudden effects of a total eclipse of the Sun. But neither do they have the anxiety and sometimes sheer panic! Lunar eclipses are more stately affairs as they play out in a relaxed manner over 2 to 3 hours. But they are beautiful nonetheless, especially when the Moon is low in the sky and set above a scenic landscape at moonrise or, as it was with this eclipse, at moonset.

The red colouration of the Moon makes the scene, as the Moon, embedded in Earth’s shadow, becomes lit by the light of all the sunsets and sunrises going on around the world at once. If Earth had no atmosphere the Moon would go completely black during a total eclipse. But besides making life on Earth possible (no small thing!), our atmosphere also provides us the wonderful sight of a red Moon during a total eclipse. Take a deep breath and enjoy!

— Alan, December 10, 2011 / Image  © 2011 Alan Dyer

 

 

Total Eclipse of the Moon (December 10, 2011) #2


This was the view well into totality as the eclipsed Moon set into the morning twilight sky. On December 10 we got a fantastic view of the total lunar eclipse at dawn, with the red Moon over the Rockies.

I shot this from the grounds of the Rothney Observatory in the foothills southwest of Calgary. The Moon is completely in Earth’s shadow here but with its southern or bottom edge brighter than the top, so it overexposes here. This view captures the scene as the eye saw it, at about 7:30 a.m. local time, an hour before sunrise and moonset.

A full house of 100 people showed up at the Observatory for a public event and breakfast. I dare say they got the best view of this eclipse of anyone in Canada.

— Alan, December 10, 2011 / Image © 2011 Alan Dyer

 

Total Eclipse of the Moon (December 10, 2011) #1


It has been a long time between Blog posts, with no new astrophotos from me for a while. But the drought ends due to thankfully fine conditions for the total eclipse of the Moon, on Saturday morning, December 10.

Skies were wonderful and the conditions actually pleasant for a winter morning at 6 a.m. For us in southern Alberta, the Moon went into eclipse as it descended into the western sky in the pre-dawn hours. The timing wasn’t convenient, but the view more than made up for the effort of getting up at 3 a.m. to drive west out of cloud to the Rothney Observatory. Their location in the foothills proved clear and perfect for looking west, to see the Moon over the Rockies.

This is one of my earlier shots in the 3-hour event, taken just before totality began, when the Moon was still in a dark sky. The camera was on a tracking platform to keep the stars from trailing during the 30 second exposure, causing the ground to trail instead.

You can see the Pleiades cluster at right, and Betelgeuse in Orion at left.

This was the last total eclipse of the Moon anywhere in the world until April 14, 2014.

— Alan, December 10, 2011 / Image © Alan Dyer 2011

 

An Accurate Lunar Eclipse, At Last!


For years we astrophotographers have been thwarted by our recording media’s inability to capture a wide range of brightness in one exposure. A classic example is a lunar eclipse. The range in brightness between the non-eclipsed Full Moon and the part of the lunar disk in the Earth’s shadow is so great no one exposure can grab it all. You are left with either an over-exposed crescent or a dark under-exposed eclipsed Moon — nothing that looks anything like the eye can see.

At last, modern image processing comes to the rescue! This is a stack of 9 exposures, from 1/125th to 2 seconds, all at f/6 with a 130mm apo refractor and Canon 7D camera. The images were stacked and merged into one “high dynamic range” image using Photoshop CS5, whose new HDR mode is wonderful! A little tweaking of settings in the Tone Mapping dialog box, and voilá! An image of the partially eclipsed Moon that really looks like what the eye saw. I’m impressed.

— Alan, December 2010 / Image © 2010 Alan Dyer

Eclipse in the Winter Milky Way


The December 20, 2010 total lunar eclipse promised to be a photogenic one. With the Moon smack dab in the middle of the winter Milky Way, it was going to be a great sight, as the Milky Way appeared during totality. The event did not disappoint. Though some haze intervened, I wasn’t complaining, as the weather has been so poor of late, we were lucky to get a clear night at all, despite having to endure -20° C temperatures to take in the event. This shot captures the scene from my backyard during totality, with the over-exposed eclipsed Moon sitting in the Milky Way above Orion. The naked and binocular view was truly stunning.

I got back from Australia in time to see this event from home, squeezed in between Oz and a Xmas trip to the rainy west Coast. The plan worked! I managed to catch the eclipse, against the odds, which defeated many across Canada. Alberta was one of the few clear places for this event. I had considered a hasty trip to Arizona for it, but decided against it — a good thing, as I think they had cloud. The winter of 2010/11 is proving to be an awful one for many.

— Alan, December 2010 / Image © 2010 Alan Dyer