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Wednesday, August 29, 2007


Mobile Phone Lunar Eclipse

Tuesday morning arrived with a nice clear sky, but then it went rapidly downhill. By the early afternoon the sky was thick with clouds. Trudging home there were a few flecks of blue on the horizon. But still I was resigning myself and the several friends and Neighbours we had invited around to watching the eclipse on Webcams.

But as we set up for our visitors, the clouds began to part. Large chunks of blue appeared, as I set up the outdoor table for nibblies. I set up three telescopes, the 8" Don Memorial reflector, my old 4" and my very elderly 50 mm. Setting up was a bit of guess work, I made a stab at where the Moon would rise, and tried polar aligning the reflectors as best I could without the Southern Cross to guide me. Guests began to arrive, children began to race around the back yard while I nervously protected the scopes, Pizza began to crisp in the oven. All we needed was the Moon.

Which was conspicuously absent, I checked SkyMap again, the Moon should have risen. So I moved around the back yard seeking vantage points, to discover the Moon had inconveniently risen behind the only substantial tree on our western horizon. By judicious jiggling, I was able to set up the 4" scope where it had full Lunar visibility. Unfortunately this was also where the mosquitoes, awoken from their winter slumbers by unseasonal warm weather, were at their thickest. Lunar gazing was alternated with Mosquito slapping.

Then the time came, right on cue a discernible chip was seen on the bottom (eastern) edge of the Moon). Kids stopped rushing around and kids and adults mobbed the telescope. Expression of awe occurred and questions came thick and fast. After a while food and running about gained hold of peoples consciousness. I was shuttling back and forth between the telescopes, making sure they were still on target (having not properly polar aligned the 8", it drifts off slowly, and the 4" doesn't have a drive, and has to be manually adjusted at regular intervals) as even with other distractions there was always someone at the scopes.

The Moon dimmed, the sky grew darker and stars began to appear, the shadowed part of the Moon was clearly a deep red colour. As well as running 3 scopes, I was running 3 cameras. I was using the mobile phone with the 4" scope (see images at the start of this post), the Olympus digital was running solo (shots in middle), and the Pentax SLR film camera got slotted into the 8" in the rare breaks between observers.

Quite often astronomy is a solitary passion, looking at the stars represents moment of quite joy and contemplation. But for events like this, eclipses, big meteor showers, having lots of friends present gives it a really fantastic vibe. We were all in the presence of a moment of rare cosmic beauty, and we were all sharing as one.

Finally the last sliver of moonlight was extinguished, and the Moon was reduced to a deep copper disk with the glowing belt of the Milky Way up above. A superbly beautiful sight.

After contemplating this for awhile, practicalities took over, kids had to be taken home so they could be sent to school in the morning, dishes were to be washed, chocolate cake eaten, people walked to cars.

All of a sudden, it was quiet. The Bettdeckererschappender Weisle and I, and two of our hardier friends, enjoyed a quite cuppa under a copper Moon. Then a blaze of white light announced the end of the eclipse, we headed inside, ready to begin our normal lives, all being touched by this cosmic spectacle.

Of course, the next morning we had all come down with colds, so we had obviously been touched by something else as well.

Nice report (and phone captures!) Ian - it sounds like you guys had a great night. It's very suspicious that both total lunar eclipses this year have been enjoyed under relatively clear skies - presumably the whole of 2008 will be cloudy to make up for this anomaly!
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