The Lunar eclipse of 18–19 November was considered a “partial eclipse” but with 97% coverage it was pretty close to a total eclipse. But not quite. That last 3% of the illuminated limb of the Moon was enough to make photography a challenge because its brightness significantly overwhelmed the dim red of the remainder of the lunar disk as well as the nearby stars.
What made this eclipse noteworthy is the proximity of the Moon to both the Pleiades (M45) and Hyades star clusters.
I used an Nikon 80–200mm telephoto zoom lens for this astrophotography session. Set to 200mm it was possible to capture (barely) both the Moon and Pleiades. Set to 80mm it was easy to capture all three objects. This legacy lens from Nikon is still a very useful astrophotography lens for me—not least because it has a hard stop at infinity making nighttime focusing simple.
Complicating the setup—and there’s always a complication—was the presence of high, thin clouds streaming across the sky. These clouds muted the brilliance of the stars but also created an illuminated area surrounding the Moon. To capture both the bright uneclipsed sliver of the Moon as well as the nebulosity in the Pleiades required shooting a variety of exposures that could be blended later. Even this was not as easy as I had hoped and I tried different methods (e.g., layers with masks; high dynamic range blending; dodging and burning, etc.) until I was finally satisfied with a good but less than stellar (get it? stellar?) image.
Here are two images. The zoomed in and highly cropped image was shot at ISO 800, ƒ/8, and 4 seconds at a focal length of 200mm. The wider field of view was shot at 80mm, ISO 800, ƒ/8, and at shutter speeds of ½, 1, 2, 4, 8, 15, and 30 seconds. HDR blending was done using Lightroom 6 and then further tweaked using various tools to brighten the stars while keeping the Moon dark.
A few days ago, the thin crescent Moon passed close to the planet Venus in the evening twilight sky. Conjunctions such as this repeat at roughly one-month intervals so this is not a rare occurrence—just a beautiful one.
The crescent Moon is ~2.4% illuminated by the direct light of the Sun; the remainder of the Moon is lit by Earthshine which is bright enough to show detail on the shadowed face of the Moon. Leonardo da Vinci explained the phenomenon in the early 16th century when he realized that both Earth and the Moon reflect sunlight at the same time. Light is reflected from Earth to the Moon and back to Earth as earthshine.
I have had the total lunar eclipse of 26 May 2021 on my calendar for almost a year. So when the date was getting close and the weather forecasts were calling for mostly cloudy skies I was disappointed.
Late in the previous afternoon the high clouds began to move across the southwest. As the day progressed, the clouds became thicker. But it was not a solid mass of clouds; there were some areas of thinner clouds and even a few areas without clouds. So the plan was to be ready to shoot photographs if breaks in the clouds arrived in time.
I had a brief glimpse of the Moon just as the partial eclipse began and then the clouds totally obscured the Moon. We patiently waited for breaks or gaps and hoped to see the Moon during totality. Never happened.
The sky was brightening in the east as twilight arrived. Suddenly, I was able to see the Moon as it dropped close to the horizon where there was a gap in the clouds. For just a few minutes I could see the thin crescent of the lit portion and much of the larger portion that was still in shadow. A few minutes later it dropped below the horizon.
I was pretty happy to snatch this minor victory from what had seemed to be a defeat due to weather!
Next up: the conjunction of the planets Venus and Mercury in the evening sky on 28 May 2021. The forecast looks good.
Yesterday (12 May 2021) provided an opportunity to view the thin crescent Moon very close to the planet Venus. Also visible in the evening twilight sky was Mercury higher above the pair.
For a few months each year, it is possible to be located so that the setting of the 1-day old crescent Moon aligns along the length of Upper Lake Mary. This allows for a long fetch of water in which to get reflections of the Moon and planets. Of course, this only works if it is not windy and spring is our windy season. So it was very nice to have both clear skies and very light winds for this event.
In the above image the crescent Moon is just slightly above and to the left of Venus. Near the top center of the image is Mercury. Venus is still rising higher in the sky each day while Mercury is dropping lower. Later this month they will pass by each other with ~0.4° of separation. That should be another interesting event to photograph.
It was the day before the full Moon and I wanted to photograph the Moon as it rose above the Painted Desert. Unfortunately, a thin band of high clouds moved across the area late in the afternoon and were just enough to obscure the Moon when it was still low on the horizon. Time for a backup plan.
We drove a short distance to the Lomaki and Box Canyon pueblos in Wupatki National Monument and set about capturing the Moon as it rose above the ruins. It would have worked better if I could have gotten farther away from the ruins since this would make the Moon appear larger relative to the structures. I was able to get one shot using a focal length of 100mm which partially achieved what I wanted. The interior image was shot using 24mm wide-angle focal length. Good for the ruins but it makes for a tiny image of the Moon.
Finally, just before the Sun set we took some photos of our shadows projected on the ruins. Art? Hardly. Fun? Yes.