Total Lunar Eclipse and Overcast Skies

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.

Lunar Eclipse of 26 May 2021 and the Moon is starting to reappear from Earth's shadow.
Lunar Eclipse of 26 May 2021 and the Moon is starting to reappear from Earth’s shadow.
The partially eclipsed Moon is about to set behind Cathedral Rock.
The partially eclipsed Moon is about to set behind Cathedral Rock.

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.

IR satellite image at time of totality. Yep, totally overcast.
IR satellite image at time of totality. Yep, totally overcast.

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.

The Moon and Two Planets in the Evening Sky

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.

Moon, Venus, and Mercury in the evening sky.
Moon, Venus, and Mercury in the evening sky.

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.

The Moon and Venus during evening twilight.
The Moon and Venus during evening twilight.

Two days earlier there will be a total Lunar eclipse taking place in the pre-dawn hours.

Moonrise over Lomaki Pueblo

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.

Moonrise above Lomaki Pueblo.
Moonrise above Lomaki Pueblo.
Moon rise over the interior of Lomaki Pueblo.
Moon rise over the interior of Lomaki Pueblo.

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.

Shadows projected on Lomaki Pueblo.
Shadows projected on Lomaki Pueblo.

Finally, just before the Sun set we took some photos of our shadows projected on the ruins. Art? Hardly. Fun? Yes.

The Heron and the Moon

The Heron and the Moon.
The Heron and the Moon.

Sometimes a wonderful photographic opportunity just falls into place with no effort on my part.

I watched a hawk dive down towards the water of Wet Beaver Creek and then heard the squawking of another bird—this heron—as it took flight. It landed in this tree top a moment later. And then I saw that the Moon was right there. I only had to take a step or two for this positioning of Moon and heron. And, then, a moment later, it took flight again and was gone.

The Great Conjunction of Jupiter and Saturn

Great Conjunction of Jupiter and Saturn (21 December 2020)
Great Conjunction of Jupiter and Saturn (21 December 2020)

On 21 December 2020, Jupiter and Saturn passed a tenth of a degree from each other in what is known as a Great Conjunction. Great Conjunctions are not rare and occur every 20 years. But the apparent separation between the two planets varies with each event and this one was the third closest in over 800 years (1226 and 1623 were closer) but only one of these was visible; the other was lost in the bright glare of twilight.

Great Conjunction with labels of Jupiter and Saturn (21 December 2020)
Great Conjunction with labels of Jupiter and Saturn (21 December 2020)

The images shown here used a 300mm telephoto lens—which is barely sufficient to resolve the rings of Saturn. The rings can be seen as making Saturn appear oval shaped.

The first image is from 1803 MST on 21 December 2020, just a few hours after closest approach. The second image has labels for the brightest moons of Jupiter and Saturn.

Below is an image showing the daily movement of Jupiter relative to Saturn. It is also easy to see the motions of Jupiter’s four largest moons as they appear in different locations for each of the three Jupiter positions.

Three-day sequence of the Great Conjunction of Jupiter and Saturn.
Three-day sequence of the Great Conjunction of Jupiter and Saturn.

Finally, NASA’s Astronomy Picture of the Day has a very nice image of the two planets. Telescope required.