Last night’s “Super Blood Moon”: a photo essay

So last night was anopportunity for folks on the East Coast of the United States to see a relatively rare event: a lunar eclipse!  Hyped as a “Super Blood Moon” (we’ll get to that in a moment), it took place beginning late Sunday night and stretched into Monday morning.  At that time, the Moon was high in the sky, meaning that anyone could see the progress of the eclipse simply by looking up.

Why “Super Blood Moon”? Well, mostly hype. It’s “super” because the Moon is near its closest to the Earth, though this means that it appears roughly 10% larger than usual. It is called a “Blood Moon” because it takes on a reddish color during the totality of the eclipse, which arises because the only light hitting it is the red light deflected through the Earth’s atmosphere — it is being illuminated by all sunrises and sunsets around the world simultaneously!  More information can be found on the Bad Astronomy blog.

But “super” and “blood” are small details, as seeing any lunar eclipse is a cool thing. I must admit: I hadn’t really planned on staying up and photographing the eclipse, but the posts by all my science communication twitter friends got me excited for it.  I quickly grabbed my old Canon camera, a Powershot SX50 HS, and my camera tripod, and went out to take pictures.

It’s kind of a miracle I got nice photographs. The camera is relatively old, and was released in 2013. I had never really tried to mess with the settings of the camera, either, usually using it in “AUTO” mode, so I ended up messing around with the settings out in the cold and dark at the last minute.  Finally, I had only used the tripod a couple of times in the long past, so I wasn’t really familiar with it, either.

Anyway, without further ado, let me share a sequence of photos, with their appropriate time stamps.

10:36 P.M. Moon entering the dark umbral shadow.

10:41 P.M.

10:45 P.M.

10:49 P.M.

10:54 P.M.

11:00 P.M.

11:08 P.M.

11:14 P.M.

11:20 P.M.

11:26 P.M.

At this point, a few minutes before we hit totality, was freezing a ready to go in. I changed my camera settings to be more light sensitive sensitive to capture some of that redness of the “Blood Moon.”

11:30 P.M.

Basically, I threw my camera back on “AUTO” mode.  This was a bit of a challenge, because it also means “auto focus,” and the camera was not terribly keen on finding a dim object in the night sky.  However, even those photos ended up looking cool, like a distant image of Mars.

11:35 P.M.

Here, my story almost ended for the night. I was cold and couldn’t really feel my fingers, so I decided to head to bed. I actually got into bed and was ready to fall asleep when I saw all the cool photos people had taken of the Moon at totality. So I threw on shoes, pants and a coat — no shirt, even! — and ran back out to get some more images!

12:10 A.M.

At some point, a guy in a truck drove by and stopped to ask if I was getting good images! I was, but I wouldn’t know until I put them on my computer and looked at them the next evening.

The rest of the images are more or less the same, but I present them all, nevertheless!

12:11 A.M.

12:12 A.M.

The Moon isn’t always centered because I didn’t have great control over the tripod — remember, I had no idea what I was doing — so any time I got it into the frame, I counted myself lucky! I also, for the record, used a 2-second delayed timer so that the camera could settle into place before the shutter opened.

12:12 A.M.

12:12 A.M. Final image of the night!

If you look carefully, or blow up the image, you can see some of the stars in the background! I love that.

And with that, I finally went to bed. I had honestly forgotten how nice it is to go out late on a cold night and look up at something interesting in the sky.

One thing, though: me running back out into the cold while inadequately dressed to do science is exactly the sort of way that old-timey scientists ended up killing themselves. For example, the 17th century natural philosopher Francis Bacon (1561-1626) died in the following way, as recounted in John Aubrey’s book Brief Lives, published at the end of the 1600s:

Mr. Hobbs told me that the cause of his Lordship’s death was trying an Experiment; viz. as he was taking the aire in a Coach with Dr. Witherborne (a Scotchman, Physitian to the King) towards High-gate, snow lay on the ground, and it came into my Lord’s thoughts, why flesh might not be preserved in snow, as in Salt. They were resolved they would try the Experiment presently. They alighted out of the Coach and went into a poore woman’s house at the bottom of Highgate hill, and bought a Hen, and made the woman exenterate it, and then stuffed the body with Snow, and my Lord did help to doe it himselfe. The Snow so chilled him that he immediately fell so extremely ill, that he could not returne to his Lodging (I suppose then at Graye’s Inne) but went to the Earle of Arundel’s house at High-gate, where they putt him into a good bed warmed with a Panne, but it was a damp bed that had not been layn-in in about a yeare before, which gave him such a colde that in 2 or 3 dayes as I remember Mr. Hobbes told me, he dyed of Suffocation.

Well, here’s hoping I didn’t make the same mistake as Francis Bacon!  Anyway: keep watching the skies!

Francis Bacon, reckless fool for science.


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2 Responses to Last night’s “Super Blood Moon”: a photo essay

  1. wow, beautiful pictures! Thank you for going to all that bother! Also liked the Bacon bed story, A horror! “damp bed that had not been layn-in in about a yeare before” indeed! I sure appreciate my warm cozy bed all the more

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