Tuesday, 21 December 2010

Total eclipse of the moon

I posted a shot of the moon at the end of last winter, here, to accompany a wee poem. This morning is another good day for lunatics, with the final lunar eclipse of the year, coinciding with the day of the Winter Solstice, the first time this coincidence has occurred since 1638! I woke this morning to hear about the eclipse on the "Today" programme on Radio 4 (regular source of morning wisdom) and wrapped up warm to go out and take a couple of pictures (it is still -10 degrees Celsius outside!).

Eclipses are one of the great dramatic spectacles of nature, particularly the rarer solar eclipses, when the Moon passes exactly between the Sun and the Earth. As the discs of the Moon and the Sun (coincidentally, whatever anyone else says!) are the same apparent size in our sky, solar eclipses are pretty dramatic, with the Sun, the brightest object in our lives (other than Stephen Fry, obviously), completely obscured for a few minutes.

21st December 2010: Lunar eclipse, about 07:25, 15 minutes before the totality
21st December 2010: Lunar eclipse, about 07:30, 10 minutes before the totality. The Moon is beginning to look slightly red at this stage.

Lunar eclipses are more modest affairs, but still very impressive and occur much more frequently than full solar eclipses. They occur when the Moon, Earth and Sun are aligned in a single plane, in that order, so that the shadow of the Earth is cast over the Moon. As the Earth's shadow at the distance of the Moon, is larger than the disc of the Moon, the earth completely blocks any direct passage of sunlight. When the eclipse is full, the only light shining on the Moon's surface is sunlight that has been bent around the Earth's rim, passing through the atmosphere (I can never remember if that is refraction or diffraction. Diffraction, I think. Mr Beveridge, my High School Physics teacher will be ashamed of me!). So, the light hitting the Moon has a red hue as a result of dust in the atmosphere (I think), and the Moon turns red. Today's lunar eclipse was a good example of this - an astronomer in the "Today" programme item said that earlier cultures (he didn't say which ones), understanding the relationship between the length of the lunar cycle and women's menstrual cycle, believed it was the red colour was the Moon giving back fertility to the Earth. Hmm.

21st December 2010: Lunar eclipse, about 07:40, with the totality of the eclipse now imminent. The Moon is now an amazing red colour.

Anyway, it was bitterly cold out there today, but very clear, and I managed to take a few shots in focus. As a lazy photographer, I don't yet really understand how to work my Canon digital SLR properly and I'm sure these could have been better. Sadly, the Moon dropped further, behind a cloud layer and disappeared from sight, otherwise, I would have photographed its emergence from the eclipse. Shame!

For some reason, this morning's activity made me think of this - we had a (if not THE) Dark Side of the Moon facing us for a few rare moments this morning:


  1. Fab - thanks for taking the time to write this post and take some pics. I saw it myself up here in the north east, and it is great to read what you have to say - so much better informed than Radio Scotland! Also, top marks for mentioning Pink Floyd.

  2. Hey Scotty! Great post and wonderful shots. Thanks for braving the cold and sharing these. We had cloud this morning I am sorry to say although I did see the full moon shining bright in a clear sky at 5am. One of the pups needed out in the garden, he'd been eating too muck snow! Happy Solstice!

  3. Hey Scotty, just watched the Floyd clip and popped back to say thank you for posting it. I saw them on this tour at Earls Court and that took me back to an amazing evening, I feel very moved!

  4. As a keen amateur photographer can I tell you how jealous I am of your pics? The line "I don't yet really understand how to work my Canon digital SLR properly" is clearly untrue. Haha.

    Nice job, sadly it was way too cloudy here to take a pic of anything.

  5. We had fog this morning Big Bro so i missed seeing it... great wee post and pics of what i missed!

  6. Thanks all for your kind words. I'm glad you all liked it.

    Kate - you can't go wrong with the Floyd! And it's funny to think of all those pairs of eyes looking up at the same phenomenon simultaneously. Astral and planetary phenomena are surely the only happenings that billions of people can all watch at the same time completely unaided by any broadcast media!

    Hi Dancin' - been a while! Thanks for the advert on your blog, much appreciated. The real Floyd is one gig I never managed to attend. We did have the Australian Pink Floyd playing in Stirling a few years ago and they were quite remarkable. They'd bought Floyd's original circular screen (the one in the film above maybe?) and all the backing films and their playing was faithfully, spookily accurate! We also had a Syd Barrett-era tribute band, Ummagumma, play here a couple of years ago, who did all the early classics, which was fun - made me feel I need to have a paisley pattern shirt again! (still looking) Cheers, SNB

  7. Hi jono - thanks for that - but genuinely, I can' yet work out how to use the camera to anything like its full potential yet (as I said, lazy!). Those pics came from monkeying about with the ISO (easy to change) and experimenting with which of the pre-set settings (night portait, no flash, etc) gave the better images! A bit of luck and a bit of bodging!

    Hi coastkid - glad to be of service! Not sure when we'll see you over the hols - will give you a call.
    Cheers all, SNB


Thanks for taking the time to comment... much appreciated at this end! If you've enjoyed reading this post, why not sign up to follow this blog? I won't even make you wear a robe, cape, costume or anything, unless you insist.