2004 Lunar Eclipse Sequence
The total lunar eclipse of 2004 Oct 28 was widely visible from the USA.
This sequence of images captures the eclipse from start (right) to finish (left).
The composite was assembled from three separate exposures using Adobe Photoshop.
AstroPhysics 105 EDT Refractor (4" F/6) and AP 2X Barlow (fl=1200mm).
(click to see larger image)
A chance to see two eclipses in two weeks doesn't come around very often, but 2004 presented just such an opportunity. After traveling to Hawaii to see a partial solar eclipse at sunset (2004 Oct 13-14), Pat Totten and I were anxious to observe the total lunar eclipse of 2004 Oct 27-28. This latter event would be visible from North and South America as well as Africa and Europe. This eclipse diagram shows the geometry of the Moon's path through Earth's shadows as well as the times of each phase of the eclipse. For more details about the event, see the NASA web site Total Lunar Eclipse of 2004 Oct 27-28 2004.
Plan "A" was to watch the eclipse from our front yard in Dunkirk, Maryland, assuming the weather forecast for eclipse night was for clear skies. If not, we would fall back on plan "B" - at the last minute we would drive or fly to some destination that offered a better chance of seeing the eclipse.
I kept an eye on the long range weather forecasts provided by News 12 meteorologist Joe Rao as well as web sites from the National Weather Service and the Weather Underground. Two days before the eclipse, the extended forecasts were quite promising. Unfortunately, that changed dramatically in the next 24 hours.
With the eclipse only a day away, it looked as if Maryland would be completely overcast. In a panic, I checked forecasts for New York, Boston, Chicago, Miami and Houston. None of these destinations was a sure thing since major weather systems were rapidly changing.
The night before the eclipse, Pat and I packed the telescope and our camera equipment for a spontaneous plane trip the next day. Hours before the eclipse, I continued to study forecasts for any location offering a good shot at clear sky. We were ready to head for the airport, but I could find no city free of clouds.
As we procrastinated, the weather in Maryland began to change. Patches of blue appeared in the cloud deck and the Sun popped out with increasing frequency. We ate an early dinner and pondered our dwindling options. As we emerged from the restaurant we discovered a sunny sky with only a few lingering clouds on the horizon. The decision was now as clear as the sky above our heads - return home, unpack our gear and prepare for the eclipse.
Two hours later I was polar aligning my Losmandy GM-8 equatorial tripod in our front yard as the Full Moon climbed above the trees. The clear sky was holding and the penumbral phase of the eclipse had begun. By the time I shot my first photograph (8:35 pm EDT, Oct. 27; 00:35 UT, Oct 28), the Moon was already 40% immersed in the penumbra. Through the viewfinder of my Nikon D100, I could detect subtle shading along the leading edge of the Moon.
Pat and I began our photo sequences as the eclipse progressed. The soft edge of the umbral shadow reached the Moon's eastern limb at 9:14 pm (01:14 UT). However, the eclipse was evident to the naked eye a full fifteen minutes before as some noticeable shading along the edge.
We waited for totality with increasing anticipation. Would it be a bright or dark eclipse? Would it be especially colorful since the atmosphere was free of the volcanic dust that had dulled some of the eclipses of the early 1990's? We got a hint around 9:30 pm (01:30 UT) when I was able to detect the deeply eclipsed edge of the Moon with only the naked eye. In the 28x eyepiece of my TeleVue Ranger, the Moon's eclipsed limb showed a warm orange-red glow. This was going to be a bright eclipse!
Triple Play Eclipse
In honor of the Boston Red Sox and their World Series win, a "triple-play"
captures the start (right), middle (center) and end (left) of the total eclipse.
(click to see larger image)
I continued my photographic program with an Astrophysics Traveler telescope (105mm aperture, f/6 with 2x AP Barlow) and Pat shot with a Sigma 500mm zoom and 2x converter. Occasionally, I tried some slower shutter speeds, which overexposed one edge of the Moon, but revealed a wonderful red glow deep within the umbral shadow.
As the sky grew darker in the dwindling moonlight the stars began to come out. The eclipsed part of the Moon was easily visible to the naked eye a full twenty minutes before totality began. Because the uneclipsed crescent was so bright, it created the illusion that it belonged to a larger diameter Moon than the eclipsed portion.
In the final ten minutes before totality, time seemed to accelerate as I cycled through a range of shutter speeds to capture different aspects of the event. The eclipsed disk was deep orange-red and capped by a dazzlingly bright thin crescent near its top edge. The amazing color was visible, no doubt, because our house is completely surrounded by tall trees and offers a dark oasis free from direct light. This permitted our eyes to become dark adapted so we could appreciate the hues within Earth's shadow as it passed over the Moon.
The colors intensified as the bright crescent's light faded. Totality! Not as sublime as a total solar eclipse, but strikingly beautiful nonetheless. In addition, tonight's total lunar eclipse would last 81 minutes - a dozen times greater than the longest possible solar eclipse. The crimson orb was a stunning sight hanging high among the stars of southern Aries.
Although I spent much of my time photographing the event, I occasionally enjoyed the view with the unaided eye or through a small spotting scope (TeleVue Ranger at 28x). The portion of the Moon deepest in the umbra was clearly much darker than the section nearest the shadow's edge. This was to be expected, but it was fascinating to study the difference and range in colors. As totality progressed and the Moon moved deeper into the shadow, it grew a darker shade of red.
By mid-eclipse thin clouds moved in. As the end of totality neared, clouds were beginning to affect the brightness of the Moon's disk. Nevertheless, we managed to see the eastern edge of the Moon grow intensely bright as it emerged from the shadow and totality ended. Almost as if on cue, thicker clouds were now moving in from the west. Occasionally they completely obscured the Moon's disk for minutes at a time but we continued to watch the growing crescent for another half hour. Photography became difficult under these conditions so we decided to quit just before the partial phases ended.
Tired and cold, we donned our swimsuits for a midnight dip. As we warmed our bones in the hot tub and enjoyed a glass of merlot we watched the final minutes of the partial eclipse through holes in the clouds. What a way to end a wonderful evening!
One interesting side note is that this marked the first time a lunar eclipse occurred during a World Series baseball game. Fans swear the bright red Moon was an omen of good fortune since the Boston Red Sox eclipsed nearly a century long curse by winning their first World Series in 86 years. Cynics point out that red is also the Cardinals' color, so the scarlet eclipse omen would have worked either way.
All photographs, text and web pages are © Copyright 2007 by Fred Espenak, unless otherwise noted. All rights reserved. They may not be reproduced, published, copied or transmitted in any form, including electronically on the Internet or WWW, without written permission of the author. The photos have been digitally watermarked.
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Last revised: 2007 Dec 31