Super Duper Double Dog Dinosaur Pinky Swear Eclipse

Left to right: The moon passing through totality as seen through the supports of the 150’ ft solar tower, the constellation Orion.

Left to right: The moon passing through totality as seen through the supports of the 150’ ft solar tower, the constellation Orion.

On the evening of Sunday, January 20th, millions of people in the Americas and Western Europe watched the moon turn an intriguing shade of red. The media loves to give lunar eclipses all sorts of ridiculous names. I’m not even going to dignify this one by listing it. One adjective that always gets slapped on is “blood” due to the color of the moon during the eclipse. The moon actually turns red during every total lunar eclipse, so calling a lunar eclipse a blood moon is redundant.

The red color of the moon during totality, which is when the moon is completely within the shadow cast by the Earth, is caused because not all light from the sun is blocked by the Earth - the longest wavelength light, red light, bends around the Earth’s atmosphere, which acts like a lense, and is cast onto the moon. We’re essentially seeing the light from all sunrises and sunsets around the entire world projected onto the moon’s surface.

The forecast was cloudy weather in Los Angeles, so Blake made his way to Mt. Wilson Observatory to try to escape the clouds at 5,710’ elevation. Because we’ve already imaged lunar eclipses through telescopes a number of times and are very pleased with the resulting data and pictures, this time around Blake chose to document this eclipse via landscape astrophotography using just a camera.

Blake hiked around for a while looking for the perfect angle that would showcase the historic observatory with the eclipsed moon and both an interesting celestial backdrop and foreground. He knew he would have about an hour to get the shots he wanted, and once he found his location, he set up, did some some calculations, and waited.

I didn’t think that I would see anything, but then the clouds disappeared from near beginning of the eclipse to the final click of my shutter after totality. I had to lay in the mud with a rock propping up my camera while the battery light flickered for a few shots, but I got some great ones.
— Blake Estes, Cofounder
The moon passing exiting totality as seen through the supports of the historic 150’ ft solar tower at Mt. Wilson Observatory.

The moon passing exiting totality as seen through the supports of the historic 150’ ft solar tower at Mt. Wilson Observatory.

Meanwhile, I spent the evening working my other job at Griffith Observatory, where we hosted a special event for the lunar eclipse. Thousands of people showed up, and we had telescopes available for public viewing, as well as a livestream of the event via a telescope in one of the domes. We were joined by the Los Angeles Astronomical Society, the Planetary Society, and Sidewalk Astronomers, all of whom brought telescopes for the public to view. I managed a staff of about 15 people who did a stellar job sharing information with the public, and I kept a record of the evening’s events. It was great to see so many people come together to enjoy an astronomical event. We too were beleaguered by clouds, but they suddenly lifted just before totality. Cheers erupted from the massive crowd when totality set in.

By the way, here’s a quick rundown of the science of a lunar eclipse: essentially, a lunar eclipse is caused when the moon passes into the shadow cast by the Earth. In other words, the Earth is directly between the sun and the moon. The Earth is always casting a shadow into space as the sun shines on it, but the moon doesn’t always swing through the shadow because the moon orbits the earth at a slight angle relative to the Earth’s orbit with the sun. If the Earth, the sun and the moon lay in the same plane, we would have a total lunar eclipse and a total solar eclipse every single month. I’m personally glad that’s not the case because these events would undoubtedly lose their significance.

We look forward to sharing more pictures from this eclipse, and delving into another topic in astronomy soon!

- Sam Deery-Schmitt, Cofounder

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