Lunar Eclipse, September 26, 1996

All photos copyright Akkana Peck.

[Foothill crowd, awaiting the start of the eclipse] By 7pm PDT, a crowd of several hundred eager people had gathered at Foothill College in Los Altos, CA.
[ First sighting, partial lunar eclipse ] Foothill's eastern horizon is littered with buildings and trees, and the crowd awaited moonrise with great anticipation and speculation as to exactly where the moon would actually appear first. Finally, someone caught sight of the already eclipsed moon appearing behind the dome, almost invisible in the still-bright sky.

Naturally, the moon wasn't visible from where I had set up my 4.25" Coulter CT-100 rich-field telescope. But that's one of the benefits of small telescopes -- you can just pick them up and move them. I moved to the walkway where I could just see the moon rising behind the observatory, and a line formed to look at the moon through the RFT.

I had all sorts of grandiose plans about using a second camera body to take multiple exposures, long exposures, objects in the foreground, and other creative shots. These plans fell through as I found it was all I could do to drive the Coulter and answer people's questions about the eclipse, help the women next to me with their Tasco refractor (which they had inherited in a poor state of repair, but we were able to make it usable, if frustrating), and shoot a frame or two whenever people stopped walking in front of the camera.

[Lunar eclipse progressing, sky darkening] As the sky gradually darkened, visibility improved ...
[Lunar eclipse progressing] until finally the entirety of the partially eclipsed moon could be seen, despite the not-yet-dark skies.

[Lunar Eclipse: totality]

Darkness fell as the moon entered totality, passing entirely into the earth's shadow. In the dark skies, Saturn, only a few degrees away, was very bright. With my lowest-power eyepiece on the RFT, I was able to get them both in the same field, which people seemed to like.

The color of the fully eclipsed moon was spectacular. The rust-red color predominated to the naked-eye and binocular view, but viewed in the Coulter, the darker parts of the moon displayed purple highlights. The purple color didn't come out in the photos, unfortunately, nor did the faint star which was visible just off the brightest part of the eclipsed moon -- presumably this is the star which would have been occulted for an observer a few hundred miles farther south.

I had to work hard to keep people looking through the Coulter and not the camera mounted on the Pro-Optic spotter. Apparently the little Maksutov looks more like a telescope to the unitiated than the CT-100. I let people look through the camera's viewfinder, but warned them it wouldn't be much of a view.

[Lunar Eclipse - just after totality]

That was an easier job than keeping people out of line for the observatory, though. The wait to look through the 16" was two hours or more, despite the fact that PAS members kept telling people that they wouldn't see anything through the observatory that they couldn't see just as well from the smaller 'scopes outside, and that several of the private 'scopes were actually better than the ones inside the observatory. Nobody seemed to believe that, though in fact it's quite true.
Finally totality ended, and a small sliver of sunlight gleamed from the edge of the moon's disk. If anything, this was the prettiest part of the eclipse, though sad at the same time since it signalled the beginning of the end. [growing...] Now all that was left was to watch the sunlit part of the moon gradually grow ... [growing...] ... and grow ... [growing...]
...until I ran out of film and didn't shoot a final image of the full, non-eclipsed moon with which to end this page. :-)

A few minutes before the eclipse was completely over, clouds began to roll in, and twenty minutes later the moon was completely obscured. I'd like to take this opportunity to thank the Weather Gods for allowing us to watch this lovely eclipse ... The Channel 7 11 o'clock news crew remained in the empty parking lot after everyone else had left; apparently they insist on making their broadcasts live even if the newsworthy event is long since over. "I'm standing here in front of Foothill observatory, which is quiet now, but two hours ago ..." Go figure.

All moon photos on this page taken (and copyright) by Akkana Peck, using a Nikon FG, Pro-Optic 500/5.6 Maksutov lens, fixed tripod, and either Ektachrome 400 (partial phases) or Provia 1600 (totality). Some of the images were digitized on a PhotoCD; the grainy ones were were digitized with a WinCam.One with a slide adaptor, all I had at the time.