Observing Report: Total lunar eclipse on Oct. 8, 2014October 11, 2014
It had been six and a half years since I had actually watched a lunar eclipse (back in February, 2008), so I stayed up late Tuesday night to watch the lunar eclipse early Wednesday morning.
London didn’t stay up that late, he went to bed at the usual time and I got him up about 3:00 AM. We spent about half an hour together, watching the Earth’s shadow gradually overtake the moon until the moon was entirely eclipsed. I had set up my pimped-out GalileoScope (it’s on the second tripod in the background), but after a lot of scope- and eyepiece-swapping, the setup I settled on was my 4-inch refractor and 8-24mm zoom eyepiece.
My Nikon Coolpix 4500 gave up the ghost last year. I got a Canon S100 to replace it, but I dropped it out in the field this spring, and I haven’t gotten it repaired yet. So other than the DSLR Vicki uses at work, my only camera is the one in my iPhone 5C, and I used it for all of my eclipse photos. For most point-and-shoot photo purposes, it’s all I need. As an astronomical camera, it leaves much to be desired. There are apps out there that let you control the exposure and shutter speed, but I haven’t investigated them much yet.
When you first hold the iPhone camera up to the eyepiece, all you will see of the moon is an undetailed spotlight. The trick is to tap and hold on the moon for a few seconds to kick in the exposure lock and focus lock. That will gear down the exposure to the point that you can start getting decent photos. The focus lock is a little squirrelly – sometimes one part of the image is better-focused than another (for example, because the camera is not perfectly parallel to the light beam coming through the scope), and the camera will seize on the out-of-focus portion for the focus lock. In that case, you can usually get things back to good by tweaking the focus of the telescope, using the image on the camera screen to tell when the image is best focused.
All of the photos above have been rotated, resized, and lightly sharpened in GIMP. Max eclipse was at 3:55. The moon was entirely in Earth’s umbra, but it wasn’t centered in the umbra, so the northern limb was definitely brighter than the southern one, and the photos record that.
In sum, it was a lot of fun. Even the fussing about with the camera was rewarding – the iPhone may not be a replacement for a decent point-and-shoot camera when it comes to digiscoping, but it was still satisfying to learn how to use it for that purpose.
Now we’re getting prepared for the solar eclipse in a couple of weeks, and keeping our fingers firmly crossed for clear skies. Stay tuned.