Lunar Eclipse, Real Time

9:56 PM, EST:  According to online information (I first typed “onlune”!), the moon has already begun to pass into the earth’s penumbra, or larger and lighter shadow.  My telescope is trained on it, and I see no change whatsoever.  The night is extremely cold and clear, with only occasional passing clouds.  Excellent, so far, for eclipse watching, if you are bundled up–and mind you, no alcohol.  Causes hypothermia.

My telescope is the Celestron Omni XLT 120, a good refractor of 1000 mm focal length and aperture of 120 mm–so it’s an f/8.3.  Mount is a Celestron CG4 with German equatorial mount and Orion mount extender.  I am using an ED eyepiece from Agena Astro, 25 mm, yielding ample magnification of 40×.  The 18% moon cover is on the scope so the image is bearable to my eyes.

And yes, I’m bundled up, long johns, T-shirt, flannel shirt, sweater, lined overshirt, parka, scarf and cap.  And blue jeans and heavy socks under walking shoes.  The patio is icy but I’m being careful.  The trees are cased in glaze ice, reminding me of the 1973 ice storm on Long Island.  This icing is much less severe, but it’s still significant–and just as gemlike.

The moon, according to Stellarium, is just barely in the boundary of Cancer.  It is rather close to Castor and Pollux, and there’s no chance of seeing Cancer, dim as it is.  I can see Sirius, Betelgeuse, Capella, Aldebaran, and other prominent stars.  Polaris is visible as well.

Stellarium puts the magnitude of the moon at -12.48.

Star Trek:  Deep Space Nine is on.  Light pollution is hardly an issue right now.

10:08 PM.  I still see no change.  It is painful to look for long, even with restricted aperture.  It is never interesting to look at a full moon in any case;  there are no shadows and all is washed out and featureless.  The best times to view the moon are at a few days’ distance from full.

Of course, that’s a very unpoetic remark.  The full moon is one of mankind’s fondest sights, an endless source of artistic and romantic inspiration.  It’s gloriously beautiful.  But for a close observer, interested in viewing lunar features, it’s a bust.

There’s a lesson there.  For romance to work its full magic, don’t look too closely.  Also, let science and religion look for whatever they seek; there’s enough moon for us all.

10:19.  The penumbral phase can only be seen if there is enough of a magnitude change, which isn’t the case tonight.  The sunlight hitting the moon overcomes the challenge of the diffuse outer bands of the earth’s shadow.  It’s absolutely fair game to look for it, though.  The eclipse has already begun, and we should notice some actual change in about ten minutes, when the moon enters the umbra or full shadow.

10:36.  A little dirtying of the lower part of the moon.  It begins. (Image reversed.)

10:46.  It’s called a “supermoon,” according to, because it’s within a few miles of perigee, or approach to earth, making it look bigger.  It’s the Wolf Moon according to the Old Farmer’s Almanac, on the basis of tradition.  There’s nothing mystical going on, unless you feel there is.  For me, Psalm 19 will cover the waterfront nicely.

10:56.  Unmistakable red color developing.  A fainter leading edge to the shadow, perhaps the earth’s atmosphere. Then the dull, somewhat anticlimatic darkness, only now it’s going orange!

11:04.  The astronomer on Slooh just said “her and I will be watching,” and my inner English teacher went beserk.  Scientists oughta talk smart.  The shadow spreads across the lunar surface and the color is more pronounced–still, though, almost entirely through lenses.  To the eye there is shadow and little more.  Of course, my camera battery needs recharging.

11:24.  Beautiful glowing color visible to naked eye.  Moon nearly vanished.  Stars appearing, including the stars of Cancer.  The brilliant moonlight that bathed the icy branches a few hours ago is entirely gone.  The countryside has gone dark.



11:45.  Totality has begun.  The stars are out; I can see Cancer.  Camera, by the way, is an old Canon pocket camera, a modern-day instamatic, held up to the eyepiece.  I have shifted to a Celestron Plössl eyepiece of 40 mm, yielding 25x magnification.  Lower magnification is often the best choice…as in this case.


12:19 AM, 1-21-19.  Maximum eclipse has begun, and massive clouds have rolled in!  But in the breaks, I can still see the dark and still moon and many constellations:  Leo, Cancer, Gemini, Canis Minor, Canis Major, Orion…even Monoceros.  The clouds are a typical disappointment here.  Twenty minutes to first return of sunlight.  If you were on the moon now, you would see all sunrises and sunsets at once in the earth’s atmosphere.

There is little reason to mention each lunar feature in turn as the light leaves or returns.  Full moon, with no light, a little light, or all of the usual light, is (again) not the best time to observe.  This, then, is (again) a night more for poetry, or for simpler forms of observation.

12:46.  The first hints of light return to the edge of the moon.  The clouds are all gone, and the constellations are still shining.  What a beautiful event.

The only thing is the cold.  A branch crashed to the ground in the back yard, and trees nearer the house are creaking in the cold, burdened by their ice.  I hope nothing bigger crashes down.  In Bloomington, on exactly this date in 2000, there was a spectacular total lunar eclipse, but I seem to remember the moon being smaller.  In any case, it was miserably cold, like tonight.

1:20.  The moonlight is returning and the iced branches are dancing again.  Looking up at the moon, at first I thought a flock of birds were circling it–it was the branches of the ash tree.  A lovely valediction.

About Jonathan B. Hall

Keyboard artist, sacred musician, teacher, writer, working in New York City and State. Many interests include music theory and history, literature, astronomy, genealogy, philosophy and theology, gardening, and good food. Cat lover, too.
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