Colorful Supermoon Eclipse Delights Skywatchers

The moon looked fairly dark during the eclipse with a lot of deep orange coloration. This photo was taken through a 4-inch refracting telescope and shows several stars near the moon during totality. Details: ISO 1600, 1-second exposure. Bob King

I hope you had a great night watching the moon. For some of us it cleared in just the nick of time. Things looked grim for a time here in Duluth. Lake Superior-inspired snow clouds packed the sky from horizon to horizon just before eclipse time. But by the time the funny, gray penumbra became noticeable, the sky broke and we all cheered.

I shared the eclipse with a group of people at a local church. We used our eyes, binoculars and a telescope to watch the shadow slowly devour the bright full moon and its color turn from silver-white to deep orange. The umbral shadow was a dark, ash-gray when it first appeared along the eastern edge of the moon, but color soon followed. Binoculars showed a deep, burnt, smoky red about 15 minutes into partial eclipse. We all noticed the color without optical aid when the moon was about 25 percent covered in shadow.

Eclipse-watchers take pictures of the totally eclipsed moon with their cell phones through a telescope last night. Bob King

Did you happen to see the pseudo “diamond ring” effect just before the start of totality? With only the upper edge of the moon still in sunlight, it looked like a shining jewel atop the dark “ring” of the eclipsed moon. Everyone in the group eagerly lined up to photograph the eclipse through the telescope with their cell phones. Sometimes I think it’s worth having a telescope even if your only interested in astrophotography. Mobile phones do a superb job of capturing images of the moon both in and out of eclipse.

We watched the moon through mid-eclipse (11:12 p.m. local time) and all agreed that supermoon aside, the eclipsed moon looked distinctly smaller than a non-eclipsed one. I think the brilliance of a normal full moon makes us overestimate its apparent size. Although the shadowed moon looked dusky red going into totality, during total eclipse the colors were subtle, more burnt orange with a gray-blue upper edge. The blue, possibly caused by light filtering through Earth’s ozone layer, was more obvious than I’d expected.

The sight looked like a watercolor when viewed through the little telescope, making me wish for a moment I worked in watercolors instead of digital photography. Paint might have captured the feel and look of the moon better than camera.

This sequence of partial phases leading up to totality were exposed to show the shadowed part, the reason the rest of the moon is overexposed. All except the total eclipse were taken with an ordinary iPhone held over the eyepiece of a 4-inch refracting telescope. Bob King

Clouds started to get the best of the moon after mid-eclipse, the group broke up and I packed up my gear hoping to get to a better spot. The best I could do was a few glimpses of the sunlit crescent a few minutes after totality. By the time I finally called it a night, the sky had completely cleared — of course! The moon, now out of eclipse, was impossibly bright!

Valerie, a friend and fellow reader, watched the eclipse in a very different setting and described her experience as she watched the bright moon slowly go dark:

“Being out in the woods alone on a bitterly cold winter night, the trees casting long moon shadows the the blanket of snow, that’s the part of the experience I like best.”

Richie Townsend of Duluth nicely captured this “diamond ring” effect the bright jewel-like edge of the moon at the top of a ring of light just before totality.

We’d love to hear what you thought. You can send your impressions and photos to me through Facebook at Astro Bob’s Astronomy for Everyone, and I’ll post a selection here. Can’t wait for the next one on May 26, 2021. Thanks and clear skies!

“Couldn’t quit watching.” — Cheri R.

“Couldn’t see anything with that massive storm!” — Carol B.

“Only got a few glimpses until about half way through. The clouds kept covering it but here and there you could see it. So it was not a complete bust. Now it was red at what point? Totality? Because it was not red when I saw it. The eclipsed part was just dark.” — Julie H. (Julie, it appeared red when partially eclipsed. During totality it was more orange, at least to my eyes. — Astro Bob)

“We had on-and-off high clouds through most of the evening, in fact they even made the moon completely disappear during the early part of totality but during the latter part it cleared up a bit and the sight was very beautiful. And yes, I did noticed the “Diamond ring effect”. Anyhow it made a great end to my day!” — Richard M.

22 Responses

  1. Edward M. Boll

    I just saw a deep partial then clods took over. Looking at COBS, someone reported seeing Wirtanen with 10 power binoculars, putting a magnitude of 6.9. Iwamotto is apparently brighter then predicted with one putting it already at mag. 7.3.

    1. astrobob

      Hi Edward,
      Glad you got at least part of the eclipse in view. I saw Wirtanen just a few nights ago in 10x binoculars.

  2. Troy

    Bob, you have the best cloud karma. I had clear skies for the entire event, but negative temperatures kept me going in and out of the house. I was going to set up a telescope just for observing, but found my breath made the eyepiece fog up.
    I haven’t had a chance to look over my photo set yet, but some people on astrophotography sites on Facebook noticed a bright spot on the moons darkened lower limb. Speculation is that it is was an impactor on the moon. (Time mentioned was 11:41:41. Eastern Standard time) (Unlikely to be a hot pixel or satellite if more than one observer saw it)

        1. astrobob

          Really interesting, Troy. It could be a hot pixel. It just needs confirmation. Since so many people were watching and photographing the eclipse, maybe another image will pop up.

  3. Richard K. Mitchell

    We had on-and-off high clouds through most of the evening, in fact they even made the moon completely disappear during the early part of totality but during the latter part it cleared up a bit and the sight was very beautiful. And yes, I did noticed the “Daimond ring effect”. Anyhow it made a great end to my day!

  4. Norman Sanker

    Hey, Bob, a total eclipse of the Moon as seen from Earth is also a total eclipse of the Sun as seen from the Moon. The reddish color of the eclipsed Moon comes from all the world’s sunrises and sunsets bending reddish light toward the Moon. But: I can not remember ever seeing, nor can I find any pictures of the Earth eclipsing the Sun as seen from the vicinity of the Moon. Didn’t any Apollo missions leave a camera pointing back at Earth? Hasn’t any spacecraft orbiting the Moon taken a picture of this “ring of fire.” What about the orbiter that relays info to Earth from the Chinese farside rover? Doesn’t it have that capability? So where are the pix? Thanks and keep up the good work.

    Norman Sanker

    1. astrobob

      Hi Norman,
      The current Chinese mission is fully on the lunar farside in a parking orbit, so no photos are possible. Landing on the moon during a total eclipse would have been a great idea but NASA had lots of other priorities, plus eclipses are very infrequent. That said, two solar eclipses have been photographed from the moon — a low-res still photo from an early U.S. Surveyor lander and this video taken by the Japanese lunar orbiter Kaguya: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Zq0ptByQrcg

  5. Mike McCabe

    Hi Bob,
    I tried posting a photo to your ‘astronomy for everyone FB site, but I’m not sure if it landed. The text is there, but I can’t find the pic. Hopefully it is. I think you’ll like it.
    Mike

    1. astrobob

      Hey Mike, I can’t find it there. I got a partial message, then clicked it. It went to the site but nothing was there … ??? Try again maybe?

  6. Patricia Smith

    When I looked at the eclipse before it reached totality there was a rainbow halo around the moon. The bright colors of red/orange, turquois blue and then a royal blue were beautiful. Did anyone else see this? It lasted clearly up until the total eclipse and then got less discernible after it reached totality. The strange thing was that my husband who was with me could not see the rainbow colors clearly at all.

    1. astrobob

      Hi Patricia,
      Ah! You saw what’s called a corona which happens when the moon’s light is diffracted by clouds. There should have been some clouds at the time, right?

  7. kevan hubbard

    You can get cradles that hold phones over telescope eyepieces and they are quite economical. I recently bought one but haven’t had a chance to test it yet. I was going to set up my 25mm pocket Borg refractor with it and a 9mm Skywatcher planetry eyepiece but I had an early hospital appointment the following day so slept through the eclipse however I don’t feel cheated as I believe that it clouded over,it was certainly cloudy when I got up at 0800. I would guess hand holding the phone will introduce a shaking element?

    1. astrobob

      Kevan,
      Surprisingly, shake is not a problem when hand-holding and photographing the moon with a phone over the eyepiece.

  8. Estação Costeira1

    Hi Bob,
    Regarding your post on S&T:
    https://www.skyandtelescope.com/observing/a-space-rock-strikes-moon-during-the-total-lunar-eclipse/

    I’d like to inform you that Brazilian observer Marcelo Zurita (Joao Pessoa, Paraiba) registered the lunar flash in January, 21 at 04:41:38 UT.
    His report is available here:
    http://www.bramonmeteor.org/bramon/impacto-bramon-registra-impacto-lunar-durante-eclipse/

    In other hand, our local visual observers can’t to detected that flash visually.
    I estimated contact U2 at 04:41:28 UT and just after that I wrote my eclipse observation form, and estimated the moon global magnitude using the 10×50 binoculars— Inverted!

    Other observer, Diego de Bastiani, detected his U2 contact at 04:41:39 UT! Just ONE second after the reported flash. But until now Bastiani didn’t report to us any flash visually. He used a 153mm dobsonian, so the flash could be easily visible through this telescope…

    with regards,

    Alex Amorim

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