partial solar eclipse, november 2012

There was a solar eclipse in Australia today; in a few lucky places, such as Cairns in far-north Queensland, it was a total eclipse, but down here in Melbourne it was just a partial eclipse. I wasn’t sure if the sun would be up high enough to get much of a view of it from my backyard, so at first I just caught a quick glimpse of it using my eclipse glasses. As it turned out, I had a great view, so I cobbled together the same observing setup I used for the transit of Venus earlier this year: binoculars strapped to a tripod, projecting the sun’s image on to a sheet of paper.

My simple solar observing setup — this took all of about five minutes to put together

This setup produced some sharper pictures than I managed with the transit of Venus — I think sitting the paper further away from the binoculars helped. I’ve processed these shots a little, converting them to grayscale using just the green channel (it was sharper than the red or blue channels, and much sharper alone than combining all three channels) and boosting the contrast to bring out some surface detail. The “grain” in the images is just from the paper, but those dark spots on the images are definitely sunspots.

This was within a few minutes of the eclipse’s greatest coverage. It’s super-obvious here, but it was still very bright outside — if you didn’t know there was an eclipse I’m sure you wouldn’t have noticed

We’re towards the end of the eclipse now; I think this shot has the best surface detail out of any of the shots I took today

One final shot, from just before the end of the eclipse

Seeing this has given me an even greater desire to see a total solar eclipse — I’m sure I’ll get the opportunity eventually! They do happen fairly often, but you need to be in the right place in the right time, so unless one happens to occur right here I might have to plan a trip to see one.

lunar eclipse, june 2011

In the wee hours of this morning, the Moon moved in to the Earth’s shadow and fell in to near-complete darkness — a lunar eclipse. This eclipse was especially long and dark, as the Moon traveled right through the centre of the Earth’s shadow, giving it a very deep, eerie red glow before fading to near-invisibility as it neared the horizon.

I had the telescope and binoculars out for visual observation, but the Canon 550D provided the real fun, with the 75-300mm lens giving enough zoom to get a reasonably close look at the action. The timing didn’t allow me to see the whole thing (it started around 4:30AM, and was still heavily in shadow as it set around 7AM), but I still got some pretty good shots.

4:48AM: a chunk of the Moon goes missing

5:25AM: parts of the Moon fall in to deep shadow

I had to increase the exposure time as the Moon grew darker, which caused some slight blurring from the Moon’s motion across the sky. To limit the blurring, I also had to progressively increase the ISO setting, which made later images more noisy, but these shots still give you some idea of just how dark the Moon became in the sky.

5:44AM: the entire Moon glows red

You might expect the Moon to go completely dark during the eclipse, but even when it’s entirely within the Earth’s shadow, our atmosphere scatters a small amount of light toward it. Only the reddest parts of that light make it all the way through our atmosphere, though, which causes the Moon’s red colour.

6:15AM: the Moon all but fades from view during totality

I think this is the photo of the night, though:

6:05AM: a timely encounter with a morning jet

It’s not uncommon for jets to fly past our house, and after seeing one fly past, my wife was ready at the camera when a second appeared. The camera was still set on a two-second exposure to capture the (by this point very dim) Moon, but that just makes the jet look like something from a sci-fi movie.

Another eclipse will be visible from here in December — it may not be as spectacularly dark as this one, but it starts at a more reasonable hour (around midnight) and the whole thing will be visible. I’m sure I’ll have more photos then, at least as long as the weather co-operates.