10-11 December 2011 lunar eclipse from Bondi

Daphne Gonzalvez has kindly shared her astronomical photographs before. Here is her story about viewing the total lunar eclipse from Bondi on Saturday night / Sunday Morning 10/11 December 2011.

Lunar eclipse 10/11 December 2011

The night looked promising.

Full moon over Bondi just before lunar eclipse of 10 December 2011
Full moon over Bondi just before lunar eclipse of 10 December 2011. Photo by Daphne and Dom Gonzalvez

11 pm: a clear sky – the Moon was shining brilliantly. We looked out from Bedroom Observatory and were confident we’d have a fine view of the total lunar eclipse. The threatened thunder storm had not happened. We collected all our gear – camera, binocs and red light. The evening was cool – a very pleasant temperature, just right for a few hours of viewing.

We decided to go out on to the Car Deck Observatory where we could set up the camera and have a grandstand view of the Moon as it slipped under the shadow of Earth.

Many months ago, my niece had promised to see the Lunar eclipse with us. So, while waiting, we watched a rerun of Marilyn Monroe in “Some like it Hot”.

At 11:45 Dom said, “Clouds are coming over!”

“You’re joking,” I said. Dom can be a tease sometimes! Hadn’t I just seen a clear sky?

But I stepped out and sure enough clouds had come from nowhere. Anyway, not to be deterred we stood keeping our fingers crossed that the clouds would pass by. Soon we were joined by our neighbours … then a few passersby – many of them in a jolly mood. Saturday night at Bondi Beach. Some of them knew about the eclipse, others wondered what we were looking at and when we told them, were surprised – had a look through the binocs and were amazed.

We watched the shadow of Earth slowly engulfing the Moon. The shadow moved in an angle from a 5 o’clock position.

The view through the binoculars was stunning.

Darkening moon over Bondi during lunar eclipse on 10-11 December 2011
Darkening moon over Bondi during lunar eclipse on 10-11 December 2011. Photo by Daphne and Dom Gonzalvez

Thin veils of clouds prevented us getting crisp photos.

In an hour the orange glow appeared and the view was unreal.

Red moon over Bondi during lunar eclipse on 11 December 2011
Red moon over Bondi during lunar eclipse on 11 December 2011. Photo by Daphne and Dom Gonzalvez

The dim light meant the exposure time was too long – 2 sec – to get a steady shot. But the important thing is we enjoyed the spectacle of the Moon completely in shadow.

When my niece saw the stages of the Moon in eclipse, both with naked eye and through the binocs, she was filled with wonder. She said she had always thought of the Moon as a flat disc – now for the first time she saw it as a ball.

She was most curious about why the Moon turned orange and I’m sorry to say I could not give her a satisfactory explanation when she asked. From the fact that we can still see the moon while it is in shadow, I should have known that some rays of sunlight still illuminate the Moon – except that they are refracted through our atmosphere. Remember VIBGYOR (violet, indigo, blue, green, yellow, orange, red – the colours of the rainbow, in order)? When the rays travel through our atmosphere, they lose colours at the violet end of the spectrum, (ie the shorter wavelengths of light), to atmospheric molecules and dust. The more the dust, the darker the red left to daub the moon’s surface.

The colour is created by the same effect that causes the deep reds late in a sunset or early in a sunrise.

Red moon over Bondi during lunar eclipse on 11 December 2011
Red moon over Bondi during lunar eclipse on 11 December 2011. Photo by Daphne and Dom Gonzalvez

And for a more engaging explanation, here’s a quote from Paul Curnow of Adelaide Planetarium.

“The Ge Indians of Brazil believe that eclipses are a result of a battle between the sun and moon,” he said.

“They believe that the eye of the moon, or sometimes the sun, is pierced by a young boy who has shot them with an arrow … As a result, the wound bleeds and is symbolized by the moon turning a reddish-orange color. A clever man or shaman removes the arrow and then the wound starts to heal.”

The Vikings believed the moon was being eaten by a wolf when it turned red. Many Australian Aborigines saw the coppery-red moon as an omen that someone had been killed.

Soon the cloud cover was total and we came back in.

At about 1.30 my niece decided to go home and as we went out with her to the car, we noticed the clouds had thinned to gossamer. The sky was dramatically beautiful… the orange Moon, Orion and Sirius were spread out above us like a backdrop of a sci-fi movie.

For me it was the most memorable image of the whole night.

Red moon over Bondi during lunar eclipse on 11 December 2011
Red moon over Bondi during lunar eclipse on 11 December 2011. Photo by Daphne and Dom Gonzalvez

3 am: I had just finished my notes, when I decided to take another look outside. And wouldn’t you know it? The sky was clear and the Moon was slipping out of the shadow of Earth. No more orange tinge – just black and white. But what surprised me was the angle at which the shadow was retreating.

Moon coming out of eclipse on 11 December 2011
Moon coming out of eclipse on 11 December 2011. Photo by Daphne and Dom Gonzalvez

I began to understand a little about the circular path the celestial dancers follow.

And that concludes an unusual night of viewing. The clouds did cause some disappointment at times, but at least it didn’t rain. And we saw the main stages of the total lunar eclipse.

Daphne and Dom

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