2019 Total Lunar Eclipse [Astrophotography]

Progression from start to totality

Total Lunar Eclipse

The total lunar eclipse was beautiful! I took more than 500 pictures of this event to create this photo. The 2019 total lunar eclipse wowed and amazed. My social media feeds were inundated with photos from the amateur photographer to professional photographer. I’m somewhere in between, although I did have an opportunity to help my neighbor acquire several photos with his camera.

Total Lunar Eclipse Photo Explained

The total lunar eclipse starts with the full moon (bottom left) and is called the Wolf Moon. Wolf because all full moons in January are wolf moons. The full moon is called super when closest to Earth. The next pictures are showing the shadow of the Earth as it crosses the surface of the Moon. The final two pictures show the distinctive red color that comes from bent light passing through the Earth’s atmosphere. The red color also gives this event the final word to it’s title of Super Wolf Blood Moon.

The time from start to totality (point where eclipse is total), was about 1 hour 45 minutes. This photo contains single unedited shots combined in a mosaic. It was a long night and I assisted my neighbor with is photo taking experience. So expect to see more post processed photos in the coming days.

Total Lunar Eclipse How To

I posted a few of my unedited photos and the question “What did you use?” came up several times. I used my Orion Astroview 6 inch reflector telescope and my Google Pixel smartphone. With this setup, polar alignment doesn’t have to be perfect. The short shutter time of 0.6 seconds means I have to take a lot of pictures to get a longer exposure. Since my target was the moon, longer exposure photos were not needed.

Total Lunar Eclipse: Super Wolf Blood Moon

For my neighbor he used a Canon camera on a tripod with at 500 mm lense. He and I both set our cameras to ISO 800. He bumped up his shutter open time to 1 sec and achieved great photos at totality.

Hopefully you enjoyed this post. Let me know in the comments.

Moon: Take Photos & Find Many Colors [Brown or Grey]

Super Moon 2017
Super Moon 2017
Telescope: Orion Astroview 6
Camera: Google Pixel
Filter: Orion Moon Filter

You don’t have to be an astrophotographer to have a photo of the Moon in your collection.  The Moon appears, markedly, in all of the photos in with the same steely gray color.  It is very common even in NASA photos.  Just search Google and you’ll see photos like this one.

Moon Characteristics

The relatively flat plains, called Mare,  and are dark gray.  Don’t forget the craters. Similarly they have varying brightness of, you guessed it, gray.  On the contrary, there are the very bright areas which look white.  From the first time man has laid eyes on the Moon it has looked this way.

Why So Many Shades

What is causing the Moon to have so many shades of gray?  We see color based on the color of light the objects’ molecules reflect.  In this case, we see the colors of elements like oxygen, silicon, aluminium, magnesium, iron and calcium.  Specifically, the Moon reflects 12% of light from the Sun.  Consequently, that still makes the Moon a very bright night sky object.  And when full, it is enough to overpower the light from other objects in the night sky.  Since light from the Sun is white, you can expect the true color of the Moon to be hidden.

SkyGlow Imaging Filter
SkyGlow Imaging Filter

True Color

So what if I told you the Moon other colors.  You’d mostly likely say nope, you’re wrong, or even no way.  Alternatively, hidden in the light are browns, reds, blues and others.  Scrolling through Twitter, I noticed a detailed true color photo of the Moon and my fascination with the Moon hit a new high.  This one is the best I’ve seen and it took 32,000 photos to create.  You can see it here.  I began to YouTube videos to learn how this photo and other like it were produced.

Frustration to Innovation

After reaching my highest level of frustration with light pollution in my area, I invested in a SkyGlow filter.  Then poof, the story hidden in the light was revealed.  A light pollution filter is a must for astrophotography when you live in a light polluted area.  They are specifically designed to filter the glow of street lights.

Moon Filter vs. SkyGlow Filter
Moon Filter vs. SkyGlow Filter

Now using this tool and GIMP (photo editing software), I was able to do a photo comparison.  The difference is astounding.  On the left is my initial attempt to find the true color.  On the right is the result using the SkyGlow Filter.  Yep, striking difference.  After I learned how to edit the right picture, I went back to duplicate on the data from the left.  No go.  I was not able to get the true color to reveal from this data.  Conclusion, too much light pollution.  Here’s a link to a good tutorial.

Photo Quality

My next step is to improve the quality of the picture.  I think it’s a bit too grainy.  I took many, many more pictures only to discover that true color is elusive for me.  Needless to say, failure only creates a drive to keep trying for success.  Don’t stop trying.

True color Moon, June 29, 2018.
True color Moon, June 29, 2018.

Elusive no more.  I did get a better picture.  I took 10 photos with my trusted Google Pixel and stacked them twice.  One time in black and white and the other in color.  I used the black and white for the detail.  Combined both to get this result.  It’s pretty good, but it can and will get better.  This hobby is fun.  Please comment below with your experiences and clear skies.

I’ve Got a Telescope or Two

“What kind of telescope should I buy?”  If you’re like me and you meet any number of novice astronomers, this is a question you hear a lot.  My answer is the one that allows you to see clearly.  Why else does one buy a telescope.  In order to feed the developing passion, the user has to be able to clearly see an object.  Typically the Moon is the first target and most telescopes can clearly show crater and mountain definition.

Growing up I had a Bushnell Banner Astro Telescope.  Having spent many night looking with the naked eye, this was a major upgrade.  I remember the first time I saw the moon up close.  I was amazed by the detail I couldn’t see with the naked eye.  I was also dissapointed by the inability to see Jupiter or Saturn (besides the rings) with any clarity.

This just fueled my passion even more.  Fast forward to summer 2017 and I ordered my 20 year gift from the company website.  Yep I ordered a Bushnell Voyager Skytour Telescope and all it did was drive me to buy a bigger telescope, an Orion Astroview 6 Reflector.  You can see both of them here.

The difference between the two is the aperture and focul length.  The aperture of Bushnell is 70 mm vs the 150 mm of the Astroview.  The additional 80 mm meant I’m now seeing deep sky objects like the Andromeda Galaxy.  The Bushnell was also light so slightly windy nights kept the objects moving in the scope.  No fun.

The focal length of the Bushnell is 800 mm vs the 900 mm of the Astroview.  This gave me more clarity on the moon and I could see Saturn quite well.

The lesson learned…a multitude of factors matter in choosing a telescope.  For simple night viewing, the Bushnell is great, light and portable.  I wanted to take photos so I needed a steady scope and chose the Orion Astroview 6.  It’s not as portable, but I was able to get pictures like this of the Moon that is virtually impossible with the Bushnell.  The larger aperture provided greater light gathering capability and the greater focal length added improved detail.

This doesn’t mean that you have to have the largest aperture telescope you can buy.  Small aperture scopes have one great advantage over their larger cousins and that’s size.  My Astroview 6 is more than 30 lbs to carry before anything else is included.  Smaller aperture scopes with huge focal length will give you great detail in the cloud bands of Jupiter and will weigh less than 20 lbs.

Imagine wanting to take a short 30 mile drive to a great spot for viewing and because of the size of your telescope you have to walk several times between your car and viewing spot just to set up.  It also takes a long time to set up your large scope.  By the time your set, Venus has dropped below the horizon and the clouds start rolling in.  Who wants that?

This led me to my next purchase, the Meade EXT-125 (shown below).  It has a 125 mm aperture and 1900 mm focal length.  It’s compact and I carry it in a clear storage bin from Home Depot.  It was removed from it’s original mount and fitted with a dovetail bar.  This works great on my Astroview mount.

5 inch Reflector

With the Meade I took this photo of Jupiter in Opposition, May 2018.  Look at the detail in the clouds and red spot.

This scope is my go to scope for planetary and solar viewing.  It has a smaller field of view vs. the Astroview 6.  Since the Astroview 6 has the larger field of view, I’ve made it my go to for deep sky objects.

Just in case you’re wondering a currently use a 1st Generation Google Pixel for all my photos.  I’ll explain more in my next post how I get them with this phone.

So in order to determine your first telescope join your local association and attend a start party or two.  Experience what they have and use that to determine what will meet your needs as your start your observing journey.  Good luck and Clear Skies!