Saturday, December 10, 2011

Lessons from observing the lunar eclipse

Here are four lessons I learned from getting up early this morning to view the lunar eclipse:
  • Sloppy is okay
  • Sleep is bad
  • Don't breathe
  • Back up

I got up at 4:30am MST to set up my telescope. I had it outside covered all night, but now I had to get it aligned and ready. I didn't bother trying to center either of the two alignment stars, choosing to accept wherever the telescope pointed. That worked out fine. The telescope tracked the moon perfectly, at least for visual observing.

I knew I wasn't going to see any of the total eclipse. "Red Mountain Observatory" is a significant exaggeration of the term "observatory." It's just my telescope on wheels that I roll out to view. But Red Mountain is no figment of my imagination. It looms large in the west. As a result, I knew I would not see any of the totality. And I knew it was going to be cold, okay - cool (26 degrees f and 47% humidity). So I was considering sleeping through it.

That would have been a mistake. I got to experience almost an hour of the eclipse, starting at about 5:49am when the earth's shadow first hit the moon. Red Mountain didn't interfere at all until 6:37am. Those 48 minutes at the telescope were well worth a little lost sleep. And, in a way, the best was yet to come. Between 6:37am and 6:40, when the moon slipped completely below the mountain, the view was stunning. I had not expected to enjoy seeing the mountain interfere with the eclipse, but it was amazing seeing the moon being rapidly swallowed by the rocky cliffs magnified by the telescope. It seemed like I could reach out and touch both the cliffs and the moon.

I was worried about dew, but thought it would not be much of a problem. if any. Even so, I attached my dew shield. I wished I had ordered a heater months ago (I ordered a DewBuster from Ron Keating a few days ago, but it won't be here for a few weeks. The Pyramid PS15KX 10A 13.8-Volt Power Supply from Amazon and AstroZap heating strips from OPT arrived late yesterday but they don't help without the DewBuster.). The end result was there was nothing to worry about. The telescope didn't attract moisture. But my eyepiece did. I was spending a lot of time looking through it and either my body heat or breath was fogging up the eyepiece and then freezing. It was easy to wipe off but it kept happening until I started holding my breath whenever I was looking through the eyepiece. That worked.

I have not spent much time looking at the moon, and almost no time looking at the full moon. I knew my 40mm eyepiece had a wide enough field of view to take in the whole moon. But it didn't have much more room than that. It would have been nice to frame the moon with a little more sky around it. If I could just back up five feet. Oh wait, that only works when taking family photos. So I need to look into either an eyepiece with a wider true field of view or a focal reducer.

1 comment:

  1. Comment on my post of this article on the Stargazers Lounge forum: ahh! something just clicked for me! i havent been taking my scope out in the winter due to the -20F to -30F temps here. have seen several mentions of a dew shield etc but it has never once crossed my mind to look for a heater! tells you how new to this I really am! orion is coming up at a decent hour now so will have to look into something for my SE8. thanks so much for your inadvertant help!


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