A Very Short Eclipse

We have been lucky in the islands lately when it comes to total lunar eclipses. A series of total eclipses have been visible from start to end from our vantage point in the middle of the Pacific. There is an average of one eclipse visible per year from any given place, but that is an average, you can go several years without an opportunity. Both 2012 and 2014 have given us two good eclipses and 2015 provides one.

Total Lunar Eclipse 4Apr2015
The sum of 699 exposures taken through the lunar eclipse of Apr 4, 2015
This eclipse would be a bit different however… Overall the eclipse lasted as long as is normal for a lunar eclipse, about three and a half hours. It was the total phase that was unusually short for this particular eclipse. It was only about four minutes that the moon would be entirely within the umbra, the darkest part of the Earth’s shadow. This usually lasts about an hour. The umbral magnitude of this eclipse was 1.0008, just barely over the threshold of one that designates a total lunar eclipse.

On Friday I did a quick interview with a reporter from the West Hawaii, Today, our local newspaper. He was looking for a little more information on the eclipse and a somewhat more local angle than a wire article on this eclipse. I chatted for a while, and got written up in the article…

Friday afternoon, Andrew Cooper, president of the West Hawaii Astronomy Club, was worried about a forecast of high clouds gathering in the night. But that wasn’t keeping him from planning a nighttime trip to Kohala Mountain Road to experience an event expected to go into full force between 1 and 2 a.m.

“I wanted to do some time-lapse video of the eclipse sweeping over the landscape,” said Cooper, an engineer at the W.M. Keck Observatory. – WHT Newspaper 3Apr2015

Never mind the incorrect date in the headline, he did not get that information from me. The next good total lunar eclipse will be in Janaury 2018, not 2019. Otherwise a decent article, illustrated with a photo I took of last April’s total lunar eclipse. And I did make it up Kahola Mtn. Road to observe this eclipse.

Kohala Mtn. Road
Parked on Kohala Mtn. Road while the eclipse gets started.
Where to observe an eclipse from is always an issue for me. Sometimes I simply set up in the driveway, but that does not allow for starscape photography. Thus I decided to head somwhere with a minimum of lights and a good view of the landscape. Kohala Mtn. Road, just above Waimea fits the requirements. The road can get pretty quiet at night, in four hours I had five cars go by, an average of one an hour. The view is pretty good too, a nice vantage point over the Waimea plains betwwen the town and the looming bulk of Mauna Kea.

One issue was the high, thin cirrus clouds that drifted through during the eclipse. But these proved a mixed blessing. At the start of the eclipse a nice 22° halo appeared around the moon, adding an interesting visual effect. As the eclipse progressed the cirrus thinned, or simply faded with the reduced lunar light, allowing a reasonably nice sky. I was able to photograph the event from start to finish.

It was the haze that proved more serious. A heavy haze, and possibly some vog, obscured the landscape making starscape photography more difficult. As a result I simply shot the eclipse in the sky, not the landscape timelapse I had envisioned. Still, I did get some fun photographic material, enough to keep me processing through Saturday afternoon. I did take a few more images that should show up here over the coming week.

Author: Andrew

An electrical engineer, amateur astronomer, and diver, living and working on the island of Hawaiʻi.

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