Didja see the eclipse?

By Phil Plait | December 21, 2010 1:59 pm

I hope a lot of my readers were fortunate enough to have clear weather last night for the eclipse. I noticed that the words cloud and cloudy were trending on Twitter, and given how many people I saw complaining there, the skies were overcast for a whole lot of people.

eclipse_meWe had thin clouds here for the beginning of the event, but by the time the Moon plunged into the deepest part of the Earth’s shadow, the skies had cleared magnificently. The Moon turned an eerie dark orange-brown, and the stars came out. I took a lot of pictures, and the one here was when the Moon was well into the Earth’s shadow (click all these pictures to enlunanate). It may not look like much, but I took it by holding my phone camera up to my binoculars! So it’s wasn’t exactly fancy and high-tech. The point being, something like this is easy and fun, and not too hard to capture on camera.

Of course, people with better equipment (and who were better prepared!) took even more amazing shots. This video was made using individual pictures taken telescopically:

Winter Solstice Lunar Eclipse from William Castleman on Vimeo.

Wow. Debussy was a good choice for music, to (and he didn’t go with the obvious "Clair de Lune").

BABloggee Mike Hillard sent me this wonderful sequence of the Moon moving through the Earth’s shadow:


Actually, there were so many pictures flying around I simply can’t show them all. Happily, others have collected lots of ’em:

Last night I was out on the driveway with my daughter and two of her friends. They watched the slowly eclipsing Moon while chatting about school and life and the stuff kids usually talk about. But they were also into the whole thing, wanting to stay until the Moon was completely immersed in shadow, even though it was about 1:00 a.m. before that happened! As I said, I had my binoculars set up, and took a bunch of pictures by holding my phone camera up to the eyepiece. I got a few that weren’t too bad, so I posted them on Twitter. The response was overwhelming! There were hundreds of people asking questions, talking about the pictures, posting their own, and generally enjoying this relatively rare event together. It was amazing, and well worth staying up late and freezing my tuchus off.

Taking pictures and seeing them is fun, but truly it’s better to be there. I know, a lot of you were clouded out, but if you ever get a chance to share some future astronomical event — an eclipse, a meteor shower, or just sitting out under the stars — take it.

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Astronomy, Pretty pictures
MORE ABOUT: Lunar eclipse

Comments (66)

Links to this Post

  1. pligg.com | December 25, 2010
  2. In the world’s shadow | bluejay's way | June 6, 2011
  1. I got some pics with my Canon Digital Rebel XTi using the EF-S 55-250mm zoom lens.


  2. Jim

    Count me as one of those shrouded in cloud for this event. We were completely overcast.

    The clouds did have this really weird orange-red glow to them, though, similar to the shade the moon has in the images I’ve seen.

  3. I stayed up until 3:30 EST for totality – great show!
    Read some Hyperion to pass the time.

  4. carbonUnit

    Did you see Matt Lauer’s Today Show interview with Neil deGrasse Tyson?


    Interview went fine until near the end when Lauer seemed to think the seasons were driven by the distance between the Earth and Sun, not understanding that it’s the tilt of the axis of rotation that drives the seasons, not distance. I’m not trying to get down on Matt, who has to know a lot about everything to do his job, but is still jarring to have a major media figure not understand such a basic concept. How can he possibly report on climate change?? Maybe he needs to talk to Neil again, or some of the Weather Channel folk.

  5. BethK

    On the east coast, it was even later, but my daughter and I got up shortly before totality to see the moon hanging out with the stars. Just as it went total, the clouds rolled in. I got a few pictures between clouds (one up at Universe Today), but they were fuzzy because I didn’t use binoculars and the wind was blowing on the camera tripod.

    I remember a neighbor sharing a total lunar eclipse sometime in the 1970s – maybe May 1975 from looking at NASA’s eclipse page. I was already interested in astronomy from my Dad, but that other people looked up stuck with me. I try to share with scouts and friends whenever I can.

    I’m looking forward to the total solar eclipse in the US Aug 21, 2017. What technology will we have then?

    Thank you for including Castleman’s video. I think he wins for best presentation.

  6. wfr

    We used to walk on the moon. Now we just gawk at it. What happened?

  7. Down here in Wichita Falls, Texas, we had a clear night, and with the warm front that just came through, it wasn’t even cold. I was out hanging Christmas lights, anyway, so I watched pretty much the whole thing. My daughter brought out the telescope, and my wife experimented taking pictures with her camera (if anyone wants to see them, they’re on my blog). It was a really nice time.

  8. Sven

    that looks pretty cool. thanks for the vid

  9. Lucas

    I set my alarm clock for 2:45am so I could at least see it in totality.

    But my damn phone alarm clock didn’t chime. Didn’t make a peep. I slept through the whole thing, waking up at 5:13 am and feeling quite disappointed and upset.

    I am in the market for a new cell phone.

  10. Kevin

    It was cloudy here. The clouds eclipsed the eclipse.

    But if it would have been clear, I was all ready to shoot the heck out of that eclipse, just like I did in February 2008. I had a telescope (w/drive) all set to put my camera on.

    Stupid weather. :(

  11. carbonUnit

    We had snow in Ohio overnight, so no view. William Castleman’s video does a fabulous job of compressing three “boring” hours into a svelte 2:05, complete with music! Thanks for sharing that.

  12. Adam English

    I got to see my very first lunar eclipse last night thanks to you Phil :) I sent you an email about it, actually. It was freaking awesome!

  13. Jamie

    They don’t call it the land of the long white cloud for nothing :(
    Well, maybe next time.

  14. I was using a Canon EOS 5D with a 100-400mm EF zoom lens. I made the mistake of slowing the shutter speed to get the reds instead of upping the ISO more, so they’re not as crisp as they could be:


    We got socked in during totality, so I didn’t get the second half of the show…

  15. wright1

    Was cloudy here (San Luis Obispo, CA), but there were enough breaks around 1AM PST for me to see some of it. Eerie as all heck, for sure.

    It looked so unlike the moon I was used to (dim and ruddy) that my brain kept trying to shove it into another pigeonhole. That was the strangest part: even though my intellect knew that was the moon I was looking at, another part of my mind kept insisting it COULDN’T be, dammit!

  16. The eclipse was beautiful! I especially liked when the Moon was all red, and just hung in the sky among the stars like something out of a science fiction painting. I’m so glad it was clear here and not terribly cold out either.

    I did manage to get a couple good shots, even without a super-zoom lens.

  17. Kyle Carmichael

    We had clouds here in Jackson, WY (as well as tuckus freezing off weather) but they were thin icy clouds and with binos I could make out some lunar detail. Nice thing was the moon ring. It was huge. Sorry I can never remember if you call them “moondogs” like “sundogs” or if they have a different name. Either way it was nice to see something that hadn’t happened in 456ish years. Solstice Eclipse woot-woot.

  18. Chris Winter

    Here in Silicon Valley it’s been rainy for three days. But the clouds began to break up last night about the time the Moon rose. I was able to see the start of the eclipse at 10:30 local and watch through intermittent breaks in the clouds until totality.

    No pictures, except in biological memory bank.

    Apparently the previous winter-solstice lunar eclipse took place in 1554 — not a very auspicious year.

    Thanks for the Castleman video; that was excellent.

  19. Mount

    Did anybody else get the feeling that you were looking at Mars when the eclipse was near totality?

  20. Jasso

    hale-bopp (#1):

    That’s exactly the same lens I had, but with the XSi body and I had it piggy-backed on my EQ telescope for easier tracking.


  21. Sglenny

    My wife and I watched the whole thing and took some pics. None of them came out well. Ah well 300 plus years and I can try again. :) I did get several minutes of video that’s not too bad so I will take a couple frames from there. We are in Pennsylvania and though fast moving clouds were in the area it did not hamper watching here. We have no snow for that eerie reflection but the redness was evident. Thanks to those who posted pics.

  22. Good show here in NYC. When I asked my wife if she wanted to get up with me before the totality, she said “I’m too tired for science.” (At first I considered divorce, but then decided to let it slide.)

    She came through in the end, and we were treated to a clear, deep orange totality. Very very beautiful. (And there were no sleepy regrets!)

  23. JackReed

    I agree about the Matt Lauer problem. If someone with that amount of power doesn’t know that the earth is closest to the sun in January or at least why it is cold in New York in the winter, why should any kid think that science is important.

  24. MartyM

    Nope. Was cloudy in my area. I did see one a few years ago though.

  25. Scott S.

    No eclipse here… buncha @$&#!*& %*)$@)(@#$%!@#&)^%)(#*!~+@#&*!()_ clouds. sigh

  26. Got a decent view from the Washington, DC, suburbs. I was thinking it was one of the brighter eclipses I’d seen, but that doesn’t seem to be the official word.

  27. Rachel

    Didn’t even know it was going to happen until late on Monday night. I’m bummed I missed a once in a life time event. Is there a website that would email me in advance of these types of events? If I had a month to plan I would have gone some where with no light pollution, with a week to plan I could have taken off work…

  28. Gilandune

    The view from Mexico City was as good as you can expect from such a light-polluted place. Still, staying up to see the eclipse and even snapping pictures with a crappy camera and a telescope was a lot of fun.

  29. Jim Atkins

    Got breaks in the clouds and rain about 11pm PST- saw just a tiny sliver of moon with a thin sheen of clouds hiding the rest of the darkened part. Definitely worth getting rained on here in the desert (29 Palms, CA).

  30. I tried in spite of being dead tired. I got up at 2:30 am and rushed outside, but I was completely clouded over. :-(

  31. BJN

    We had snow here in SLC, but that didn’t stop us from celebrating the REAL meaning of the season ‚ÄĒ nights get shorter from here until the summer solstice. Happy Solstice to all!

  32. David in Cincinnati

    Overcast and snowing in Ohio. No joy this time around.

  33. I snapped some photos with a Canon ELPH through the eyepiece on an old Meade telescope. Not half bad for a few-dollar setup.

  34. Mount: Did anybody else get the feeling that you were looking at Mars when the eclipse was near totality?

    Yes! Maybe it was the late hour but when I uploaded and reviewed my photos I completely blanked and had the feeling I was staring at Mars.

  35. Chip

    What I love about the lunar eclipse is that when the moon is a dark reddish color it looks much more spherical and the stars nearby are clearly seen whereas during a regular bright full moon the glare masks out those stars. This gives the moon a look much like an alien planet in a SciFi movie.

  36. Sean

    Several of the lunar eclipses I’ve tried to watch have been covered in clouds. The whole of southeast Wyoming is underneath snow.

  37. Pete Jackson

    It was beautifully clear in Maryland, and I got up in the wee small hours to glimpse the toally eclipsed moon. My impression was that it was a darker than average eclipse, but the color still appeared a deep red as opposed to the brown or gray of really dark eclipses.

    A very nice and rewarding eclipse!

  38. Naomi

    Saw it! Tucson had some drifting clouds, so it wasn’t perfect, but at least I got to see it enter totality (coming out of totality was a different question – it was behind cloud then, so I just got a sliver of light from behind them before I gave up and went to bed).

    On the other hand, the last eclipse I saw (February 2008) had snow. The snow turned everything white – the eclipse turned everything orange. It was pretty cool!

    Mount @ 19, yes! When I looked at the few semi-decent pictures I managed to take (point-and-click camera and no tripod does not make for good astrophotography), my mind IMMEDIATELY decided it looked like Mars, complete with polar ice cap.

    Chip @ 35, yeah, I noticed that you could make out the sphericity a lot better. I wonder why? Without the glow, I suppose you can make out the details a lot better, but it looked JUST like a ball hanging in the sky.

  39. chemdude

    Nothing but rain. Really bummed since I had told my kids weeks ago that there was an eclipse and they would get to stay up to watch it. Clear skies all last week but rain moved in three days ago….At least we saw the geminids.

  40. Lis

    It was super cloudy. You couldn’t even see the moon before the eclipse began.

    http://www.flickr.com/photos/lisbokt/5281358199/ <– Didn't stop me from trying.

  41. That time-lapse was great! It’s a shame it wasn’t taken using HDR photography, though – it would have been a big help for the sections where all the detail was blown out due to the bright crescent overwhelming the dark shadows.

  42. Shavenyak

    Second lunar eclipse in a row that’s been too cloudy here. Both times, though, you could see an eerie reddish glow in the clouds. Woulda been creepy if I didn’t know what it was.

    Question: when is the nearest date, past or present, when a lunar eclipse actually precisely coincides with the winter solstice – ie, the moon is entirely within the umbra at the moment of the solstice? This one missed by about 15 hours.

  43. Brian

    The only eclipse I saw was the DVD of the latest Twilight movie. The sky here (west coast of New Zealand’s North Island) was completely overcast. Better luck next time I guess.

  44. Messier Tidy Upper

    Didja see the eclipse?

    Sadly not. Eclipse in totality at Moorise & too low for me on a horizon too cluttered with trees, hills & houses, alas. :-(

    But I have seen this :


    news item on it which I thought I’d share.

  45. Joseph G

    Solid clouds here in central California :( Thanks so much for that great video, though. I feel a little better about missing it now :)

  46. jcm

    Unfortunately I was unable to observe the eclipse due to
    bad weather.

  47. John Sandlin

    I was also in the clouded out group. One of the guys in my Astronomy group bought a new scope, and my wife and I both washed our cars, but we aren’t taking the blame! ūüėČ

    My eight year old daughter was really eager to see it too. She slept on the living room couch so we could wake here when it started.


  48. autumn

    Saw it in north Florida. It was really awesome. I got my binoculars out, and it did seem, as others have posted, more three-dimensional than usual. Also second the weird way that I cold see the full moon, but the sky was dark enough to show nearby stars. All in all, it was worth staying up until 4 AM.

  49. Keith Bowden

    @Brian (43):

    You have my sympathies. Better no eclipse than that!

    And could people stop depressing me with the fact that we start getting more daylight now? I’m a night person…

  50. #4 CarbonUnit:
    We have the same sort of idiocy in the British media. Just a minute before I read your comment, I posted a similar one – see Comment 25 in the “Sun stands still today” thread.

  51. Daniel J. Andrews

    We actually had clear skies for the second time in almost a month so managed to see the start of the eclipse. But the clouds moved back in well before totality.

    Least it went better than my very first lunar eclipse back in the mid-80s. I waited a whole year for that night. The day was perfectly clear, I was out car camping and away from lights. I set up my 8 inch SC telescope newly bought that year. At suppertime there was only one cloud in the sky–a straight line going along the horizon, and it was moving towards me like a blanket being pulled up over your head.

    It eventually reached the moon about 5 minutes before the eclipse was to begin, and it stayed covered for the entire eclipse. About 5 minutes after the eclipse ended the cloud blanket left too, and it was perfectly clear skies again for the next two or three days. Timing of the clouds was impeccable. To say I was disappointed is an understatement.

  52. John EB Good

    In the frakin’ clouds here in Montreal. Sad, but at least I didn’t have to stay awake and wait for something harder to see than Santa Claus. I have quite a regular bladder that I relied on to wake me up at the proper time. Well, I quickly went back to sleep after a short glance at the sky. Z’that the best occasion to tell you I didn’t lost sleep over this eclipse?

    For once, the wheather guesser was right!

  53. James H

    I made friends with our graveyard shift security guard the other night while taking these. Canon Powershot S3 IS on a tripod. Photos are in chronological order taken from 3 exposure settings. Edited in FIJI.


  54. ChH

    I stayed up for it, but it was cloudy the whole time at my house in North AL

  55. The sky was cloudy earlier in the evening, but by the time totality came around (2:41AM EST), the sky was cloud-free. My daughters (9 and 11) even got up to see it, at least for a few minutes. It was actually a homework assignment for them, though I suppose it was optional. I got them up at about 2:35, and they saw the last few minutes before totality, and then looked again several minutes later when it was totally dark, so they could see the difference.

  56. Tim Downey

    Maybe this is a silly question, but:

    How would this all have appeared if one was standing on the moon during the Eclipse? What about the red coloring? Would the earth have appeared red?

  57. Zyphane

    Man, I had a telescope, binoculars, and a DSLR with a zoom lens all ready and waiting to photography a nice red moon. But, noooo, the clouds just had to roll in.

    I missed the Geminids peak earlier this month because of clouds, too. Clouds have ruined all the exciting astronomical phenomenon this month. Boo.

  58. mike burkhart

    Missed it because it was cloudy. Thats why we need an observatory on the Moon NO CLOUDS.

  59. Mean and Anomalous

    Saw it (Bay Area, NorCal) through a 2-hour fortuitous break in the clouds. Thank you Mother Nature!

  60. JB of Brisbane

    Someone had to say it – “I saw the crescent – you saw the whole of the moon.”

  61. #56 Tim:
    If you were standing on the Moon, you would of course see a total eclipse of the Sun! But except at the beginning and end of it, you wouldn’t see the corona, as we do during a total solar eclipse on Earth, as the angular size of the Earth would be four times that of the Sun.
    The Earth would not appear red; it would be dark, as you would be looking at its night side – though you might be able to see the glow of our light pollution! You would also see a bright ring around its limb, due to light being refracted around it through the atmosphere; this would appear not red, but blue – for the same reason that the daytime sky is blue.
    Think about it; the reason that the Moon doesn’t go completely dark during a lunar eclipse is because it’s being illuminated by that light which is refracted through the atmosphere around the Earth. It appears red, because only light at the red end of the spectrum is refracted in this way and reaches the Moon; that at the blue end is scattered in the atmosphere, which is why the sky is blue.

  62. Note, BTW, that the word “eclipse” is technically correct for a lunar eclipse, but isn’t for a solar one! Strictly speaking, there is no such thing as a “solar eclipse”, or “eclipse of the Sun”! An eclipse means one body moving through the shadow of another, which is exactly what does happen in a lunar eclipse – but how can the Sun go through the shadow of anything???
    A “total solar eclipse” is really an occultation of the Sun by the Moon, while an annular eclipse is really a transit of the Moon. ( An occultation is when a body of larger apparent angular size passes in front of a smaller one; a transit is the opposite. ) Think of how those terms are used to describe the phenomena of Jupiter’s satellites.
    But of course, the term “eclipse of the Sun” has been in vernacular use for centuries, so we’re stuck with it.

  63. Richard Woods

    #61 Neil wrote “You would also see a bright ring around its limb, due to light being refracted around it through the atmosphere; this would appear not red, but blue ‚Äď for the same reason that the daytime sky is blue.”

    No, that ring would be red, like a sunset.

    Blue is scattered at large angles in the atmosphere before it reaches the eye. ( That’s why the sky is blue at large angles from the Sun.) Red is what would be refracted a smaller amount as it transits the ring of Earth’s atmosphere seen from the Moon in umbra — and so would hit the Moon there. An observer on the Moon would see what is refracted through small angles (2 degrees or less at Earth’s limb), not large angles.

    Doublecheck: The predominant color you’d see if you were on the Moon is the same as what we see reflected back to Earth. Does the Moon appear predominantly blue in totality, because mostly blue light is reaching it after passing through the ring of atmosphere? No, it appears red, because that is the predominant color that reaches the Moon in mid-umbra. Blue light is scattered at larger angles, so more of it misses the umbra than of red.

  64. Joseph G

    There’s an excellent space simulator called Orbiter (google orbitersim) that, in addition to being free, has some very nice graphics. In particular, when you’re in orbit and the sun is below the horizon from your point of view, you can very clearly see the red/orange from refracted sunlight.
    Of course, it’s just a typical sunset, seen from space. The eclipsed moon appears red because from the point of view of the moon, the limb of the earth is all sunset :)
    Edit: Er, I guess one side is all sunset and one side is all sunrise.


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