THE TOTAL LUNAR ECLIPSE OF FEBRUARY 20 - 21, 2008

Observed By: Melvin E. Dawson, and Kenneth Ewin
SAO Riverview, Florida

Click for an enlarged view of the photo

The beautiful copper color of the earth’s umbra shadow is easily seen above just prior to totality taken at 21:44 pm EST. This image was taken through my 90mm f/11.1 Hybridized Konus Refractor in conjunction with my homemade camera adapter and 40mm 1.250” TeleVue Plossl. The camera used was an Olympus C-4000z 4 mega pixel point and shoot. Click the above image for an enlarged view!

Photos taken by Mel Dawson – SAO - Vega Sky Center – Riverview, FL

                                                                                                         

 

 

I had nearly given up hope on getting a chance to see this Total Lunar Eclipse based on the weather forecast for our area. As divine luck would have it, we were blessed with the opportunity to view (if not the entire event) at least the first half before clouds interceded.

Once again, as with the August 28, 2007 Total Lunar Eclipse, I woke up from a short nap nearly missing the start of the eclipse.  It was 7:50 pm EST when I jumped up and began collecting together all of the equipment to be used to observe the event. Realizing I had invited an 11 year old budding amateur understudy in the neighborhood by the name of Kenneth Ewin, and as I prepared to go pick him up, his sister Tangela had already brought him over. With great haste and in short order, the instruments for tonight’s main event were prepped and readied for work. The instruments used are as follows:

  • 90mm f/11.1 Hybridized Konus Refractor with “Vixen Spec” Objective - Used to image the eclipse.

  • 40mm 1.250” TeleVue Plossl Eyepiece - Used with C-4000z to image the moon.

  • Olympus C-4000z 4 Mega Pixel Digital Camera - Set on Automatic at f/2.8 Aperture to image the eclipse.

  • Homemade Wooden Digital Camera Adapter - Used with C-4000z to image the moon.

  • 60mm f/15.1 Jason 313 Refractor - Used to view the eclipse.

  • 25mm 1.250” Skywatcher LER Eyepiece - Used on the 60mm Jason refractor.

  • Gateway DC-T50 5.25 Mega Pixel Digital Camera - Used to photograph the observing site.

 

Click to view an enlarged view!

Standing in my backyard in Riverview, FL at the rear of the 90mm and 60mm refractors are 11 year old Kenneth Ewin  (the slim one on the right) and I (Mel Dawson) as we take a brief moment to pose for the camera with smiling faces showing our excitement of taking part in observing a rare Total Lunar Eclipse on the night of February 20, 2008 at 9:49 pm EST. Click above image to enlarge!

Click for an enlarged view!

At the helm of the telescopic instructions Kenneth, and I engage in some detailed surveillance of the eclipsed moon at 9:31 pm EST before heavier clouds rolled in to obscure the latter half of the Total Lunar Eclipse. I look forward to helping Kenneth continue to hone his skills and understanding of the heavens, which God has graciously given us to survey. Click above image to enlarge!

 

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21:13 EST

 

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21:14 EST

 

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21:17 EST

 

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21:22 EST

 

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21:27 EST

 

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21:32 EST

 

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21:44 EST

 

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21:45 EST

 

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21:50 EST

 

Above, are a collection of fairly decent images Kenneth and I captured, which only sums up the first half of the Total Lunar Eclipse of February 20-21, 2008. We hope you enjoy viewing them as much as we did taking them and sharing this great experience. Click each photo above to reveal an enlarged image.

A Synopsis of the Event by the VSC-2

Once all of the equipment was setup to record the Total Lunar Eclipse, Kenneth and I took the opportunity to survey the sky conditions.  The temperature was about 65° degrees with a relative humidity around 58% percent. With clouds taking aim on putting a damper on our efforts from the southwest and west, we began putting the instruments to use to capture some great views and to take some photos at around 9:15 pm EST. Winds were mild pushing at approximately 5 to 7 miles per hour. Time was of the essence, and we did not waste any of it in taking in its glory.

Since this was Kenneth’s second official observing session within the astronomical scheme of things, I prepped my trusty Jason 60mm f/15.1 for him. I gave him a few quick pointers on how to aim and maneuver the scope and he absorbed the information like a dry sponge immersed in water. I only wished that I had more time to show him the fine skills, but again time was of the essence. Despite the “crash course”, he appeared to be quite comfortable with the telescope. Once the moon was in the field of view, Kenneth Ewin was very impressed with the image. He had never seen the moon in such a manner and expressed great pleasure in what he was seeing.

As Kenneth continued to observe the progression of the eclipsing moon with delight, I then begin preparations to photograph the partially eclipsed satellite through my 90mm f/11.1 Hybridized Konus refractor. Using my Olympus C-4000z 4 mega pixel digital camera set to automatic exposure at an aperture of f/2.8 in conjunction with the wooden home-built afocal camera adapter I constructed and 40mm TeleVue Plossl eyepiece, I attached the assembly to the scope. Upon taking aim on the 35% eclipsed moon at 9:13 pm EST, I took my first image. Looking at the image reminded me quite fondly of the observation we recorded of the Partial Lunar Eclipse of August 16, 1970, which launched the birth of the Vega Astronomical Observatory (currently the Vega Sky Center). And here I was working with an understudy much like it was when I was an understudy to Gary Barabino during the August 16th 1970 event.

With my laptop already setup within my covered and screened patio, I swiftly removed the memory card from the camera after taking a single image of the eclipse.  I then inserted it into a memory card reader to perform a quick analysis of the photographic image quality to see if I had to make any adjustments to the camera, and/ or telescope. Looking at the initial image on the laptop screen, I noticed that the umbra shadow had already overtaken the big lunar feature Oceanus Procellarum and had consumed half of Mare Serenitatus. The rays of the crater Tycho radiated brilliantly inside of the earth’s penumbral shadow. Though it was difficult to focus the image on the tiny camera display with these old eyes, I managed to do a pretty good job based on the analysis. So, I continued to take images with no specific set interval, because clouds were threatening from the southwest and west. Between exposures, I would go over to Kenneth to see how he was doing. This gave me a short opportunity to show him how to navigate the Jason 313 refractor using the slow-motion control cables. Since I had already did a rough polar alignment of the Jason 313’s EQ mount, I therefore instructed Kenneth Ewin to use the right ascension axis adjustment cable to track the moon as it trekked westward across the sky. Kenneth did well in assimilating the information I gave him and was doing a great job of keeping the moon in the telescope’s field of view. He was even first at discerning the beginnings of the reddish copper color as the umbra shadow progressed west northwestward across the moon’s surface. Kenneth was definitely excited at what he was seeing. I commend him on his keen senses in detecting the color change.

As I continued to photography the lunar eclipse’s progression, waves of increasingly thickening high altitude cirrus and puffing regular shaped alto cumulus clouds began to move in. As breaks in these clouds would allow periodic glimpses of the moon to be revealed, I would hastily take photo images. Regardless of the inundation of clouds I was pleased with the views. The best images I capture by far were at 9:44 pm EST and 9:45 pm EST. The pronunciation of the reddish copper huge on the lunar surface was splendid. Then, a short time later, clouds began coming in waves putting a damper on things. During a brief moment when one of the gap clearings unveiled the nearly total eclipsed moon, I barely managed to capture my last possible image at 9:50 pm EST. The remaining second half of the Total Lunar Eclipse became a mystery as clouds moved in and obscured the sky completely. Bummer!!!

The night concluded with a bit of disappointment in knowing that above the thick and obscuring layer of clouds, a grand event was taking place, and we could not take part any further. Nevertheless, it could have been much worse. We could have been totally infiltrated with clouds obscuring the eclipse completely. But, I thank God we were able to see (if not but one half) a stupendous event, which Kenneth and I will remember for the rest of our lives.

 

The moon's projected path, as it traversed through the earth’s shadow during the 02/20-21/2008 Total Lunar Eclipse.

 

This chart displays the geocentric zones depicting the areas of visibility of the eclipse. Riverview, FL was positioned in the prime viewing “Full Eclipse Visible” zone.

 

Thanks, and Clear Skies, Forever!!!

Mel Dawson, and Kenneth Ewin