The lunar eclipse of April 15th 2014 was the first of a series of 4 total lunar eclipses in two years, all of them visible from North America! My initial plan for this one was very ambitious, including a 10 days trip to Arizona and Utah and culminating with a very ambitious time-lapse of the eclipse from Capitol Reef. But as the eclipse was getting closer I realized I was not ready for it and decided to stay in Bloomington (Indiana) and gain experience on lunar eclipse photography. After all, I will have 3 other chances to take pictures of lunar eclipse in the next 2 years…
Unfortunately, the first forecasts (~10 days ahead) were not good for the mid-west. A week before the eclipse, I decide to buy a plane ticket to Denver, rent a car and go to Arches National Park in Utah, where the forecast is clear skies for the night of the eclipse.
The day before the eclipse I enjoy hiking in the park (Arches is amazing btw…) and go on the 3 miles (round trip) hike to Delicate Arch, my future observing spot for the eclipse. I had seen hundreds (if not thousands) of pictures of the arch before this trip, but no picture could prepare me for what I was about to see. This arch is simply magnificent. Unfortunately, the weather is changing and it is now pouring rain. I tried to use the iPhone app Theodolite to find the perfect spot for next night (= the spot where I can set my camera and frame the eclipse in the middle of the arch). The terrain is very steep and the rain makes it almost impossible to use the iPhone…
I still managed to snap a picture of the arch in these apocalyptic conditions:
On the plus side, there are very few other people there (this place can get packed with tourists!!!) and all this rain should clean the air, removing all the dust and giving us clear and transparent skies for tomorrow…
Eclipse day: I wake up super early to record a time-lapse of the sunrise, go hike in the park and head back to the hotel for a short nap and some food before the big event. Back to the park, I enjoy a wonderful sunset, immediately followed by the moonrise.
Pretty much all the cars are stopped on the side of the road and everyone is trying to take pictures. The eclipse approaches, and I need to get ready. There are still a few cars at the Delicate Arch trail head. Mostly people coming down after enjoying the sunset from up there, but also a few cars belonging to fellow astronomers who are doing the exact same thing as me. I start the hike, carrying over 100 pounds (50Kg) of gear on my back. People look at me strangely when they see me struggling to go up the path with all this gear. I quickly begin to question my capacity to carry everything up. Maybe I was too ambitious… But after a number of pauses to give some rest to my back and my legs, I finally reach the bowl, where stands Delicate Arch. There are about 12 other people here, most of them with tripods and camera. I talk to some of them and then hurry up to go set up my own gear.
So, what was in this 100 pounds? Well, here is the list:
– 3 tripods
– 1 Orion ED80 refactor (the telescope)
– 1 Celestron CG4 equatorial mount (the device allowing the telescope to track objects in the sky) with accessories (counter wight of course, but also AD motor + controller + pack of batteries, …)
– 1 Dolly for the time lapse (Dynamic Perception stage zero) + 1 radian (for rotation of the camera)
– 4 cameras (Two Canon 350D, One Canon 5D Mark II and One Canon T2i that I borrowed to some friends)
– One laptop (to check the focusing and back up some images).
– A bunch of lenses for the cameras + spare batteries + small accessories
– Food, water, clothes for the cold and small stuff (phone, …)
It takes me almost 2 hours to set up everything and I barely finish in time for the beginning of the eclipse.
And now the magic begins. Slowly, the Moon disappears in the Earth’s umbra. The shadow of the arch on the ground gets fainter by the minute and stars in the sky are getting more and more numerous. I chat with another astro-photographer, check on my cameras and realize that the battery on the dolly had died (I charged it to full just before!!!) –> no time lapse with the dolly!
The totality is there, the Moon is now all red and all the photographers are getting really excited. Some of them use powerful lamps to ‘light paint’ the arch (without asking the other photographers if that could ruin their pictures… not very ethical in my opinion) and I keep making sure that my other time lapse (the T2i on the telescope) is going smoothly. From time to time I need to recenter the moon in the field of view (the tracking was pretty bad, I must have messed up the polar alignment of the mount), but nothing too bad. Someone drops a glass bottle. We can hear it going down the bowl and finally crashing at the bottom, some ~30 meters (~100 feet) bellow. Trust me, when you walk around the bowl at night you have to be careful and you definitely do not want to take the same path as this bottle!
When the light finally comes back on the other side of the Moon, most of the photographers start picking up their gear and leave before the end. I stay there with another astronomer from Minnesota who was taking a (very) long exposure of the full eclipse with a large format film camera.
The hike back to the parking was miserable, carrying all this gear, but I made it back to the car and then to the hotel.
Here are the pictures.
For this next picture, I was initially planing on getting the arch pitch dark (just like in the previous one) but with all the light painting going on it was impossible. In the end, I’m actually quite happy with the result:
I’m still working on the video, so please be patient and hopefully some day the time lapse taken through the telescope will be available here…