Spotted: Lunar eclipse from Mt John

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I was given the extraordinary opportunity to be at the Mount John Observatory for a night in July, observing planets and testing a particular camera technique for my ASTR211 course. A lunar eclipse also occurred that morning, giving me the chance to see it from a fantastic vantage point complete with starry background.

If you don’t know, a lunar eclipse occurs when the Moon moves directly into the shadow of the Earth. The Moon doesn’t reflect any sunlight turning it a red colour as it reflects the light from Earth back to us. Spooky.

After getting up at an ungodly hour to catch a bus, the real adventure began in the early afternoon. While feeling the effects of getting up so early, the afternoon on the mountain was a great chance to have a good look at the view during the last sunlight hours. It was slightly chilly on Mount John, but the sky was clear making for a great night of astronomy. The weather had other ideas though. Setting up at our telescope at sunset, a wild storm appeared and we were forced by the rain and wind to take cover.

One thing about the weather in an environment like Mount John is, it is very unpredictable. One moment the sky is clear and all is calm, the next there’s cloud cover and torrential rain.

After the stormy weather passed we headed to the telescope to look at the planets! Clear as it was, the wind was still howling with gusts of up to 70kmh rattling the dome. Jupiter, Saturn, and Mars were the main attractions of the evening’s work, I took many pictures of all of them to admire and test the new equipment. Mars was especially good viewing that night since it was in opposition, the closest and brightest it’s going to be for the next few years. 

Around 4.00am we saw it. Poking out between a few clouds was the moon, slowly turning red as it moved into Earth’s shadow. Clouds around this area quickly started to grow with the extent of the eclipse. Sadly, most of the eclipse was blocked out by this unfortunate cloud, but the sunrise that followed was spectacular.

Finlay Mably

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