February’s Lunar Eclipse: Ideal Indeed!

The start of totality
"This matches the view in my 15 x 50 Canon IS binoculars very nicely," writes S&T editor in chief Rick Fienberg. He shot this picture from the heart of Brookline, Mass., just as totality was beginning, using a Tele-Vue 85-millimeter refractor as the lens on a Canon 20Da camera; 1-second exposure at ISO 400. Click image for larger view.
S&T: Richard T. Fienberg
Here in Sky & Telescope country — light-polluted, often-cloudy Massachusetts — the weather turned better than predicted for a change, giving all of us here a crystal-clear view of the lunar eclipse in a clean, starry, ice-cold sky.

I had a visitors at my observatory alternating between views of the slowly progressing eclipse and sights elsewhere using my 12.5-inch reflector under the unnaturally dark full-Moon sky (the Orion Nebula was a chaos of detail, the E and F stars in the Trapezium were easy, so was Rigel B, no sign of Sirius B, markings were still slightly visible on Mars).

The eclipse was a moderately bright one, with the Moon showing pastel orange and red around mid-eclipse. Early Danjon-number estimates that we're getting range from 2.5 to 3.

Lunar eclipse brightnesses compared
This eclipse was brighter than the more central one last August — as indicated in this pair of images taken by Gary Seronik using the same telescope, camera, and settings.
S&T: Gary Seronik
Roger Sinnott, our lunar-eclipse data master, used the reversed-binocular method to get a preliminary brightness estimate at mid-eclipse: magnitude –3.4. (His final value awaits his calibration of how much the binoculars actually diminish light when reversed, done by comparing stars.) In Brazil, experienced lunar-eclipse observer Willian C. de Souza used the same method and got magnitude –2.4 at mid-eclipse, though with cloud interference. John Bortle got magnitude –3.2.

Images are pouring in to our photo gallery for this event. Post yours too! And did you have any cool observations or experiences to share? Comment below.

28 thoughts on “February’s Lunar Eclipse: Ideal Indeed!

  1. Tim Farris

    Students at Volunteer State Community College, Gallatin, TN, had a successful night making crater ingress/egress timings. We also made independent brightness estimates at mid-eclipse, then compared our estimates with each other’s. The average of the estimates was 2.6 on the Danjon scale.
    Tim Farris, Assoc. Prof of Physics & Astronomy, VSCC.

  2. LS

    I live in Western Washington, and the sky cleared up at 6:55. I thought that the eclipse was about Danjon 1.5. Does the brightness vary from location to location?

    No (unless you’ve got thin clouds or the Moon is near your horizon). —Alan MacRobert

  3. John Bortle

    I was fortunate last evening that the earlier thin clouds that had prevailed dispersed completely about 9:30 PM and were followed by very clear skies. Not unexpectedly, last night’s event was another in the recent series of very bright eclipses. Of the 14 total eclipses I’ve determined total magnitudes for since 1963, last night’s ranks as the second brightest, only outdone by the event of November 2003. Using reversed binoculars and allowing for the necessary corrections, I obtained the following total visual magnitudes of the eclipsed moon from shortly before the onset of totality until a short while after totality ended.
    2:49UT -6.9
    2:54 -5.4
    2:56 -5.0
    3:00 -4.5 (totality begins)
    3:04 -4.2
    3:08 -3.7
    3:15 -3.6
    3:32 -3.2 (determination nearest to mid-eclipse)
    3:40 -3.2
    3:47 -3.1
    3:55 -3.9 (3 minutes after end of totality)
    3:57 -4.6
    4:00 -5.6
    4:07 -6.8

    (continued…)

  4. John Bortle

    (…continued)

    Throughout the eclipse, the umbral-covered portion of the disk was always distinctly evident to the unaided eye. Likewise, from shortly before totality until some time after it ended, the lunar seas could be clearly seen without optical aid, indicative of a very bright event. On the classical eclipse rating scales, last night’s was a 2 on the Fisher Scale (“the naked eye sees “spots” on the eclipsed moon, while binoculars reveal considerable disk detail”). I assign a value of 3.5 for it on the more widely used Danjon Scale. Color-wise the eclipse was definitely closest to being a 3 but the considerable brightness of the shadow’s outer regions dictated leaning somewhat toward a 4. Yellowish-white was the prevailing color in the outer umbra, while the northern areas of the lunar disk glowed with a hue reminiscent of what I call “old rose”.

    I believe that during the closing partial phases I was able to perhaps detect the eclipsed portion of the disk longer than at any previous event in my long observing career. Last night’s records indicate the eclipsed portion of the disk remained in view with the naked eye up to 04:57UT, just 12 minutes before contact 4. With 10×50 binoculars it continued visible right up to contact 4!

    I’ll be interested to read the evaluations of others regarding this eclipse. In recent years, longtime observer Joe Rao and myself have commented between ourselves how often many observers seem to have drastically under-rated the Danjon or general “brightness” level of various eclipses. I expect this is likely due to their not having had anything compare with but other “bright” eclipses in many years.

    — John Bortle

  5. Pat OConnell

    Gary Seronik’s photos of the August eclipse and last night’s eclipse are right on the mark. I watched the August eclipse from Carlsbad NM, and last night’s eclipse from the Minneapolis area. The eclipse pictures are just as I remember the Moon on those nights.

  6. Michael Peterson

    Conditions in Alexandria, MN were ideal – clear, cold, little wind. I had only expected to see a few minutes of totality during my 9:00 break during my evening shift job at Tastefully Simple, but the team leader actually stopped the line at about 8:20 so we could step out and take a look during the partial stage of the eclipse! Later on, the view during totality was exactly like the best of the photos that have been sent in.

  7. donald h. talbert

    it were more clouds but the moon sometime were seen between clouds sa the moon went into total eclipse sky clear some and to me this were a bright eclips to me put the danjon scale at L=4 this is the most beautful eclipse i never saw.also the brighter eclipse i can remenber seeing. donald

  8. Tom Fleming

    Clouds and possible rain had been in the long range forecast for the 20th for the Dallas area, and even as late as 6:00 local weathermen said we would miss it. So, it cleared up nicely about 30 minutes before totality. Our public observing event attracted about 150 persons and a great time was had by all. The Saturn, Regulus, Moon composition was very gratifying.

  9. Charles Fulco

    The eclipse began in cold, dampness with high hazy overcast in the Port Chester, NY area, but by the time totality hit, the sky turned into this amazingly crisp and clear dome with a very tiny dark moon high in the sky. I think I had the best view I’ve EVER had of Saturn last night as well (caught it during totality). Did anyone else catch Saturn and find it amazingly sharp?

  10. Enrico the Great

    I observed the eclipse using an 80 milimeter spotting scope (Konus) used mostly at a magnification of 60 diameters. Observation was performed from Sunnyside New York (Borough of Queens, New York City) Heavy light pollution, high altitude cirrus cloud cover and the occasional cumulous cloud hampered observations. Nebertheless it was a memorable event. I observed from shortly before second contact through totality to quite well after third contact.Northern part of lunar disc showed red color, less and less color as one moved south. Gray in south. Colors more intense at lower magnification and with naked eye. After totality was over most interesting sight was one of Tycho’s rays on boundary of Earth’s shadow (at an angle) Ray was quite prominent. Spotted Saturn’s rings also in using same instrument at 60x. Spotting scope not designed for Astronomy.

  11. jeffrey caldwell

    I watched the eclipse from Midland, Texas the other night. I watched from begining to end. The skys were perfectly clear as it was a perfect night for viewing an eclipse. While I was observing the Moon, I witnessed a flash in the sky that burst in a 360 degree pattern. It was very bright and seemed to be powerful and there was no sound to go with it. Was I seeing the shooting down of a satalite?

  12. Cee in Washington State

    A little less tech in my report. It was a spectacularly bright eclipse this time and well worth standing out in the cold night air to watch. We even knocked on neighbors’ doors and got them out in their coats – no complaints as they were all awed by the event. First eclipse for my grandson so it was even more special. Great photos in the archives!

  13. Cee in Washington State

    A little less tech in my report. It was a spectacularly bright eclipse this time and well worth standing out in the cold night air to watch. We even knocked on neighbors’ doors and got them out in their coats – no complaints as they were all awed by the event. First eclipse for my grandson so it was even more special. Great photos in the archives!

  14. Joe Farrell

    I recall the Dec 1992 eclipse – after Pinatubo and other volcanic eruptions between 91 and 92, and in the Dec 192 eclipse the moon virtually disappeared. I viewed the 92 eclipse from a dark [ish] sky location in Eastern CT and it was between 0.8 and 1.2.

    Viewing the Feb 08 event from Beaufort SC – where there is nothing to the east except dark ocean – I’d give this eclipse a Danjon of 3.5 or so. It was VERY bright, had the bluish cast to the edge of the shadow, was noticeably brighter and whiter at the ‘southern edge.’ No way I’d Danjon this in the 2’s or close to 3. Maybe cause I’m close to 50 and have seen manylunar eclipses, and some really dark ones too. . .

  15. John Kriegel

    I Viewed the eclipse from the Cranbrook Science Institute in Brimingham, MI, using my Meade 8″ Schmidt Newtonian reflector. It was very beautiful (as was Saturn). But I am puzzled in that very near to totality (I’ll guess that it was about 9:45PM local time, maybe later) there was a modest star visible very near to the moon, and indeed it was occulted a few minutes later. Does anyone know what that star was? I have not been able to see it mentioned on any web site.

  16. Tom Gloger

    While watching the Feb 20th lunar eclipse with unaided eye from a well-lit parking lot in Northbrook, IL, I saw a meteor at 8:59 CST, give or take a few seconds. From where I stood, its path was roughly east-to-west, in line with, and a few degrees west of, Saturn. Nothing spectacular, but I was wondering if anyone else happened to see this too. I’m estimating degrees based on the diameter of the moon being roughly half a degree in arc. The meteor wasn’t as bright as Saturn, but it was much brighter than the star star on the other side of the moon.

  17. Chris

    I was observing from Waltham, MA and also saw a meteor at 10:40 pm est, or 1540 utc. It was going roughly north to south and cut right through the middle of the Moon-Saturn-Regulus group. It was thrilling to consider the vastly diffent distances to these four objects that I could all see from my living room window!

  18. John Kriegel

    Viewed from Cranbrook Institute of Science, Birmingham, MI, using Meade 8″ SNT. It was very beautiful. But we saw an occultation of a modest start, probably about 10PM local time. Have not been able to find anything about this. My Cart du Ciel simulation seems to suggest that BD+10 2131 would have been occulted at 10:12 PM. BTW, while a 5th grade teacher was watching the occultation in my scope an airplane flew directly over the face of the moon.
    It was a magic evening, especially considering the clarity of the sky after nearly two months of overcast.

    -John Kriegel

  19. Jan Morrison

    We were disappointed in the Phoenix area as we had cloudy weather. However, I went out to look a number of times hoping for a break in the clouds. At 9 I was surprised to have a wondrful view of the eclipse lasting about 5 minues. I did go out a number of times afterwards but the clouds became heavier. It was the brightest I have ever seen in many years and I am grateful for even that short moment in time. It is a memory I will long enjoy.

  20. Chuck Spann

    Almost record cold for the area, we had -11 deg. Crystal clear, still air. I went outside briefly every 15 min or so to take a snapshot with a handheld Sony Mavica FD95 at max image size and digital zoom. Pics came out OK and it was very exciting considering I am just rediscovering backyard astronomy after 35 years.

  21. David Abbou

    The lunar eclipse was incredible to watch. Through binoculars, the eclipsed moon appeared as a three dimensional object.

  22. Sharlet Marquez

    Most disappointing was the view from Miami. Thinking that my vacation in Miami would provide the best view possible over Biscayne Bay, I would have done better in Ohio. There were clouds the whole time with just momentary glimpses and the clouds made the moon look gray. No reddish glow was evident. Goes to show you not to knock the weather up north!

  23. Tom

    Here in Israel, the Moon set during the 2nd partial phase as the sun was rising. With the sky brightening for sunrise the partially eclipsed portion of the moon disappeared leaving only the uneclipsed crescent visible. This made an illusion of a new crescent moon setting in the west with the horns pointing north, the wrong way!

    Friends of mine on a hilltop where actually ably to see the rising sun and the partially eclipsed moon above the horizon at the same time. Even though this seems impossible, it is due to the upward refraction of both the Sun and the Moon.

  24. Jim Gasser

    Saw 2 nice occultations during totality. The first was fainter than the second, but seemed to wink at me just as it disappeared. Here in Toledo it was a magical night, cold, 7 deg F, crystal clear, with totality having a dramatic impact on the darkness of the surrounding sky and landscape. Extremely eductational for all the neighbors and kids who enjoyed the sight.

  25. JOHN BARRY PICKUPBarry Pickup

    Thank you all in the USA for your reports and photos, alas, here in Ireland we had very poor weather, and so we saw little of this particular eclipse. I was able to view it thanks to your website though!

    Barry Pickup

    Dublin, Ireland

  26. dante bissiri

    Dear Sir:
    have you noticed that the 2 Gary Seronik photographs of the eclipsed moon are suitable to form an impressive and spectacular stereo pair?

    The best way to see that is the “crossed view”, placing the left photo to the rigth, as explained in my article about binocular vision in http://espanol.geocities.com/dantebissiri.

    Thank you very much !

  27. Melanie

    A friend of mine took me over to her house to watch this eclipse. The skies were perfectly clear and we had a great view. It was too cold outside to watch it from her yard, so we went inside and watched it through a window. She had a telescope, but we both know hardly anything about telescopes, so we used my binoculars instead. The eclipse was magnificent; quite an experience!
    I wish I had seen Saturn through her telescope, but I couldn’t hold it steady while I tightened it after seeing it in the finderscope. 🙁

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