The Dark of an Eclipsed Moon

Totality on May 15, 2003
Using a Takahashi 210-millimeter astrograph reflector and an SBIG ST-2000XM CCD imager, Richard Jacobs captured this fine view of totality from Phoenix, Arizona.
Observers in Western Europe and the central and western regions of the United States described the total lunar eclipse of May 15, 2003, as a beautiful and dark sight. But numerous skywatchers located along the eastern seaboard of the US didn't get a chance to find out as clouds spoiled their view. Many of these same observers were also foiled by clouds a week earlier while attempting to see the transit of Mercury at sunrise on the 7th.

The majority of lunar-eclipse reports arriving at Sky & Telescope describe totality as being darker than usual — perhaps falling between 1 and 2 on the five-point Danjon Scale (see the article "Observing and Photographing Lunar Eclipses" for details on this brightness scale). John Leppert, watching from the Deneb Observatory in Regan, North Dakota, depicted the lunar landscape as being "a bit darker and the red-orange hues quite subtle from the many other eclipses I've seen during nearly four decades." Peter Tiedt saw the eclipse from Durban, South Africa, and described it as being "absolutely beautiful deep copper colored, fading to golden in the partial phases [under] crystal clear skies."

S&T contributing editor Govert Schilling watched from his hometown of Utrecht, the Netherlands. His view was typical for observers situated in Western Europe. "Second contact occurred with the Moon only a few degrees above the horizon and twilight already well on its way. About half an hour earlier, the reddish color of the eclipsed part of the Moon was very faintly visible, even with the naked eye, but as twilight became stronger and the Moon's altitude decreased, the color faded quickly."

Lunar eclipse of May 15, 2003
While Dennis Mammana was busy showing the eclipse to a crowd of hundreds outside the Reuben H. Fleet Science Center in Balboa Park, San Diego, California, he was still able to snap this image with his Canon G2 digital camera of people enjoying the eclipse.
© Dennis Mammana, SkyScapes.com
Stephen McCann of Great Britain had an unusual view of the eclipse — from a Boeing 777 flying to London, England, from Dallas. "I watched a beautiful eclipse from my window seat from the beginning to about 10 minutes before the end of the partial phase. At 37,000 feet, the seeing was clear, and I believe that mideclipse was quite dark, being a deep orange-copper color. I also noted the penumbral phase, about 45 minutes before the partial phase started, as a distinct gray cast on a brilliant white Moon. At mideclipse, we were some 700 miles south of Greenland."

Rovy Branon nicely sums up one aspect of eclipse-watching as a group, whether it's a planned outing or an impromptu event. "We had fantastic weather here in Bloomington, Indiana, for the eclipse," he writes. "It was kind of fun because there was sort of a spontaneous gathering of neighbors in a parking lot that kind of fed on itself — as more people gathered and started looking up, more came to see what was going on. Funny how events like this can help to bond near-strangers!"

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