What is a total lunar eclipse and how can you capture it on your smartphone?
Total lunar eclipse (red moon) in black sky

We’ll be seeing a total lunar eclipse as well as a supermoon on 26 May. We tell you more about it and how you can shoot it on your smartphone. Image: Total lunar eclipse in Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park by Melanie Dretvic/Unsplash.

For 14 minutes, between 9:11pm and 9:25pm (AEST), on Wednesday 26 May, our Moon will appear large and red in our night sky.

This is commonly known as a ‘blood Moon’. It’s when a full Moon and a lunar eclipse occur at the same time. And Australia has one of the best views in the world of this marvel.

Let’s talk about the science behind this phenomenon and how you can capture a stunning shot with just your smartphone.

What is a blood Moon?

A blood Moon is another name for a total lunar eclipse.

Usually, a full Moon is lit up brightly by the Sun and as a result, you see a bright, large Moon in the evening sky. But occasionally a full Moon passes through Earth’s shadow in space and is blocked from direct sunlight. The only light that can still reach the Moon from the Sun passes first through Earth’s atmosphere. Instead of letting the whole light spectrum in, the atmosphere acts like a filter. It scatters all the blue light from the Sun and only lets the red and orange light reach the Moon’s surface. So, that gives the Moon a red appearance.

What makes this a supermoon?

When the Moon is closest to us in its orbit, it’s called the perigee. When it’s furthest from us, it is called the apogee. On 12 May at about 8am (AEST), the Moon was its furthest from us. It was about 406,512 kilometres away. But around midday (AEST) on 26 May, the Moon will be its closest – just 357,311 kilometres away. During the eclipse at 9:11pm (AEST), it will still be very close to us. So, the eclipse will happen at the same time as the supermoon.

Infographic of total lunar eclipse

This is how the Sun, our Earth and the Moon line up during a total lunar eclipse. Information taken from Encyclopedia Britannica.

What should we look for?

One of our astronomers, Dr Vanessa Moss, says we should look for a gradient across the surface of the Moon during the eclipse. This eclipse is quite short because the Moon is only just touching the darkest part of the Earth’s shadow. Because of this, we might expect to see the side of the Moon closest to the edge of the shadow look a bit brighter, rather than a solid red colour.

For the best view, Vanessa suggests you find a place that is dark and away from light pollution. When you’ve found that place, look to the east. The eclipse will start with the Moon very low on the horizon and you can watch it rise.

Only 14 minutes to capture the total lunar eclipse

If you are a photographer, you will only have 14 minutes and 30 seconds to snap an image of this total lunar eclipse. But here’s the good news: you don’t have to be a professional photographer to get a great picture.

Photographer Alex Cherney won the 2020 David Malin Award for Smartphone Astrophotography. He says you’ll need a tripod with an adapter for your smartphone. You’ll also need to practice before the eclipse to get a good picture. Here is what he recommends:

Night vision

On your smartphone, set the display brightness to dim so it doesn’t ruin your night vision. Additionally, make sure that your flash is turned off. Then set your smartphone timer to 2-3 seconds to minimise any camera shake.

Zoom in

If your smartphone is equipped with an optical zoom lens, it will help to make the Moon look bigger in your picture. But, using digital zoom doesn’t work very well in low light. So only zoom in enough that you don’t lose the quality of your image.

Focus far

Practice during the day or night using manual focus. Focus your smartphone on an object in the distance and make it as clear as possible. Most Android phones can be switched to Pro mode with manual focus and exposure controls, but iPhones will need a third-party camera app such as Camera+ 2 or Halide.

total lunar eclipse in night sky

Here’s an example of what a 5-10-second-long exposure of the total lunar eclipse taken with a smartphone, equipped with a 5x-10x optical zoom lens on a tripod may look like. Image: Alex Cherney

Long exposure

Keep in mind that the Moon will get red and very dim during the eclipse, so you’ll need a couple of seconds of long exposure with your smartphone on a tripod. Again, practice before the eclipse and learn how to adjust the image brightness or exposure. It’s important if you want to take a good photograph.

You may also want to try using night mode if you have an iPhone 11 or 12, or night sight/night mode on Google Pixel 5 and Samsung S20 or S21.

Time-lapse

If you’re away from the city lights, you can use night mode time-lapse on an iPhone 12. This will really showcase the effects of the Earth’s shadow in motion.

Have fun

Don’t forget to take some time to enjoy the view! Remember to share your photos on Instagram with #CSIRO in the caption so we can see your snaps!

If it’s cloudy wherever you are, and you don’t get to see the Moon, try checking out the European Space Agency webcast with live footage of the lunar eclipse from their New Norcia deep space tracking station in Western Australia.

0 comments

What do you think?

We love hearing from you, but we have a few guidelines.