HAWAII — The very first total lunar eclipse of 2021 would coincide with my 40th wedding anniversary.
Hawaii was the only U.S. state in a position to view this eclipse event in its entirety. My wife and I had been to the Hawaiian islands several times and she had wanted to return to celebrate our 40 years of marriage. The eclipse as seen from Kuai would occur late May 25 into the early morning of May 26.
Our anniversary is May 23, and so as luck would have it we would have a fine opportunity to view this entire lunar event, weather permitting.
A total lunar eclipse occurs, of course, during a full moon when the earth becomes, in its orbit, aligned perfectly between the two. The earth casts a shadow upon the moon, causing it for a few minutes to turn blood red. This coloration is caused by sunlight passing through the earth’s atmosphere, tinting the color of the shadow on the moon.
Smoke from forest fires, volcanic eruptions and air pollution can affect the color of the moon during a lunar eclipse.
This eclipse was also considered to be a “Super Moon” event. By that, it is meant that the moon appears particularly large in the sky due to its orbital position bringing it as close to the earth as it can get — this is known as “perigee.” The nearest point of the moon to the earth, according to NASA, is an average distance of about 226,000 miles (363,300 kilometers).
This full moon was also known as the “Flower” moon, because as folklore has it the full moon of May heralds the arrival of spring flowers. According to the Old Farmer’s Almanac, it was also known as the “Full Corn Planting Moon” or the “Milk Moon.”
Travelling to Hawaii, the equipment I could carry for a lunar eclipse was rather limited. No equatorial mount, telescope, counterweights or heavy tripod would be available to me this time, so I had to make due.
For this event I selected a Nikon COOLPIX P-900 camera and a sturdy tripod, that would be all I could manage on this trip. Our wedding anniversary on the 23rd went well with an amazing ahi tuna dinner at sunset while a thousand parakeets roosted in trees nearby.
The next day we did some snorkeling and contemplated 40 happy years of marriage ... but this lunar eclipse started to weigh heavily on my mind.
We needed to scout out an appropriate location to view this event. Planning is a must when trying to capture an astronomical event. Obstructions like buildings, trees and mountains must be avoided as well as glaring lights (an awful distraction!).
Once in a photography class, the instructor told us: “An amateur photographer, takes a photograph, while a professional photographer makes a photograph!”
Again, as luck would have it, we found ourselves reclining by the deserted Hilton Garden swimming pool. We were guests and we were there for the eclipse, so despite the pool being closed, security let us stay after we explained why we were there. (A good eclipse location, we thought.)
Ocean breeze, lawn chairs, balmy night and my wife, this would be a very comfortable lunar eclipse, indeed! A far cry from another total lunar eclipse I photographed from Algoma, Wisconsin, in January 2000. That night the air temperature was 12 degrees below zero with a stiff wind blowing in off Lake Michigan.
At the moment of totality a few hotel guests stepped outside their rooms to see this well advertised event and, of course, cellphones were out doing their best to capture an image.
But again these astronomical events are what you make of them, and this particular event lasted for several hours, so to get the most out of an event like this, get comfortable and enjoy the show from start to finish!
Being in the Hawaiian islands made this possible. Watching a lunar eclipse in its entirety illustrates an entire monthly lunar cycle compressed into just a few hours!
In the future, there will be other lunar eclipses, so get as comfortable as possible. And to make the most of them, always plan ahead!
Former Arcadian Victor C. Rogus (F.R.A.S.) is a fellow of the Royal Astronomical Society, London, living in Sedona, Arizona.