Derby and District Astronomical Society

Total Lunar Eclipse - Wednesday 15th June 2011

Article by Chris Newsome

Well, the weather didn’t promise too much for the eclipse of the moon on the evening of 15th June 2011, and with the moon rising in totality, and also being in the Sagittarius region of the sky it was going to be low down and difficult to observe let alone image.

What was needed was a low horizon to maximise the possibility of something being visible from when the moon first rose above the horizon. Now Derbyshire isn’t known for being particularly flat let alone getting high enough to see a horizon without other far away hills being in the way, so the best thing is to head to the south coast to have a perfectly clear horizon.

I was also aware of the fact that Pete Lawrence was going to be imaging from a beach in Selsey and that the BBC Sky At Night team were also going to be filming with him as well. So on the morning of 15th June I set off from Derbyshire to head southwards to join Pete to try and image with him from the beach.

The weather on the day was appalling – rain throughout the journey of just over three hours. When I arrived at Selsey, it was raining and overcast . But it was atmospheric enough for me to get some landscape photos of the area.

I called Pete and arranged to meet him. And when I did get to the rendezvous point, he was busy with interviews and meetings. And so I spent time having a chat with some others from the Sky At Night, while he continued his meeting and while he went out for dinner in between filming. And who was I chatting with while Pete was out? Well, if I said that the rendezvous point was a rather nice house in Selsey, with a couple of observatories in the garden, one for a 12inch Newtonian, the other for a 15inch Newtonian, then you will realise that we met at the house of Sir Patrick Moore. And the person I was chatting with….. well, Patrick himself!

And what a perfect gentleman Patrick is. VERY hospitable, VERY witty, VERY switched on, VERY strong minded, VERY …. well an incredible person. Unfortunately due to his ill health he can’t observe, can’t play his music, can’t use his typewriter or play cricket. As he said it was extremely frustrating.

The topic of conversation was not really astronomical, but was about the world, politics, free speech etc. He even came out with a comment that I will take to the grave with me, but I shall never publish!!!

Anyway, while we were chatting, I was also keeping a check on the satellite images on the iPhone, while Patrick sipped on G&T brought to him by his team of wonderful carers. There was a break in the cloud that was heading northwest but not in the direction of Selsey. It was heading over to the Hants/Dorset border and so I took a calculated gamble. At about 7.30pm, after spending about an hour and half at Patricks, I raced along the M27…. sorry, I made progress along the M27!!!.... to Ringwood. As I got nearer the sky started to clear and I thought I was going to be luck. But by the time I got there, the clouds had rolled back in and the clear patch had headed north.

And so I saw nothing and imaged nothing of the eclipse.

Before I left Patrick’s, he was kind enough to sign a copy of BANG for me, to go with Chris Lintott’s autograph – just got to get Brian May’s and it will be complete. He also allowed the attached photo’s to be taken for inclusion on our society website. The one of Patrick with me was taken by his taxi driver, and I took the portrait of Patrick myself.

I missed the eclipse but my experiences of that day made up for missing the astronomical spectical!!!

Chris Newsome
June 2011