Observing notes from Wednesday, April 3, 1996

The total lunar eclipse on the night of April 3, 1996 was a wonderful event that I shared with my wife, my baby daughter, and a few neighbors. I tried not thinking about the eclipse in the days before it. I hadn't seen a total lunar eclipse since 1989, and I was afraid that too much enthusiasm might bring bad luck. The eclipse that everyone in the country enjoyed in November of 1993 could not be seen from the Seattle because of rain (imagine that). Now I was living on the east coast and the west coast had no chance of seeing the April 3, 1996 eclipse because it was over before the Moon rose. The Moon rose totally eclipsed for east coast observers.

Clouds had formed around the eastern horizon at sunset and I was really worried. I had chosen my neighbors drive way as my observing site since he had a much better view to the east than I did, but not by much. I frantically searched for the Moon when I knew it had to be above the horizon, but I just couldn't find it. I didn't know if it was hidden by clouds or by the trees. I panicked, jumped in the car, and drove around to various locations looking for the Moon. I couldn't find it anywhere and clouds were everywhere. Finally I just decided to go back to my original observing site and wait it out. Just as I pulled into the driveway, I caught a glimpse of the ruddy colored Moon just above the treetops!!!

It was dimmed every now and then by hazy clouds, but for the most part this was an excellent lunar eclipse. We got to see about 30 or 40 minutes of totality. I would gauge the color of this one as medium intensity. The Moon definitely had a bright edge toward the ? limb from not being exactly in the center of the Earth's shadow. As the Moon rose higher in the sky, the clouds gave way and we had a clear, unobstructed view. Spectacular.

We then turned to the northwest horizon. Comet Hyakutake was an easy naked eye object. We could make out several degrees of it's bright tail. I think the tail was noticeably brighter than a couple of weeks ago. This is probably because of extra dust since it is closer to the sun. Two grand celestial sights in the sky at once. What more could an amateur astronomer ask for?

While we were in the general neighbor hood, we took a quick glance at Venus. Of course it's big and bright and just screams at you to observe it. It was brilliant in the eyepiece. Its waning crescent phase was quite visible.

Although the best views of the eclipsed Moon were with the naked eye and binocular, I did have my 8" SCT telescope set up. I tried several snap shots of which one came out quite decent. I made an 8x10 of it and have it sitting in my living room (along with a 1st quarter shot I did a few years ago). I had no idea of what exposure to use, so I just guessed. Five seconds seemed to do it.

We watched the eclipse fade away as the bright sunlight returned to the Moon. The partial phases are always interesting. That's when the Moon looks really weird with part of it being brightly lit, while the other part is that deep red color. I observed the Moon until the last bit of the Earth's shadow slipped away.

Jeffrey L. Polston

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