7 mins read 04 May 2021

Shoot the 'blood moon' in May

On 26 May most of Australia will have front row seats to a total lunar eclipse or ‘Blood Moon’ in its entirety. So grab your cameras and join us in capturing Earth’s only natural satellite dressed in red using the #SpaceAusMoon tag on social media.

Stages of a total lunar eclipse. Credit: Dylan O’Donnell

On Wednesday 26 May Australians will be lucky enough to witness a total Lunar Eclipse, visible in its entirety by Eastern Australia and most of central Australia. Western Australia will also get a good look of the full eclipse but will miss out on the first early stage. 

With the moon likely to turn a spectacular red it’s a perfect time to try out some backyard astrophotography. Take a photo of the Blood Moon, and post it on Twitter or Instagram with #SpaceAusMoon and we’ll retweet, repost and share your lunar eclipse photos across our socials to our networks. 

The eclipse starts at 6:47 pm AEST with the Maximum Eclipse occurring at 9:18 pm AEST.

What is a lunar eclipse?

The alignment of the Sun, Earth and Moon during a total lunar eclipse. Credit: Starry Night

A total lunar eclipse can only occur when the Moon is full, and the Sun, Earth and Moon are in alignment. 

The moonlight we see is a product of sunlight being reflected off its surface, as the Moon doesn’t produce its own light. During a total lunar eclipse, the Moon moves into the Earth’s shadow, and for those of us on the ground, we get to look up and see the curvature of the Earth as its shadow falls on the Moon. 

What happens next is a remarkable sight to see. The Earth’s atmosphere acts like a huge prism, and as the sunlight pours through it - it bends and refracts, with the longer wavelengths of light - the reds and oranges - making it through to the Moon’s surface. It’s the same effect of a red sunrise or sunset, only instead of reflecting off the clouds above the horizon, the sunbeams reach out all the way to the Moon. 

There are 7 stages of a total lunar eclipse:

  1. Penumbral eclipse begins: This begins when the penumbral part of Earth's shadow, the outer shadow, starts moving over the Moon. This probably can’t be seen by the naked eye.
  2. Partial eclipse begins: Earth's umbra, or darker central shadow, starts covering the Moon, making the eclipse more visible.
  3. Total eclipse begins: Earth's umbra completely covers the Moon and the Moon is red, pink or even brown.
  4. Maximum eclipse: This is the middle of the total eclipse. The eclipse in May will last around 14 minutes.
  5. Total eclipse ends: At this stage, Earth's umbra starts moving away from the Moon's surface.
  6. Partial eclipse ends: Earth's umbra completely leaves the Moon's surface.
  7. Penumbral eclipse ends: At this point, the eclipse ends and Earth's shadow completely moves away from the Moon.

It’s important to remember that during this whole event, all bodies are moving with reference to each other. The Earth is moving around the Sun, and the Moon is moving around the Earth. Additionally, the Earth is turning on its axis, so you are continually moving as this event unfolds. 

Send us your photos using #SpaceAusMoon

Partial and total eclipse of the moon. Credit: Rami Mandow

We absolutely love that the Moon has such a close association to all humans, and has done so for many thousands of years. With clear skies around, the upcoming lunar eclipse is certainly going to be special for lots of people around Australia. 

As such, we’d love for you to share your experience with us for this special event by taking a photo of the Moon as the eclipse occurs (from the moment the Moon starts to be covered by Earth’s shadow, through to total eclipse and then back out again). 

To do so, simply use any device that you can (phone, cameras, telescopes - there’s a handy list below of some apps that might help) and take a photo of the Moon. Then, send it in to us via Twitter or Instagram, using the hashtag #SpaceAusMoon and don’t forget to tag our account (@SpaceAusDotCom on both platforms).

We’ll then give you a signal boost and share your image around - be sure to tell us about your experience too!

Apps to help take photos of the moon

The location of the moon relative to Antares and Messier 4 during the upcoming lunar eclipse. Credit: Skyguide app 

There are a number of apps for phones and tablets that can help identify stars, planets, constellations and more, by holding the device up to the sky to identify what’s overhead. Most of these types of apps are either free or charge a nominal amount. 

  • Sky Guide (Apple and Android) - costs around $4.99. 
  • Star Walk 2 (Apple and Android) - free 
  • Stellarium and Stellarium Plus (designed for iPads) 

Celetron’s SkyPortal app is free and stargazers can also control their Celestron telescope from the SkyPortal app. 

Nightcap Camera is an app this gives more control over photos taken by mobiles in low light, video and time-lapse photography. It has four different astronomy modes that help capture the night sky. It can also be used in conjunction with a telescope. 

Partial lunar eclipse. Credit: Matjaz Mirt/flickr

'Blood Moon' at total lunar eclipse. Credit: Rami Mandow

Hints and tips for taking photos of the moon

Cross your fingers for a clear night.

To get a stunning photo of the moon, use a greater focal length that either a telescope or a long lens on a DSLR camera can offer. Mobile phones alone can’t capture the same level of detail. 

Using a mobile and telescope

When taking a photo using a mobile through the telescope eyepiece, just holding the phone camera up to the eyepiece has two issues – it’s difficult to position the phone, and as humans, holding the phone with our hands will inevitably result in a small amount of tremor, even for the steadiest hands out there. A universal smartphone adapter can hold the phone to the telescope eyepiece without any residual shaking and will be essential to take a stunning shot. 

Using a DSLR

To get a great shot using a DSLR without a telescope, choose a lens of at least 200mm if not 400mm or longer! The Moon is bright but because it’s so far away it will look small in your frame. Choose the longest focal length to zoom in as much as you can.

As with a mobile phone and a telescope, use a stable tripod and a cable release or timer to take the shot to reduce any shudder. You can even use a couple of books or household items to lean your phone up against - just be sure to set a timer so you can activate the image then walk away from it. If that’s not possible, try increasing the shutter speed. 

Got clouds? Watch it online!

As with all astronomical events, there’s always a chance of the clouds ruining the fun on the evening. So, if you just want to watch the eclipse from the comfort of your own home, then check out the following links on the evening of the eclipse.

Sydney Observatory

Sydney Observatory astrophysicist Dr Sarah Reeves, Dr Andrew Jacob and ambassador Karlie Noon will take you through the Moon's movements as we witness a red supermooon, live from the Sydney Observatory telescopes.

Watch the Sydney Observatory live stream here for free (opens May 26)

Mount Burnett Observatory

Join the volunteers at Mount Burnett Observatory for the eighth virtual journey, will be live streaming the eclipse from the observatory (weather permitting) because our region has the opportunity to observe the entire eclipse from start to end.

Watch the Mount Burnett Observatory live stream here for free (opens May 26)

Neither event requires any registration, and will allow viewers in different locations to still participate in watching the event online should one region be clouded.