The Total Lunar Eclipse of September 7th, 2006

I'm always excited to see an eclipse, lunar or solar.
I read about the total lunar eclipse of September 7th, only to have my hopes dashed by learning that it would NOT be visible in North America.
To ease my disapointment I looked for some other event taking place in the night sky to distract me from the pain of missing yet another eclipse.

So, I learned that there was going to be a minus 8th magnitude Iridium flare at abt 8:30 from my location and I set out to capture it. While waiting for
the satelite I was acclimating my eyes to the night sky while setting up a camera in hopes of capturing the flare.

Then I noticed the moon rising low in the east. It had that ruddy red appearance so often seen when the moon is eclipsed.
 I quickly switched gears (Hey, I'm used to multi-tasking) and snagged a shot. 
Then, to my surprise,  a small semi-circular depression appeared in the top of the moon.
Wow, just like an eclipse, I thought. I snagged another shot. The bite got bigger.....and bigger......and bigger.........
Meanwhile, I'm shooting away and totally enjoying my little lunar eclipse.

Finally,  the cloud totally obscured the moon.

   I stood there for a moment dumbfounded. What a show!
I had come to witness an iridium flare and instead, had seen a total lunar eclipse! 
I began to wonder at the implications of what I had just witnessed.
Could I claim bragging rights as the only person in North America to witness the total lunar eclipse of September 7th, 2006, WHILE in North America?
Lost in reverie, I imagined the honors that would be bestowed upon me by the astronomical community.
I bet they will hold a parade in my honor.
I imagined being admitted into the Royal Astronomical Society as a lifetime honorary member.
Next, Dubya would invite me to the White House and give me the keys to the Hubble Space Telescope.
For a brief moment the universe was mine. I forgave those pesky clouds every bad curse I ever bestowed upon them...........


I was shaken from my reverie by my alarm. Reality stormed back upon my consciousness.
I had set my alarm to go off six seconds before the Iridium flare reached -8th magnitude, so I could start an exposure.

Now, here I was, standing here like a dummy, the camera pointed at the horizon and the satalite getting away.
Instinct kicked in. I grabbed the tripod handle in my left hand the the shutter button with my right hand.
As I began slewing the camera upward I was scanning the sky.
There's where the moon was, there's Sagitarius.
Go up from there and find Lyra.
Form a triangle and there inside is Aquila and Sagita.
There it is!!!  Iridium 46! It's brightening!!!!

I hoped with all hope that I had the camera pointed in the right direction.
I didn't have time to look through t he viewfinder.
I aimed from the hip like they do in those cheesy old western movies and depressed the shutter button.
The shutter opened and then immediately closed.


I wanted a 15 second exposure.  I had it all figured out on paper.
6 seconds before the flare, 4 seconds for max, and 5 seconds after max.
That would give me a nice  picture like the ones you see in the magazines.

What happened?

Then it sunk in.
 The camera was still set at 1 1/2 seconds, where I had set it for my last moon shot.
I had become so enthralled with my little "eclipse" that I forgot to set up for the satelite.

But then I started to rationalize.
Hey, maybe it turned out anyhow. 
1 1/2 seconds should capture an object as bright as -8th magnitude.
Maybe I had captured the flare after all.
I quickly set the camera to view mode, crossed my fingers and looked at my last image.
And there was a nice big bright spot in the frame.
I was elated.
(at least for a moment.)

When I got home I pulled the card from my camera and viewed the image on my PC.

While shooting the moon, I had placed the camera in autofocus mode.
There was my Iridium flare, captured in all it's OUT OF FOCUS glory.

So, for those of you who have never seen an out of focus iridium flare I offer the following images.
(Complete with those pesky clouds!)

Feel free to lok at this photo and laugh at my silly mistakes.
Because, ten years down the road, when I look at this picture, I'll remember a cool September evening,
a beautiful blood red moon rising on the eastern horizon and a really nice iridium flare.

Selective memory being what it is, I'll forget the rest of the details............
I'll simply remember yet another perfect observing session under the stars.