15 April 2014

lunar eclipse (at Forbush Flat)

Los Padres National Forest

Locate the trailhead.

There is a chance of a lunar eclipse every six months, and many of them are total, so it is not all that special an occurrence. It is not like a solar eclipse where only a thin segment will be able to see it since anyone who can see the moon can see the shadow of the earth moving across it. This one seemed well enough timed and I am not sure I have ever watched a total lunar eclipse. I know I watched a partial one once, but not total. The partial was not so interesting as it really just puts a new line across the old moon that usually has a line across it. The local area has had too much marine layer building up to trust the night sky to be clear, but just the other side of the mountains should be fine. Forbush Flat is always a nice spot with a wide open space and should have water on the ground rather than in the air.

The early evening drive up Gibraltar is nice, so long as I discount the two vehicles attempting head on collisions by going down the wrong side of the road. The bicycle did this in a spot with plenty of visibility and just had to turn back to his side of the road without any action taken on my part. The car, on the other hand, thought it would be fun to head into a blind corner giving opposing traffic just under three feet to get through next to a rock wall. I could feel the anti lock breaks kick on before the driver realized it would be efficacious to his continued travel to turn back into his own lane. It required a complete stop to avoid hitting the poorly driven vehicle in the broadside. Oh, and I hit a few potholes in the remaining patchwork section. Other than that, a very pleasant drive. There is no one on the short section of Camino Cielo to the water tank at Cold Spring Saddle and one car parked there. It is possible that someone will have already taken the meadow for themselves, but probably the meadow will be mine. It is a short hike down while taking in the few flowers and the views. It is much greener now, including over the meadow at Cottam.

looking north from near Cold Spring Saddle
The view north when just starting off.

Blue Delphinium
It is reliable to find a bit of blue delphinium along the path to Forbush.

blue dicks with bugs
An exquisite bunch of blue dicks, which can generally be found all over.

Forbush Flat appears to be empty. The first task is to determine the state of the local water. The trail behind the main site to the water drops to the creek a number of times, getting more overgrown with each split. The first drop is dry and the second contains a hint of moisture that is unobtainable. There is poison oak to avoid while continuing past these two, which should have water this time of year. The next drop does have water and there is even some flow evident. Past this, the trail is really just a depression in the blackberry vines.
Once water has been found, there is time to look around the flat. The piece of creek behind the second site also has water with a hint of flow. The pear trees have leafed out and seem as strong as ever. The peonies at the north side of the meadow are not yet ready to bloom. Checking down the side canyon, the sun is setting too far south to be spectacular from there.

sun setting behind cloud and hill
Looking down the unnamed canyon the creek runs into shows more clouds than desired.

After a bit of sketching in the side canyon with the sun going down, the moon has come up over the meadow, or at least is visible from some places along the path. The moon is very full, as it should be.

moon rising above Blue and Forbush canyons
Returning from what there is of a sunset behind some clouds, the moon has just risen above the trees.

I set out my quilt and pad on a flat spot near the top of the meadow, and then cook some dinner. It takes some of the time before the eclipse starts, but there are still some hours to go. I read while I wait, then fiddle with settings on the camera a bit so that it takes quick photos showing the maria and craters. Technically, the eclipse has already started as the atmosphere starts to obscure the light a little. (The large moon pictures are unresized through the telephoto at max extent (200mm). I really need a tripod and remote trigger for this, but handheld seems to remain my only way, so if any of these are nice, it is a testament to Nikon's vibration reduction system.)

full moon
The interference of the atmosphere with light getting to the moon does not show much.

Gradually, at first seeming to be just the imagination, a dark spot seems to be appearing at the moon rabbit's feet.

a little shadow
In Japan, the moon has a rabbit instead of a man, and there seems to be a darkening near what I would call his feet.

It takes a long time for the darkening to take on the curved shape expected. Gossamer clouds roll past northward as the wet air from over the sea intrudes. Each time, as it comes over the drier inland air, it starts to fade. Sometimes it is helped by contrails from the numerous planes flying overhead. Generally the inland air wins the battle.

moon with a bite out of it
The feet are very certainly vanishing behind the Earth shadow now.

moon minus half
As the lighted section reduces, the eye starts to pick up the red light that bends most through the Earth's atmosphere and still falls on some of the moon just as the last light of the sunset is red.

browner moon
The dynamic range is too much for the eye, so it is also too much for the camera.

As the eclipse becomes complete, a thick cloud passes in front of the moon and obscures it to just a diffuse wedge of light. Just as the first dark took a long time to start crossing the moon, the last of the light lingers for a while. Gradually, the dry inland air begins to win and the deeply shadowed moon can be seen by the red light. Now the nearby stars can be seen along with the moon. unfortunately, it seems that Forbush Flat does not have a particularly dark sky.

bright edge
There is still a bright edge to the moon, and it moves along the bottom edge.

moon and stars
The reddened moon and three nearby stars.

I thought I was going to go to sleep, but it does not seem to be working out. Gradually, there seems to be more brightening along the edge of the moon. It lingers, just as before, but it gets brighter and the rest of the moon fades away.

sunlight coming back to the face of the moon
The moon begins to glow again as more direct sunlight, not just the deeply bent red, hits it.

a bit of direct sunlight on the moon
More direct sunlight (but still going through the atmosphere) starts to hit the moon and the rest is drowned out by the bright light and the nearby stars start to vanish.

nearly half a moon
The sky is much clearer for the return.

As the moon gets to about halfway back, it dips behind a tree from my vantage point high on the meadow. Having come this far through the eclipse, I decide to pull on my jacket and finish it off as most of the meadow still has moonlight and will for a while.

more than half and still climbing
Still getting bigger.

most of the moon is back
Only a small bite left taken out of the moon.

very nearly all there
Just the slightest bit of dark left over from the passing shadow of the Earth.

a full moon again
The process is finished and there is just a full moon again.

I suppose it is still another hour or so before the end when the sunlight no longer passes through the Earth's atmosphere, but I cannot see that difference and the sun and birds will serve as a rather good alarm in only a few hour's time, so it is time to sleep. At first it seems like I will not get any after all, but then everything is dawn light and birdsong.

A little water collected, a little breakfast, a little packing up of everything that did not quite dry from the dew in the meadow, and it is time again to hike the short hike up to the car, taking in the flowers and the view. There are a few in the meadow I did not notice before and petals on the path alert me to a few in the old orchard. Most of the trees appear to have not flowered at all, but two have flowered and the very shadiest flowers on the biggest tree remain.

flowers like wads of cotton
Some tiny wads of cotton that are growing in the meadow at Forbush Flat.

folded mountains with power lines crossing
Looking down into Forbush Flat and to the northwest view.

marine layer from foothills to islands
South of the mountains, the marine layer has most certainly won. There is nothing but cloud between the foothills and the islands.

©2014 Valerie Norton
Posted 15 April 2014

1 comment:

Stephen Searer said...

Agreed about the increased greenery down that way. I made my way down to emerald pools on the 12th - was as pretty as always of course: http://instagram.com/p/mswnAQujki/