The Harvest Moon of September 2015 is remarkable in two respects: it's the largest full moon of 2015, and therefore a ‘supermoon’, and it coincides with a total lunar eclipse, often referred to as a ‘blood’ moon.
The last ‘blood supermoon’ was in 1982 before we even used the term ‘supermoon’. The next one will not occur until 2033, making it a once-in-a-photographer's-career event!
‘Blood supermoon’ will be seen on the evening of Sunday 27 September in the Americas, and during the early hours of Monday 28 September in Europe, Africa and Middle East. Asia and Australasia will miss out this time around.
You can use The Photographer's Ephemeris to check the exact position of the moon during all stages of the eclipse.
Let's take a look at what you will see in five locations around the world:
- Partial eclipse begins 6:07pm, before moonrise
- Total eclipse begins 7:11pm, with moon rising during civil twilight
- Greatest eclipse: 7:47pm, with moon at +9.1° altitude
Like much of the west coast of North America, San Francisco is ideally placed to photograph the rising full moon fully eclipsed during twilight.
The total lunar eclipse will begin just 15 minutes after moonrise, with the moon due east at just 2.4° above the horizon. As seen from Marin Headlands, the moon will be hanging in the sky near the north tower of the Golden Gate Bridge at around 7:11pm, and tracking southward and upward from there.
A fully eclipsed moon is very much darker than the normal brightness of the moon, so you may need to wait for the sky to darken a little for the moon to become clearly visible (particularly if there is any haze to the east).
Devil's Tower, Wyoming
- Partial eclipse begins 7:07pm, with the moon low in the eastern sky
- Total eclipse begins 8:11pm, with the moon at +14.6° during astronomical twilight
Farther east in North America, the eclipse doesn't get started until after moonrise. However, this will provide the opportunity to shoot the partially eclipsed moon low in the sky to the east.
At the famous Devil's Tower in Wyoming (which Richard Dreyfuss attempted to build in his lounge in Close Encounters of the Third Kind), by around 7:30pm, the moon will be well into the partial eclipse.
You can juxtapose the partially eclipsed moon against any prominent tall landmark or building, silhouetted against the deep blues of nautical twilight. For example, here, the moon is positioned to the right of the Devil's Tower (be sure to scout out a safe shooting location in situ in advance if you feel like attempting this shot):
The partially eclipsed moon remains a very bright object in the night sky, and so it will be almost impossible to expose for both the moon and foreground object: hence a silhouette is the best bet, and will also capture the twilight character of the scene.
- Partial eclipse begins at 2:07am on Monday Sep 28
- Greatest total eclipse occurs at 3:47am with the moon high in the southwestern sky
If you're not at the ‘margins’ of the visibility zone for the eclipse, then you'll probably find yourself needing to stay up late, or get up very early to see it. At the Royal Observatory in Greenwich, the eclipse will be visible through the middle hours of the night, ending before dawn.
The one advantage of this timing, is that the moon is relatively high in the sky, and so usually easily visible and clear of any haze or pollution in the atmosphere. Try shooting a composite sequence or timelapse of the eclipse from beginning to end (see the image at the start of this article).
- Total eclipse ends at 5:23am on Monday Sep 28 during astronomical twilight
- Partial eclipse ends at 6:27am at dawn, with the moon low in the western sky
Berliners, and others in Central Europe will be able to see the whole eclipse if they get up early enough. The partially eclipsed moon will be visible low in the sky to the west before dawn, when the sky will be a deep twilight blue (similar to circumstances in Wyoming described above).
- Total eclipse ends at 6:23am, 2 minutes before sunrise, and only 6 minutes before moonset
Parts of Russia, the Middle East and East Africa will see the totally eclipsed moon disappear into the morning twilight sky as it sets in the west. The moment of greatest eclipse will occur just at the start of civil twilight, which should provide an ideal balance of light for some spectacular photographs.
Don't wait too long after this though, as the moon will fade as the sky brightens.
Here's wishing you clear skies and functioning alarm clocks!