When the Planets Align

John Langmead_Supermoon Jan 2018_1898_20180131_Online
Down to the beach at the end of our street at Apollo Bay on the late afternoon of 31 January 2018 to wait for the rising of the full moon, which was predicted to occur 14 minutes before sunset.  A full moon of course requires that the earth does not get in the way of the sun shining on it.  That’s how the evening started, but things were to change significantly in this regard just before midnight; more on that later.  The moon was said to be closer to earth than usual on this evening, and hence would appear bigger by a factor of 10% or so.  I have witnessed a so-called ‘super moon’ on one other occasion and to the naked and untrained eye it did not look any bigger than usual.  But of course the ‘usual’  rise of a visible full moon over the sea and coast (or wherever) is invariably a glorious event.  In the lower left of this image, L to R, are Minnie, Doug and Liz.  Shafts of light from the setting sun found their way through the clouds and selected a few trees and a ridge above Wild Dog Creek to briefly bathe in the soft golden light of day’s end.
John Langmead_Supermoon Jan 2018_1906_20180131_Online
A cool onshore southerly wind was creating cloud over the coast, which threatened to deny us any view of the moon at all.  It did hide the moon from view as it rose above the horizon, at which point it would have been looking its largest.  But seeing it rise a short time later over a ragged bank of low cloud was not a disappointment.
John Langmead_Supermoon Jan 2018_1909_20180131_Online
The happy coincidence of the moon rising shortly before darkness fell, allowed me to capture in a single image the sea and its whitecaps, the profile of Cape Patton, the low layer of strato-cumulus cloud over the coast, the fading pink glow of sunset in the sky above the cloud, and the craters and detail on the face of the moon.
John Langmead_Supermoon Jan 2018_1913_20180131_Online
The cloud added to the beauty of the scene as the moon slowly climbed and combined with the last light of day to illuminate the coastal hills and the sea.
John Langmead_Supermoon Jan 2018_1916_20180131_Online
Darkness quickly engulfed the foreground as the last light of day faded.
John Langmead_Supermoon Jan 2018_1929_20180131_Online
Clouds are so local and earthly and the moon is so remote and celestial.  People all across planet earth were watching the moon this night, and only a handful of people around Skenes Creek and Apollo Bay saw this low cloud scudding across the sky and somewhat randomly revealing and concealing the majestic full moon.  It was a bespoke moonrise for those on the south west coast who like to see their planet’s moonlight filtered through a layer of coastal strato-cumulus moving across the sky at the bidding of a cool evening wind.  This image suggests to me the moon being observed from the earth, rather than merely existing in cold and lonely space.


John Langmead_Moon Eclipse 31.1.18_1967_20180201_Online
Apart from the planets metaphorically aligning on this night so as to to place the rising full moon over a cloud bank at Cape Patton for my viewing convenience, at 30 minutes after midnight ESST the moon, the earth and the sun literally aligned such that the earth’s shadow completely blocked the sun’s rays from the moon for a short time.  The eclipse of the moon by the earth’s shadow produced the red moon shown in this photo. The full eclipse lasted from 2351 to 0107 ESST.  By this time the moon was quite high in the sky.  It was not possible to meaningfully photograph it with hills or a seascape in the foreground.  I opted to pass on the ploy of photographing it with a tree branch, or a building at close quarters in the foreground.  In short, it was not a photographer’s delight. But here it is anyway, the red moon, hanging in the black chill of space for just over an hour for earthlings to view.  I know the red moon is a relatively rare event, but I much prefer seeing a full moon rise above the earth’s horizon, especially with intermittent cloud unpredictably and beautifully changing the show second by second.  In looking at the red moon I felt I was merely observing a scientific fact.  In watching the full moon rise the thrill of its beauty left no capacity for even fleetingly contemplating the science.  Or to put it more pragmatically,  I am sure many went home to bed rather than watch the entire hour and sixteen minutes of the full eclipse. The few photographers who joined me overlooking the Apollo Bay harbour approaching midnight gave it away early.  But I have never known anyone to leave the sight of a full moon rising before it was completed.  It is the difference between optional interest and unavoidable awe.

2 thoughts on “When the Planets Align

  1. Thanks John for an illuminating collection of photographs and prose for those unskilled of us preferring sleep. Once in a red moon indeed.

    Your perseverance to your chosen end presented its own reward. I hope you enjoyed a sleep in last Thursday.



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