Tag Archives: Total Lunar Eclipse

NASA Night Sky Notes for January 2019: January’s Evening Eclipse And Morning Conjunctions

Poster’s Note: One of the many under-appreciated aspects of NASA is the extent to which it publishes quality science content for children and Ph.D.’s alike. Your tax dollars help promote science! The following article was provided for reprinting by the Night Sky Network in January, 2019.

By David Prosper

Observers in the Americas are treated to an evening total lunar eclipse this month. Early risers can spot some striking morning conjunctions between Venus, Jupiter, and the Moon late in January.

A total lunar eclipse will occur on January 20th and be visible from start to finish for observers located in North and South America. This eclipse might be a treat for folks with early bedtimes; western observers can even watch the whole event before midnight. Lunar eclipses takes several hours to complete and are at their most impressive during total eclipse, or totality, when the Moon is completely enveloped by the umbra, the darkest part of Earth’s shadow. During totality the color of the Moon can change to a bright orange or red thanks to the sunlight bending through the Earth’s atmosphere – the same reason we see pink sunsets. The eclipse begins at 10:34 pm Eastern Standard Time, with totality beginning at 11:41 pm. The total eclipse lasts for slightly over an hour, ending at 12:43 am. The eclipse finishes when the Moon fully emerges from Earth’s shadow by 1:51 am. Convert these times to your own time zone to plan your own eclipse watching; for example, observers under Pacific Standard Time will see the eclipse start at 7:34 pm and end by 10:51 pm.

Lunar eclipses offer observers a unique opportunity to judge how much the Moon’s glare can interfere with stargazing. On eclipse night the Moon will be in Cancer, a constellation made up of dim stars. How many stars you can see near the full Moon before or after the eclipse? How many stars can you see during the total eclipse? The difference may surprise you. During these observations, you may spot a fuzzy cloud of stars relatively close to the Moon; this is known as the “Beehive Cluster,” M44, or Praesepe. It’s an open cluster of stars thought to be about 600 million year old and a little under 600 light years distant. Praesepe looks fantastic through binoculars.

Mars is visible in the evening and sets before midnight. It is still bright but has faded considerably since its closest approach to Earth last summer. Watch the red planet travel through the constellation Pisces throughout January.

Venus makes notable early morning appearances beside both Jupiter and the Moon later this month; make sure to get up about an hour before sunrise for the best views of these events. First, Venus and Jupiter approach each other during the third full week of January. Watch their conjunction on the 22nd, when the planets appear to pass just under 2 ½ degrees of each other. The next week, observe Venus in a close conjunction with a crescent Moon the morning of the 31st. For many observers their closest pass – just over half a degree apart, or less than a thumb’s width held at arm’s length – will occur after sunrise. Since Venus and the Moon are so bright you may st1ill be able to spot them, even after sunrise. Have you ever seen Venus in the daytime?

If you have missed Saturn this winter, watch for the ringed planet’s return by the end of the month, when it rises right before sunrise in Sagittarius. See if you can spot it after observing Venus’ conjunctions!

You can catch up on all of NASA’s current and future missions at nasa.gov

Have you ever wondered how eclipses occur? You can model the Earth-Moon system using just a couple of small balls and a measuring stick to find out! The “yardstick eclipse” model shown here is set up to demonstrate a lunar eclipse. The “Earth” ball (front, right) casts its shadow on the smaller “Moon” ball (rear, left). You can also simulate a solar eclipse just by flipping this model around. You can even use the Sun as your light source! Find more details on this simple eclipse model at bit.ly/yardstickeclipse

About The NASA Night Sky Network

The Night Sky Network program supports astronomy clubs across the USA dedicated to astronomy outreach. Visit nightsky.jpl.nasa.gov to find local clubs, events, and more!

CNYO Observing Log: A Summary Of The Last Few Months Of 2015 In Rapid Succession

Greetings fellow astrophiles!

In the interest of full documentation of the year’s events (but because we’re running short on time), a brief post summarizing all of the unsummarized Observing Logs for the past few months (we’re done with observing for 2015 unless something really interesting happens tomorrow night!). Despite mostly unfavorable conditions, we did manage to get a few decent sessions in.

Mid-to-Late 2015 Library Lectures

1. Hazard Branch Library, Syracuse – 20 June 2015

In advance of International SUN-Day on June 21st, CNYO hosted a combined solar astronomy lecture and nearly clouded-out observing session. Provided the sky is clear (which was mostly NOT the case for the 2015 SUN-Day festivities), we’ll be running a session for International SUN-Day 2016 somewhere around town.

2. Seymour Library, Auburn – 6 October 2015

A “general introduction to astronomy” lecture was the staff request for this session, including a bit about getting around the CNY Nighttime Sky (courtesy of CNYO’s handy-dandy brochures) and a little sneak-in of the New Horizons (Pluto!) and Dawn (@ Ceres!) missions. For the record, one of the aesthetically pleasing libraries in CNY.

3. Liverpool Public Library, Liverpool – 23 November 2015

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After a rescheduling of the October 22rd lecture due to pending social obligations, CNYO returned for our twice-yearly (or more) LPL lecture, featuring a more complete session about Ceres and Pluto and all that it means to be dwarf planets in our always-interesting Solar System.

4. CNY Tech User Group @ LPL, Liverpool – 7 December 2015

CNYPCUG (but by “PC,” they mean “Tech”), which meets monthly at LPL, saw the announcement for the November 23rd session and asked for a tech-centric lecture of their own. Mixing up some of the recent dwarf planet discussion with the flurry of missions already active (with an extra emphasis on Hubble imagery), this session ran over 90 minutes and had lots of good discussions to boot.

Late 2015 Observing Sessions

2015 wasn’t a truly bad year for observing, but trying to get clear skies, little-to-no Moon, and short-notice organizing all together for some of our hoped impromptu sessions just didn’t work out too well. The four official sessions on the books are listed below.

1. Total Lunar Eclipse @ Baltimore Woods – 27 September 2015

This, THIS session was a treat. Driving out to Baltimore Woods around 8:00 p.m., the sky was completely overcast with only a few patches of anything clear-like in the distance. Within 5 minutes of BW, however, the sky just opened right up, with some of the last cloud cover making for some excellent final views of the obscured Moon before the whole sky went clear. Over 50 people were at the session, which culminated in a beautiful full lunar eclipse.

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The best part of the whole session – and the one I made mention of for people to take a second look – was just how bright the restive the sky becomes when the Moon is dimmed so significantly. One could have had a full New Moon observing session, complete with galactic views and all the subtle highlights one could wish for, all while having this dark orange/red Moon *right there* in the sky. Bob Piekiel was kind enough to make a montage of the event, which I include above (click for a larger view).

2. North Sportsman’s Club, West Monroe – 10 October 2015

This session was mostly organized on our Facebook Group and even received a small but active (8) attendance (including a guest appearance by New Moon Telescope’s own Ryan Goodson) despite a clerical error in the organization itself not allowing us to make it through the gate (so, not wanting to waste a clear sky, we unloaded and observed from the long NSC driveway – the field being too far away to want to risk carrying scopes around).

3. Joint Nottingham/Corcoran Observing Session @ Corcoran High School – 6 December 2015

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A shining example of Murphy’s Law of Astronomy – “If you schedule it, it will be cloudy. If you cancel, it will be clear.” The session was scheduled for December 4th, with the 5th and 6th as alternates. The 4th was a wash, and the 5th looked to be – until we cancelled the session, after which those who still attended reported having an hour of clear skies for observing. We set the 6th as a make-or-break session – which mostly broke. Despite a busy 70 minutes with 18 attendees, we were only able to catch a poor view of the Andromeda Galaxy and a moderately washed-out view of the Pleiades. The discussion more than made up for the weather, however, and we plan to return again to try our luck near the heavily lit Corcoran High School football field (sadly, Nottingham High School does not fare much better).

4. Geminid Meteor Shower @ Baltimore Woods – 13/14 December 2015

As far as reported observing, this session went solely to Bob Piekiel at his special session at Baltimore Woods. With a one hour clearing on the evening of the 13th, Bob and his two attendees managed six bright meteors and a number of deep sky objects before packing it up. The 14th, sadly, was not an option for observing due to increased cloud cover, meaning CNY, yet again, largely missed out on one of the great meteor showers.

The 2016 calendar is getting populated and plans are in the works for more sessions. Stay tuned and Happy New Year!

Prepping For International Observe The Moon Night (Sept. 19) And A Total Lunar Eclipse (Sept. 27)

UPDATE: 19 Sept 2015, 5:00 p.m. – Sadly, the weather is not cooperating with us this evening, so our IOMN session downtown in CANCELED. We’ll hope for better conditions during the lunar eclipse next week.

UPDATE: Meetup.com and Facebook Events have been added for both the IOMN (meetup | facebook) and eclipse IOMN (meetup | facebook) sessions.

Greetings fellow astrophiles!

We focus on the Moon this month with one natural event and one “nature-derived” (sounds better than “artificial”) event.

International Observe The Moon Night – Saturday, Sept. 19th, 7 – 9 p.m.

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It’s the Moon, so doesn’t much matter where you set up to observe. A snapshot from last year’s CNYO IOMN session in Armory Square (near The MOST and Sound Garden).

International Observe the Moon Night (InOMN) is an annual event that is dedicated to encouraging people to ‘look up’ and take notice of our nearest neighbor, the Moon. From looking at the Moon with a naked eye to using the most sensitive telescope, every year on the same day, people from around the world hold events and activities that celebrate our Moon. On this site, you can find information about an InOMN event near you or register your own event. We encourage everyone to join us in the celebration!

Because the viewing was easier (and the crowd a little easier to find) from close to The MOST last year, we’re going to set up the scopes at (or close to) the very beginning of the south end of the Onondaga Creekwalk (map below, right below The Sound Garden). This spot provides ample parking and a fairly clear view of the Southwest/South/Southeast (certainly enough for lunar viewing) while not being quite as bright as other spots in the vicinity.

2014august28_logo_finalThe 6 day old waxing crescent Moon is a nice compromise of brightness and detail for giving the Moon a good looking at (given the preference to have IOMN on a Saturday night, anyway). Not only will we have a terminator to give us shadows and perceived depth, but we’ll have pleasant views of the many large “seas” on the Moon’s surface – including Mare Tranquillitatis (with the Apollo 11 landing site just on its coast), Fecunditatis, Serenitatis, and Crisium – out in the open for inspection. For those wondering about the timing (besides the whole weekend thing), Full Moon is actually one of the most boring times to observe the Moon. With the Sun’s light beating straight down on the Moon’s surface, we have no shadows to bring out crater depth or mountain height. Most observers agree that the most interesting views are right along the terminator where light and dark meet, so having a nice piece of that to observe makes for a much more visually appealing session.

Total Lunar Eclipse – Sunday, Sept. 27th, 8:11 p.m. to 1:22 a.m. (28th)

NOTE: Bob Piekiel will be hosting a total lunar eclipse session at Baltimore Woods on the 27th. If you want to see the Moon in fine detail through telescopes, this will be an excellent place to be.

Those who’ve been keeping constant track may recognize the eclipse discussion below as a re-post from April, 2014 (Total Lunar Eclipse, Mars Just Past Opposition And A Very Early Observing Event At Baltimore Woods on April 15th), itself followed up by another lunar eclipse post from October, 2014 (CNYO Observing Log: Lunar Eclipse And Syracuse Academy Of Science, 8 October 2014).

And now onto the upcoming total eclipse – and my continued belief that lunar eclipses don’t get the respect they deserve. Yes, solar eclipses are much more exciting and it has been well-documented that people have previously responded very strongly (and not always pleasantly) to solar eclipses. The sudden darkening of the sky and noticeable temperature drop can cause all shades of responses (no pun intended) in people. That said, all we really get (besides a view of the solar corona) is an example of what happens when you put a black disc in front of the Sun. Lunar eclipses, on the other hand, tell us a bit about how the Earth itself interacts with the Sun by how this interaction alters our view of the Moon.

Both solar and lunar eclipses tell us something about the Sun/Earth/Moon relationship. Specifically, we learn that the Sun/Earth orbital plane (the oval made as the Earth goes around the Sun each year) and the Earth/Moon orbital plane (our local oval) are not the same – the Earth/Moon plane is tilted slightly off the Sun/Earth plane by 5.2 degrees (small, but just enough). That is, the Moon spends some time above and some times below the Sun/Earth orbital plane, while sitting right in the plane only two times each orbit (where the two planes intersect). How do we know this? Simple. If the Earth/Moon plane were exactly in the Sun/Earth plane, there would be a total solar eclipse and total lunar eclipse every month because there would be a time each month (New Moon) when the Sun, Moon, and Earth made a straight line (Sun-Moon-Earth = solar eclipse) and a time each month (Full Moon) when the Sun, Earth, and Moon made a straight line (Sun-Earth-Moon = lunar eclipse). As the two planes are slightly off, the New Moon is simply “off the radar” of most people because it can’t be seen during the daytime. The Full Moon, on the other hand, is brilliantly bright most of the time because it only infrequently enters the Earth’s shadow.

The image below shows this very nicely (and it’s always better to find and cite a good image than to have to roll your own). Give it a look for 30 seconds to make sure each of the four cases make sense to you.

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The Sun/Earth and Earth/Moon orbital planes. Note the top and bottom orientations that are perfect for eclipses (and the left and right that are not). Image taken from www2.astro.psu.edu (from Chaisson & McMillan Publishing). Click for a larger view.

Total solar and lunar eclipses, then, occur on special, but periodic and predictable, occasions when the Moon finds itself exactly in the Sun/Earth plane. When it’s just ever-so-slightly off this plane AND still between the Sun and Earth (or still falls into the Earth’s shadow in the Sun-Earth-Moon arrangement), we get partial eclipses. Just that simple.

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What to expect on April 15th (the government’s cashing in on its short wavelength tax!). Image from this article at io9.com.

Perhaps the most striking difference between a solar and lunar eclipse is that a solar eclipse obstructs the disc of the Sun, leaving only a view of its wispy exterior (corona), while a lunar eclipse alters the color of the Moon while still allowing us to see it in its entirety. Those watching the lunar eclipse will see the Moon go from its usual bright grey to orange, then a dark red before reversing the color order. The reason for this dark red coloring is the same reason why our sky is blue – the scattering of light in our atmosphere. Recalling our handy scattering relationship – that scattering (I) is proportional to 1 / wavelength4, we see that shorter wavelengths scatter more than longer wavelengths (because the wavelengths are in the bottom of the proportion, so larger numbers decrease the value of “I”). The image below was taken from one of the great non-wikipedia physics sites (well worth several afternoons to explore), hyperphysics.phy-astr.gsu.edu.

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The scattering relationship. See hyperphysics.phy-astr.gsu.edu/…/blusky.html for much, much more.

We see that shorter wavelength light gets “bounced around” more, while longer wavelength light passes for longer distances unimpeded by interactions with molecules and larger particles (like soot after big volcanic eruptions) in our atmosphere. Light going straight from the Sun hits our atmosphere and gets increasingly scattered as the wavelength gets shorter – blue scatters more than red, so we see the blue strongly when we look up during the day. With the blue light strongly scattered, those people on the edges of where the Sun’s light falls – those just starting or ending their days – see more red light because that wavelength wasn’t as strongly scattered – effectively those at sunrise and sunset get the filtered-out leftovers of the light that those at high noon see as blue. The “lit” side of the world experiences a range of different colors depending on where they are during the day, but all are being illuminated by waves of light from the Sun that left at the same exact time (plus or minus a nanosecond or two).

Because it’s a busy week and the author is feeling lazy, he refers you to the top image of the three-panel image below, showing how the scattering of sunlight in our atmosphere occurs sooner after entry (on average) for blue, a bit later (on average) for green, then a bit later (on average) for yellow, then out to red, some of which is and isn’t scattered (on average).

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The scattering of light by Earth’s atmosphere (shorter wavelengths scatter sooner). The other two images are placed into context by your reading about extrasolar planetary atmosphere studies. See www.universetoday.com/…-in-blue-light/ for that info.

And so, we know that blue is scattered strongly and red is not. This red light then races to the edges of our illuminated globe and the red light not scattered directly down to Earth or scattered in the opposite direction (out into space right above you) races past Earth at various altered (scattered) angles. During the most complete part of the lunar eclipse, the red color you see is, in fact, the red light that is passing through the edges of our atmosphere at those places experiencing sunrise and sunset (the sunlight performing a “grazing blow” of our atmosphere). As you might guess, if Earth were to lose its atmosphere (but don’t give any of your industrious friends any ideas), our lunar eclipses would appear quite different. Instead of a dark red Moon, we’d simply see a black disc where no stars shone (like placing a quarter at arms length and obscuring anything behind it).