100 Days Until Totality! 47 Days Left – How is the Town of Jackson Preparing?

100 Days Until Totality! 47 Days Left – How is the Town of Jackson Preparing?

This August, an unprecedented number of people will observe the Total Solar Eclipse. The last time the United States observed totality was on March 7, 1970, and it was only visible from a few states on the East Coast. Millions of people live in the path of totality of this year’s eclipse, and the entire population of the 48 continental states will observe a partial eclipse on August 21st. With so many people wanting to observe the eclipse, how are the towns in the path of totality preparing?

The Town of Jackson has been preparing tirelessly since 2015. The police and EMS are bringing in extra highway patrol officers and emergency services, and are keeping careful track of all of the large events happening in the valley. Through the hard work of the town’s Eclipse Event Coordinator, Jackson’s EMS services, and their teams and employees, the Town of Jackson has created www.tetoneclipse.com, a highly comprehensive website with important information for both locals and visitors. Wyoming Stargazing has been assisting the town in spreading awareness by holding free monthly presentations with Jackson’s EMS coordinator. To find out when and where the next presentation is, visit our Public Astronomy Programs page, and check out our calendar at the bottom.

Preparedness and awareness go hand in hand! The town of Jackson would like all of its residents to be aware of the number of guests joining us for the eclipse, and to welcome them for a once-in-a-lifetime celestial event. Local restaurants should consider stocking more food and beverages for eclipse week. Gas stations should make sure their tanks are full. Visitors and residents alike should have a back stock of food, water, and gasoline. The most important task, though, is to GET EXCITED! Some consider total solar eclipses the most beautiful celestial event visible with the naked eye!

Looking Forward to the Great American Eclipse

Dr. Samuel Singer of Wyoming Stargazing discussed his public programs within Wyoming Stargazing and also the upcoming Solar Eclipse. The eclipse will be on August 21st and the town of Jackson is already booked to capacity for the occasion. We discussed the science behind the eclipse and why people are so excited to travel out to Jackson for this special event.

“100 Days Until the Eclipse” Blog Series and Eclipse Fundraising Events

We are 5 months out today from the 2017 Total Solar Eclipse on August 21st! If you haven’t already been able to attend one of the public eclipse presentations offered by our Executive Director Dr. Samuel Singer, please check our events calendar for more eclipse presentations scheduled over the next several months.

Beginning on May 13th, Wyoming Stargazing will launch our 100 Days Until the Eclipse blog series. Each day we’ll give you a piece of scientific, historical, logistical, or just fun information about the eclipse. We’ll also air a weekly summary of that information on KHOL, one of Jackson’s local radio stations.

Wyoming Stargazing will be hosting two special fundraising events during the weekend of the Total Solar Eclipse on the Summit of Snow King Mountain. The first event will take place on the evening of Saturday, August 19th before the eclipse. The second event will be on the morning of the eclipse Monday, August 21st.

We have some amazing presenters lined-up for the events including NASA astronaut Scott Altman, astrobiologist and author David Grinspoon, and supernovae expert Prof. Douglas Leonard. We’ll have catered food from Rendezvous Bistro, drinks, music, and of course lots and lots of telescopes for stargazing on Saturday night and for watching the eclipse on Monday. The summit of Snow King is an amazing stargazing location! We’ll show you Jupiter, Saturn, star clusters, nebulae, and galaxies like you’ve never seen them before. The Summit also provides one of the best and most accessible vantage points in Jackson Hole to watch the eclipse because you’ll get to see the shadow of the Moon racing across the entire valley just before and after the moments of totality. Tickets for these two events also include chairlift rides up and down the mountain, exclusive parking at the base of Snow King Mountain or a shuttle ride from your hotel, as well as rides on the Alpine Slide and the Mountain Coaster!

Because of logistical and space limitations we are capping each event at 250 people. The first 200 tickets for the event on Monday have already been snatched up. The remaining tickets are on sale now!

Get Your Tickets Today!

Please click on the links below to purchase tickets before we are sold out. You are also welcome to call us at 1-844-996-7827 (1-844-WYO-STAR) with any questions or to buy tickets over the phone to avoid the online booking fee.

Pre-Eclipse Stargazing Party and Fundraiser: Saturday and Sunday, August 19th and 20th, 7pm-11pm

Total Solar Eclipse Fundraising Event: Monday, August 21st 8am-1pm

Join Us for a Party with the Perseids

Perseid Meteor Shower

Both town and county voted in our revised LDRs! We’re now one step closer to becoming a Dark Sky Certified community! Look for a future blog post to see what that means and what the next steps are.

But in the meantime, it’s time for a celebration!

Party with the Perseids!

When: Thursday, August 11th, 8pm – late
Where: Rendezvous Park (R-Park)

Rendezvous Land Conservancy and Wyoming Stargazing are teaming up this August to offer you an extraordinary free public event filled with great food, drinks, live music, games, and of course stargazing. Come on out to R-Park for some fun, family-friendly time and stick around for one of the best meteor showers of the year…the Perseids!

Pica’s will be providing chips, salsa, guacamole, quesadillas, and half-priced margaritas!

Elevated Grounds will be providing hot chocolate and coffee!

Snake River Brewery will be there too with their classic beers!

Elevated Grounds
Pica's Mexican Taqueria
Snake River Brewery

We’ll have Rob and Tasha to serenade you as the sun goes down and plenty of yard games to pass the time. As the stars come out we’ll have several telescopes set up around R-Park to show you the cloud bands of Jupiter, the rings of Saturn, and possibly even the polar ice caps of Mars. We’ll also show you incredible details on the waxing gibbous moon. Later on we’ll show you star clusters, nebulae, and of course a few galaxies. We should begin seeing the first meteors of the evening as the sky darkens at about 9pm. We’ll see more meteors as the evening progresses. And if you stick around until after the Moon sets at about 12:30am, then the real Perseid Meteor shower begins and it’s one of the best meteor showers of the year.

About This Year’s Perseid Meteor Shower

This year, even with the Moon, we should be able to see about 1 meteor/min. Most of them will appear to radiate from the NE part of the sky near the constellation Perseus, but others will appear in other parts of the sky. This meteor shower, like all meteor shows, is produced by the Earth moving through a debris field in space left there by a comet. In this case, it’s comet Swift-Tuttle that was discovered in 1862.

Please bring a lawn chair and/or blanket to help you enjoy the evening, the food, the drinks, the games, and the meteors!

No need to RSVP – Just show up and join in on the fun!

How to See the Northern Lights from Jackson Hole, Wyoming

The Myths

First let’s dispel some myths about the northern lights.

  • Northern lights can only be seen from Canada and Alaska (in North America).
    The northern lights (aka, aurora borealis) have been viewed as far south as Alabama and Arizona in recent years. In one of the strongest storms in recorded history, they were even seen in Hawaii. The strength of the northern lights (and thus how far south they’re visible) is dependent upon the strength of the impact of an incoming Coronal Mass Ejection. Put simply, the sun occasionally has reactions on its surface that send solar energy hurtling into space. If one of those outbursts happens to impact Earth, it causes a reaction in our magnetosphere. This reaction is the northern lights, and can appear colorful if strong enough (though cameras always pick up the color). So, the stronger the impact, the farther south the northern lights can be seen.

  • Northern lights are only visible in the winter.
    While the sun does have its own seasons, they have nothing to do with the seasons on Earth. Therefore, the previously mentioned eruptions are occurring throughout year. I personally have now seen the northern lights in every month here in Jackson Hole. In fact, both of these myths originated from essentially the same origin. Seeing the northern lights in northern Canada or Alaska is admittedly much easier. There are frequently much smaller reactions occurring in our magnetosphere that are much easier to see at those latitudes, and therefore much more reliable. The farther south you go from there, the harder the predictability. At the same time, since those areas also get 24 hours of daylight during the summer, you can’t see them at all in the summer, so you have to go in the winter since that’s the only time of year there’s enough darkness to see them. But where there’s night, there’s still a chance to see them.

How to Read the Northern Lights Forecast

On the right is a screenshot from a website that we frequently check, called SpaceWeatherLive. More specifically, it’s a screenshot from their Auroral Activity page. What this shows is six different readouts from NOAA about reactions that are occurring relating to the northern lights. (Note that this is only a screenshot and not live data.) While it can appear confusing and too much to understand at first, it’s actually really simple. For starters, I really only pay significant attention to two of the graphs.

The Kp-Index

Northern Lights Forecast

One of the most frequently checked graphs when looking for northern lights is the Kp-Index. In simple(r) terms, this measures the disruption of the horizontal distribution of the geomagnetic activity. It’s measured using an arbitrary scale from 0-9. A value of 0 means that even Fairbanks, Alaska would have difficulty in seeing the northern lights. 1-3 is most common, and that’s what is frequently seen in those northern latitudes of northern Canada and Alaska. A 4 would push them down into southern Canada, while a 5, in the right conditions, might just barely be visible on the northern horizon here in Jackson Hole. To see them well, we typically need at least a 6. If the Kp were to reach 7, it would be seen as far south as southern Utah and Colorado. The scale tops out at 9, and that’s when people in Mexico and Hawaii would be able to see them.
More information on the Kp-Index can be found here.

The Direction of the IMF (Bz)

While most people look at the Kp-Index to see a rough estimate of activity, it’s actually the direction of the interplanetary magnetic field (IMF) that has the biggest effect on auroras. If the IMF is trending southward, that will allow the coronal mass ejection to have a more significant reaction with our magnetosphere. This is typically northward facing, with the occasional dip southward. However, if it trends southward consistently and has a negative value of at least -5 (the lower the better), then things are looking good. Here in Jackson Hole, we’d want those values to push below -10 to be sure we’re getting a good show. During a really good reaction, it will be around -15 or so.
More information on the Direction of the IMF can be found here.

Finding the Best Location

In Jackson Hole, your best bet is to head out to the Antelope Flats area for the large wide open views away from light pollution. Unfortunately, there is currently too much light pollution in Jackson to be able to see them with the naked eye, and possibly even with a camera, so heading north up to the flats is the best location. Likewise, the backside of the National Elk Refuge might also make for good viewing. For those of you in Wilson and Teton Village, the Moose-Wilson Road just inside the south entrance of Teton Park is also an ideal location. There’s not quite as much light pollution produced by Teton Village as Jackson, and the large meadows before the road turns to dirt is a large enough area to get a clear view to the north, with multiple pullouts in the area. Please respect private property and their driveways if you’re out there though.

Basic Camera Settings

If you’re interested in capturing the northern lights on your camera, you’ll absolutely need your camera on a tripod. Also, auto settings will not work. The settings you’ll want to aim for are as wide of an aperture as you can get (f/2.8 or lower, ideally). You’ll want your ISO somewhere around 3200 (depending on your camera’s capabilities). Your shutter speed will depend on the intensity of the auroras. If they’re very strong and clearly visible, you can set it to about six seconds or so. Anything more will blur the ribbons of the auroras. If they’re weaker and in the northern horizon, you’ll need a longer shutter speed to absorb the distant light, so 20 seconds would be good in that case. Last, make sure your lens is set to manual focus and set it for infinity (if possible). Otherwise, focus it on a point of light as far away as possible, then set it to manual focus so it doesn’t try to focus again.

Conclusion

You should now be all set to see and hopefully capture the northern lights! If you have any questions or comments, feel free to leave them in the comments below.

Astrophotography Target: The Andromeda Galaxy

We’re kicking off a fun new monthly series of blog posts here on Wyoming Stargazing. This will be a monthly challenge to hone your astrophotography skills on a different deep-space target each month.

How to Find the Andromeda Galaxy

This month’s astrophotography target is the Andromeda Galaxy. Our nearest galactic neighbor can be found by looking north-northeast toward the constellation of Cassiopeia. At this time of year, after sunset, Cassiopeia is to the east of Polaris, the north star. It makes the distinct shape of an awkward looking ‘3’. Down from Cassiopeia and more eastward is the constellation of Andromeda. Three bright stars will form her bottom leg: Almaak (the foot); Mirach in the middle; and Alpheratz at the waist. From Mirach, you can jump up to her next leg at a fainter star. Then, hop up one more yet fainter star. To the right of the last star will be the Andromeda Galaxy, appearing to the naked eye as a fuzzy blob. If you look back at Cassiopeia, you’ll see the top three stars form an arrow that point directly to the galaxy.

Use whatever means you can to try to catch a shot of it: telescopes; astrophotography trackers; even just a camera on a tripod. When you have something you’re happy with us, share it with us on Twitter or Facebook and we’ll share the entries!

The Andromeda Galaxy is our closest galactic neighbor and is 2.2 million light years away. It is bigger than our own Milky Way Galaxy and is often seen with a much smaller "companion" galaxy.