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!

100 Days Until Totality! 61 Days Left – The Last Great Wyoming Eclipse: Part 1

Out on the east coast in 1878, a great and renowned inventor by the name of Thomas Edison was developing a new project to test. What he lacked was the perfect opportunity to perform an experiment on his temperature-measuring device, the tasimeter. With a little bit of good news and encouragement from a friend, Edison was convinced he had to travel to Rawlins, Wyoming to test the capabilities of the tasimeter during the last “Great Wyoming Eclipse”.

Henry Draper’s Eclipse Party (Thomas Edison – second from the right)
Courtesy: Carbon County Museum

A couple weeks before the day of the eclipse, Edison joined up with a group of scientists led by a man named Henry Draper. Together they departed by train and journeyed westward. Upon arriving, the men spent each day waiting and aligning their goals for the eclipse. Draper’s was to be the first to photograph the sun’s corona during totality and Edison was hoping another of his inventions would pave the way in history. On the day of the eclipse, Draper was successful in his goal of capturing the beautfy of the sun’s corona and left the very next day. On the other hand, the temperature changes were too powerful during the eclipse for Edison’s tasimeter to work properly, and ultimately the invention was a flop. Don’t feel too bad for Edison though. Despite the setback, Edison was able to cut his losses and stayed out in the west coast for a month longer. Then, just a year after he witnessed the solar eclipse, Edison made history with his most well-known invention known today, the electric lightbulb!

Source

“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.

Another Blood Moon This Month

When will it happen?

September 27th at approximately 8pm will mark the fourth and final blood moon in a series of a four across a quick, two-year span. The three previous occurred on April 15 2014, October 8 2014, and April 4, 2015.

Lunar Eclipse Diagram

Geometry of a Lunar Eclipse” by Sagredo – Own work, images of Earth and Moon derived from NASA images. Licensed under Public Domain via Commons.

What is a lunar eclipse and why is the Moon going to turn red?

As you probably know, the Earth orbits around the Sun, and the Moon orbits around the Earth. You might already know that when the Moon is full it is positioned on the opposite side of the Earth with respect to the Sun (as seen in the image to the right). Even though that alignment happens every month, we don’t get a lunar eclipse every month. That is because the plane of the orbit of the Moon is tilted by about 5 degrees to the plane of the Earth’s orbit around the Sun.  However, when the Moon is in its full phase and it lines up with the orbital plane of the Earth, the Moon passes into the small, cone-shaped shadow (umbra) cast by the Earth from the light of the Sun. That’s a lunar eclipse. As the shadow of the Earth creeps across the Moon the Moon begins to darken. Then, as the Moon is fully eclipsed it turns red. That happens because the red light from the Sun is able to pass through the atmosphere of the Earth whereas the other colors of light from the Sun are scattered by the Earth’s atmosphere.

During totality, the moon is passing through the umbra at a whopping one kilometer per second. That’s 2,300 mph! And still, totality of the eclipse can last up to 107 minutes.

Will Wyoming Stargazing Have a Program Anywhere?

Yes, we’ll be set up with our telescopes on the lawn next to the Center for the Arts at 8pm on September 27th.

Is the World Really Going to End?

Some of you may have noticed that thanks to the unique nature of the astronomical event, some alarmist groups (possibly desperate for attention) are claiming that this will mark the end of the world. Despite their best claims and whatever arguments they have managed to make viral on social media, the world is, in fact, quite safe from any destruction from this event.

Snow King Observatory Status from Summer 2015

Architecture design by Jakub Galczynski: JakubGalczynski.com

If you’ve ever visited us at one of our free programs, talked with us a bit on a stargazing tour, or even just clicked around this site a little, you know one of our major goals is to bring an observatory and planetarium to Jackson Hole. So how’s that going?

At the moment, there’s really only good news and better news! Our Executive Director, Samuel Singer, met with Max Chapman, the owner of both Snow King and Brooks Lake Lodge (the latter near Togwotee Pass), earlier this year to discuss just that. Chapman loved the idea so much, he worked in an observatory into his Phase II development plan for Snow King just before submitting it to the town and county! The plan was then approved to proceed, and right now, the proposed site is undergoing an impact study on the natural area. The entire study process should potentially last up to the summer of 2018. Assuming it passes, the observatory will shift into the planning phase, possibly taking up to another year. Once that’s complete, the construction will begin on Jackson Hole’s first observatory!

As of the initial planning stages, the proposed size of the mirror for the telescope that will be housed in the observatory will be a full meter wide, nearly double our massive 20" scope! This will allow for substantially better viewing of deep space objects. It will also have some enormous benefits to the community, such as having a completely new option for family activities after dark, while also encouraging scientific literacy and development through hands-on experience with astronomy. Kids growing up here in Jackson Hole are already blessed enough to live in such a rich natural environment, and now they’ll learn just how important the objects in the night sky are as well.

Of course we’ve been asked multiple times when talking about this, "Aren’t Jackson’s skies a little bright for an observatory on top of Snow King?" It is true that they are much brighter than they need to be, and that’s something we’re actually working with Town and County about right now, the developments in that area being enough for a completely separate blog post. Just know that we are making every effort to minimize the lighting in the area and everyone thus far has been very receptive. If you’d like to proactively and voluntarily make your house or business compliant with the new standards we’re hoping to establish, check out our Save Our Night Skies Campaign page for more information. By taking action, you’ll not only be making your property safer while at the same time saving money on energy, you’ll also be helping to restore a more natural night sky above Jackson, encouraging more people to look up after dark. In addition, it will also have a much less disruptive effect on the wildlife of our community.

Our hope is that by the time the observatory opens, we can decrease the amount of light that we’re emitting, which has unnecessarily skyrocketed in recent years. Alternatively though, before the observatory on top of Snow King is scheduled to open, there may be another in the area by then. Since Chapman also owns Brooks Lake Lodge, he’ll be installing one up there as well. This one will be a .7 meter scope (roughly 27 inches) and will be very far away from any light pollution. If you haven’t experienced the night skies up there, you’ll definitely need to make the trip up! The difference is astounding!

In the meantime, keep an eye on this site for any exciting updates and developments. These are exciting times indeed!

Orion and Comet Lovejoy by Mike Cavaroc Gets APOD

I recently took this photo of Orion and Comet Lovejoy C/2014 Q2 in the night sky and shortly thereafter, was awarded Astronomy Photo Of the Day (APOD) run by NASA! Out of millions of photos submitted from around the world, this one was chosen and published relatively quickly, I’m assuming due to its timeliness. See the original post here: http://apod.nasa.gov/apod/ap150114.html

I took the image on the first clear night we had had in Jackson Hole in weeks. I was trying to get a close-up shot of the comet when I noticed its proximity to Orion. I zoomed out and noticed that the composition made it look like Orion was shooting Comet Lovejoy from his bow (his more widely-accepted shield had been put down temporarily for the sake of this photo). I began capturing many more images to stack together to create this image.

Visible in the image are nearly all of Orion’s wonders, including the Orion Nebula, Barnard’s Loop, the Horsehead Nebula, the Flame Nebula, and even the Rosette Nebula to the left, part of the Monoceros constellation.

Interested in learning how to capture an image like this? Read our Astrophotography on a Budget blog post to find out how!