Comet NEOWISE has turned out to be the most charismatic comet in the last decade. Over the next few nights it’s going to get higher and higher in the sky. If you haven’t checked it out yet, you really should. It’s easily visible to the naked eye from Jackson and from most of the Northern Hemisphere by about 10pm MDT on the western horizon. Check out this link to see charts of how to find the comet in the sky tonight.
To find it, start by finding the Big Dipper. Locate the two stars on the far side of the “bucket” away from the “handle”, which are called the pointer stars. Then, draw a line from the right hand pointer star down to the horizon. Look back up from the horizon about the distance of one or two pointer fingers held as arm’s length.
You should see a faint fuzzy spot with the unaided eye. Using a pair of binoculars the long extended tail of the comet is really lovely to see. The comet is named after the NASA satellite that discovered it. CometNEOWISE is one of the brightest comets visible from Jackson in the last decade. Enjoy!
Here are a couple pictures that we took the other night.
Wyoming Stargazing is excited to have a new version of a classic program for you! If you’ve been following Wyoming Stargazing for a while, you might remember our radio program called Looking Up that was featured on Jackson’s local radio station, KHOL.
We’ve taken the radio version of Looking Up, photos and videos from our own gallery and other reputable astronomy sources, and created a new visual experience!
This week’s episode is all about comets. Tune in every #throwbackthursday for our re-imagined episodes of Looking Up.
Wyoming Stargazing was featured in a NY Times article today about stargazing in the western hemisphere. Astrotourism is a rapidly growing industry and Wyoming Stargazing is honored to be a big part of sharing the Cosmos with the public. Read more…
Montana State University is launching numerous balloons along the path of totality into the Earth’s upper atmosphere at 100,000 feet to view the solar eclipse from the edge of space. The footage will be streamed live on MSU’s website, this is also the first time that a live stream of an eclipse has ever been attempted. This is a great option if you are unable to travel to somewhere within the path of totality or if bad weather ruins your view of the eclipse. MSU is expecting up to 500 million online viewers for the eclipse. All of the video taken of the eclipse can be watched at a later date as well.
To get an idea of what this will be like check out this awesome video from Australia of a total solar eclipse that happened in 2012
On August 21st check this link for the live footage from MSU
There is an interesting website called the 5000 Millennium Canon of Solar Eclipses made by the International Astronomical Union. The site has data for around 12,000 eclipses occurring from the 1999 BCE to 3000 CE. By putting in coordinates you can explore when solar eclipses have happened anywhere in the world in the past or find out if they will happen there in the future. The site makes a detailed map with Google Earth showing you the path of eclipses and can provide details such as the exact time of totality and the duration of totality based on your specific location. You can use this site to see when the next total solar eclipse will pass right over your house!
By clicking the button that says “find your coordinates on a map” you can zoom all the way in to your street and just click where your house is.
When the big day comes around, what should you do if the forecast does not look great?
Hopefully the weather here will be perfect for the day of the eclipse but if the weather isn’t looking great you may want to try to drive to another location. Unfortunately Jackson does not have very large roads leaving the town and it can be assumed that trying to get anywhere will be very difficult. It may just be best to remain in Jackson if the forecast does not look too bad. If you do feel the need to drive somewhere else for the eclipse you should probably head towards Eastern Wyoming. While the eclipse will be heading through Idaho, the weather there is frequently cloudy as the air is heavy with water vapor from the Pacific. Heading over the Togwotee Pass will bring you to the east towards Riverton, Wyoming. Riverton is a high elevation desert and is actually on average a little less cloudy than Jackson in August.
Luckily though the Tetons typically protect us from clouds here in Jackson. Clouds typically get “stuck” on the high mountain peaks while the sky below in the valley is typically clear.
For those looking to hike but not wanting to deal with getting in to the national park there are some shorter hikes that are right near town that can lead to good locations to view the eclipse. You can get to the top of Josie’s Ridge to view the eclipse. The hike is steep and short with a lot of area at the top where you can view the eclipse as well as trails that lead off from the top. For those not looking to hike there are many parks and public areas around Jackson and Wilson but keep in mind that these areas will probably be pretty busy so the earlier you get there the better.
Truly the total eclipse will be visible anywhere in the path of totality so long as there are not any trees or buildings in the way. The sun will be about 50 degrees up from level ground in the south east part of the sky here in Jackson. You can use a program such as Stellarium to see exactly where the Sun will be in the sky during totality by setting the location to exactly where you will be.
If you are visiting Jackson for the eclipse you should know that we are at 6,237 feet. If you are from a lower elevation you have a chance of developing altitude sickness here, especially if planning on doing any hiking higher up. Altitude sickness is caused by the brain and lungs not getting oxygen as easily as they are used to due to the thinner atmosphere.
Altitude sickness can make you feel dizzy, cause headaches, fatigue, poor sleep, and nausea. If experiencing these symptoms while hiking, retreat to lower altitude, take ibuprofen and stay hydrated. In very severe cases people may exhibit not being able to walk straight, deep confusion, or blue lips and fingernails. If you do notice these more severe symptoms in yourself or others seek out medical help.
To prevent altitude sickness you should make sure you are properly hydrated, try taking ibuprofen 6 hours before and then during any hikes, avoid alcohol, take things slow, and eat plenty of carbs.
For guests visiting from all over the world it is important to realize that the ecosystem here in Jackson is very different from many other places. Our forests do not receive a lot of moisture and our air is of a very low humidity. These conditions allow for wildfires to spark easily and to burn extremely fast. The eclipse occurs in August which is prime fire season here. Usually forest fires are caused by lightning but with this many visitors who may not know the rules there is a potential for a human caused fire. Natural fires happen every year, but human caused fires are dangerous as it can be in unexpected areas and endanger thousands of acres of forests and people’s lives.
While you are here it is very important that you respect the rules. If there is a ban on fires currently in place it is there to protect you and our ecosystem. Do not throw out cigarette butts outside. If there is no fire ban and camp fires are allowed you must still practice good campfire safety to make sure that it does not ignite a wildfire. To find out all about campfire safety click here to be redirected to Smokey the Bear’s webpage.
For any of you umbraphiles that will be hiking out into the wilderness to view the eclipse it is important to know how to properly behave around wildlife here in Jackson.
While most people know that they have to be careful around bears it is truly important to be cautious around all the animals in this area. Just because an animal is a herbivore does not mean it is safe to approach. Moose, bison, elk, and even mule deer can be aggressive if they feel threatened. Getting too close to these animals (especially when they have young) can cause them to charge you. View the animals from a safe distance and try not to make loud noises and abrupt movements to view them safely.
Bear attacks typically occur when people accidentally walk up on a bear and surprise it. To avoid this it is important to remain alert and to make noise as you hike. Loud talking, singing, or shouting is your best bet. This is especially important in areas with dense foliage or loud rivers which will make it harder for a bear to see you. It is also advised that you should not hike alone. Hiking with other people will naturally help you make more noise and be more noticeable. Also, keep an eye out for scratched trees, scat, and bear foot prints. If you do have a close encounter with a bear it is imperative for you to stay calm, assess the situation, and ready your (unexpired) bear spray. Your bear spray should be kept on a holster on your hip so that it is easy to reach. If a bear does charge, deploy a cloud of the spray between you and the bear when it is about 30 to 60 feet away from you. Make sure to think about the direction that the wind is blowing when firing.