78 Days to Totality Podcast

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.

Dodging a Catastrophe at Shooting Star

Over the weekend we hosted a stargazing program at the Shooting Star Golf Club at Teton Village. What was expected to be a routine stargazing program for a large group nearly had a disastrous impact on our equipment.

Sam got underway running an indoor program to kickoff the night for the 60 or so people in attendance for stargazing just as I had come back in from putting on the final touches at the viewing area nearby. The indoor program was expected to take roughly 45 minutes or so to get people excited for the night sky as it got dark enough to view deep space objects. The crowd seemed generally receptive to the program, with plenty of Q&A, and after about an hour, we all headed outside to the driving range to see in person much of what they had just learned.

Sam and I both began aligning the two different scopes we had out and soon had people looking at the half-moon up close. By this time however, the temperature was beginning to drop a little too much to be comfortable for some people, despite the blankets we had out. After a quick glimpse of the moon, some chose to end the night there.

For those who stayed, we had a great look at Saturn next, but with the low expected to be in the mid-30s overnight, the night air was quickly approaching its target, which was too much for most people. Though blown away by seeing Saturn, the majority of people had left after seeing it. At this point, Sam and I both got our scopes aligned to the Ring Nebula which fascinated the people that were still out, but not even that was enough to entice people to stay out longer.

As the last people made their way from the driving range, we began our routine of systematically taking down the scopes and gear that was out. Sam began unplugging his scope while I began turning off the iPads that we use to let people browse the night sky digitally when they’re not looking through a scope. We were making our usual slow progress when a very unsettling sound brought our attention to the hole across the path: two sprinklers had just automatically turned on. "Uh-oh" was about all that was muttered before we ran to the most expensive gear out there to begin breaking it down. Even just a quick pass from one sprinkler would be enough to cause significant damage to our most expensive gear. We had no clue where the sprinklers were or how many were expected to go off, all we knew is we needed to get everything safe immediately. I was taking down our 20" scope, our pride and joy, faster than I ever had, knowing we were now engaged in a race against the automatic sprinkler system. There were two Shooting Star staffers with us as well, one helping to move things to safety, another frantically making calls asking why the sprinklers were on.

Of course we weren’t sure if the sprinklers at the driving range would even turn on, but seeing them across the path was enough warning. But then, on the driving range just a few dozen yards away, two sprinklers came on, just out of reach of us. They were coming, and all we knew was that our time was limited. By now I had the 20" mostly broken down and I wheeled it to safety to the path where there was a large dry section. On my way back, a sprinkler began spouting practically right where the 20" was. I immediately became soaked as I scrambled to get things out of the way: iPads; telescope gear; a battery for the scope that was still out on a table. In my own rushed pace I lost track of what the others were doing, but a few minutes later, all of us regrouped and were dripping with water from saving what we could in a safe(r) spot.

Appearing to be out of harm’s way, we evaluated what got wet and what was kept safe, and aside from one telescope battery, the things that got wet were simply chairs, tables, and blankets. Fortunately, our instincts helped us keep everything simply couldn’t get wet safe, and we were back up and running the next night after letting everything dry out in the sun. Earlier in the night Sam had remarked how much earlier it was than he was expecting to finish. That definitely worked in our favor that night.

Total lunar eclipse tonight!

Well, late tonight or early tomorrow morning. Penumbra starts at 2:15 am tonight, totality begins at 4:25 am and ends at 5:25 am, and dawn will break before the moon is fully out of the earth’s shadow next morning!

This is the second “blood moon” of the four happening this year and next, approximately one occurring every six months. So if you miss this one, just catch the next one in the spring!

The moon really will turn red during totality, as seen from the above photos from last spring’s lunar eclipse. The reason is that Earth’s apparent size is so much bigger than the sun from the perspective of the moon, but our atmosphere refracts the sun’s light to the moon so that it appears like the moon is seeing every sunset on Earth at the same time! And we see that reflected sunset light here.

For those of you in and around Jackson, if you can, GO CAMPING TONIGHT ON SHADOW MOUNTAIN!!! The angle of the setting, blood-red moon from there will be such that it will appear over the saddle between the Grand and Middle Tetons.

Summer Kick-off Raffle

Rick's winningsEven though summer isn’t officially here for another couple of weeks, it sure has felt like summer here in Jackson. So, Wyoming Stargazing kicked off our Summer Session of Stargazing at Stilson this past Wednesday by holding two raffles to win a 6″ Donsobian telescope and a first generation iPad.

We had a perfectly cloudless night with Boreal Chorus Frogs serenading us in the background. Everyone who attended was able to see the craters on the Moon, the cloud bands of Jupiter, the Rings of Saturn, the Ring Nebula, the Hercules Globular Cluster, Bode’s Galaxy, the Cigar Galaxy, and even the distant Whirlpool Galaxy. At the end of the evening we drew the lucky winners of the raffle. Congratulations to Rick Bunker who was drawn as the winner for both the telescope and the the iPad!! Thanks so much for everyone who entered the raffle in person and on-line. Your generous donations will go towards continuing our free stargazing programs and to realizing our vision of creating a public observatory and planetarium in Jackson Hole.

Second Public Stargazing Event

 

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We had our second free public stargazing event tonight.  The clouds moved in early, but not before I was able to snap a few pictures of the moon through the telescope with my Droid camera.  They are not the best moon pictures ever taken, but not too shabby for manually holding a Droid camera next to the eyepiece of a telescope!  I can’t wait until  we get a Cannon Rebel T5i to do some serious astrophotography.