Behind the Telescope – Our Work in Jackson, Wyoming

Behind the Telescope – Our Work in Jackson, Wyoming

Curious about who we are and what we do? Here’s just a few of the awesome things we’re doing at Wyoming Stargazing in Jackson, Wyoming.

Wyoming Stargazing in Jackson, Wyoming

Curious about who we are and what we do? Here's just a few of the awesome things we're doing at Wyoming Stargazing in Jackson, Wyoming.Music:

Posted by Wyoming Stargazing on Friday, July 17, 2020


Comet NEOWISE is awesome!!!

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. Comet NEOWISE 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.

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, 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! 59 Days Left – The Last Great Wyoming Eclipse Finale: A New Planet?

During the Last Great Wyoming Eclipse, James Craig Watson made claims to a fantastic discovery that rose him to immediate fortune, fame, and . . . a new planet?

James Craig Watson
Bentley Historical Library

In 1859, it had been discovered that there were discrepancies in Mercury’s orbit. It was noted that Mercury’s point of perihelion, or closest approach to the sun in orbit, moved to a different location every century or so. Watson was convinced that the phenomenon was due to another planet orbiting between the sun and Mercury. He was determined to find it during the Wyoming Eclipse of 1878.

Watson traveled alongside Edison in the Draper Party to make his way out to the west to discover the fabled, intramercurial planet Vulcan. Upon the moment of totality, he scanned the sky for any out of place objects in the dark of the shadow. Amazingly, he located an object he said had an odd “muddy light” coming from the source, and was sure it was Vulcan. When Watson reported his findings, he mostly received praise and acknowledgment. However, some folks were skeptical. That was until Professor Lewis Swift made the claim that he too had seen Vulcan during the same eclipse. Watson had only seen it first by a marginal two minutes.

An artist’s depiction of Mercury’s precessed orbit

By this time the entire scientific community was convinced that planet Vulcan existed and explained Mercury’s obscure orbit. Little did they know, their findings would fail and the concept of Vulcan would dissipate only a few decades later by Albert Einstein. Coming soon! Einstein’s Theory of Relativity and the destruction of a proposed planet.

Sources here and here.

100 Days Until Totality! 60 Days Left – The Last Great Wyoming Eclipse: Part 2

Credit: Vasser College

The total solar eclipse of 1878 also brought the first professional female astronomer out west, Maria Mitchell. Maria grew up learning astronomy from her father and helped him calculate the exact time of an annular eclipse when she was only 12 years old. Maria’s first solo accomplishment was the discovery of a comet at the age of 29. In 1865 Maria became a professor of astronomy at Vassar College where she fought to be paid equal to the male professors at the college.

During the Wyoming eclipse of 1878 Maria organized a group of female astronomy students and traveled out west to Denver. A group of women travelling without men was unheard of at the time. Maria and her 5 students traveled over 2000 miles by train and then ventured to the countryside outside of Denver to set up camp. This type of hands on education and research was also new at the time.

Using large refracting telescopes with solar filters the students were given instructions on what observations to make.

“You will see Nature as you never saw it before – it will neither be day nor night – open your senses to all the revelations. Let your eyes take note of the colors of Earth and Sky. Observe the tint of the Sun. Look for a gleam of light in the horizon. Notice the color of the foliage. Use another sense – notice if flowers give forth the odors of evening. Listen if the animals show signs of fear – if the dog barks – if the owl shrieks – if the birds cease to sing – if the bee ceases its hum – if the butterfly stops its flight – it is said that even the ant pauses with its burden and no longer gives the lesson to the sluggard.”

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!


100 Days Until Totality! 93 Days Left – What are Solar Prominences?

Credit: NASA

During totality, we may be lucky enough to see objects in the Sun’s chromosphere known as solar prominences. These objects appear as small wispy red bumps sticking out from the red glow of the chromosphere at the Moon’s edge. Although they appear small, prominences are massive! They are often many times larger than the Earth. Prominences are caused by the Sun’s intense magnetic field, which is incredibly complex and intensely strong. Its shape is constantly changing and churning. Occasionally, stronger parts of the field expand away from the surface of the Sun and carry charged particles from the Sun with it, and that is what we observe when we see prominences. They are not permanent formations, and they only last for a few days or a few months. Prominences eventually collapse back down into the Sun.

Solar prominences are often confused with solar flares. A solar flare is a similar phenomenon in which a prominence is created. Rather than eventually falling back down, the prominence is catapulted away from the Sun. Solar flares cause the auroras that are seen near the north or south poles of the Earth. You may have heard that solar flares can cause major power outages and be dangerous to electronics, but this is actually a misconception. Events called coronal mass ejections (CME’s) are the true culprits. CME’s are a slower but more powerful version of a solar flare. The connection between solar prominences, CME’s, and solar flares is a major current topic of research in solar astronomy.

100 Days Until Totality Blog Series Launch!

Welcome to Wyoming Stargazing’s 100 Days Until Totality Blog Series! Today marks 100 days until the “Great American Eclipse”. We hope you are as excited about this summer’s eclipse as we are.

Each day for the next 100 days we will post a small and digestible amount of information about the upcoming total solar eclipse on August 21st. We’re going to try to make the information as helpful and as understandable to as broad of an audience as possible. If you ever want more information about any of the topics we cover just click on the hyperlinks that we will include in each post.

We’ll begin with some scientific background information on the Sun and the Moon because this is a great opportunity to learn a little bit more about two of the three celestial objects that make total solar eclipses possible. After a week or so of scientific information on eclipses, we’ll move on to some fascinating world history about eclipses, including some information about the last Great Wyoming Eclipse of 1878. Once we’ve brought you back into the 21st century, we’ll go over some important safety information and regional tips for the eclipse here in Jackson and across the US. There are lots of things you can do to get ready in order to experience this once-in-several-lifetimes event to it’s fullest! In additional to all that, we’ll give you some tips of photographing the eclipse and some other fun facts that we just couldn’t resist.

We hope that you’ll join us as we (impatiently) count down to totality!

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