Two Weeks: To Be Eclipsed

On August 21, a total solar eclipse will cross over North America, from coast to coast. What makes this more of a rare event, the path of totality will be entirely over continental United States. The narrow band will stretch from Salem, OR to Charleston, SC. A partial eclipse will be seen outside the band of totality. How much of a partial eclipse will be seen by those outside the band of totality is determined by how close they are to the band.

eclipse map courtesy of NASA

In Colorado, for example, the partial eclipse will range from 85% (NM border) to 95% (WYO border). The last total eclipse through the western states was in October 1978. At that time, the partial eclipse was around 85%. In terms of light, it was similar to what one would expect at the beginning of evening twilight with longer shadows. With the coming eclipse, observers in Colorado should expect the same. If it is overcast, it should be darker – with the level of darkness determined by the thickness of the overcast.

Seeing with my eyes

Under any circumstance, do not observe the sun without proper eye protection. If you choose to use eclipse glasses or viewers, it must be ISO-12312-2 compliant (meaning it meets the minimum safety standard to directly view the sun). The American Astronomical Society (AAS) has developed list of reputable vendors, which can be found here.

The low cost (free), DIY approach is to make a pinhole viewer, consisting of a cardboard box (smaller the better) and an unused piece of bright white, multipurpose paper. Make a pinhole in the cardboard box, the white piece of paper is the projection screen. Before the eclipse, practice lining up the cardboard box over the paper. What you are looking for is the brightest amount of light coming through the pinhole.

DIY: pinhole eclipse viewer parts with spatial analysis test

If you have a telescope, there is a good chance it came with a sun filter for your eyepiece. Line up your telescope without using your finderscope, which is fairly easy. With the sun filter in your eyepiece, line up your telescope before the eclipse begins. If your telescope came with a solar projection screen instead of a filter, it is the same process like using a pinhole viewer.

The super-safe way of following the eclipse is to watch NASA, online or their TV channel (DISH Network and DirecTV). You’ll also receive a science lesson on the side.

Photographing the solar eclipse

Photographs of a solar eclipse cannot be beat. If that is your plan, the plan should be nearly complete in terms of equipment and practice. If not, Canon USA has assembled a reference guide to photograph the eclipse – from an introduction to eclipse photography to equipment to site preparation.

Eclipse Extra: Tonight – Partial Lunar Eclipse

Whenever the Earth, the sun and moon line up for an eclipse, on occasion, the eclipse will come as a pair. Tonight, during the full moon phase, a partial lunar eclipse will occur. The partial eclipse will come around sunset for those in eastern Europe and Africa, and before sunrise on August 8th in the Far East and Australia. In North America, no partial lunar eclipse will be seen.

Online Resources

 

An Abstracted Eclipse

An abstracted view of the total lunar eclipse that occurred earlier this month.

moonrise, Friday evening (07:19 pm, Apr 03 2015)

 

eclipse nearing totality, Saturday morning (05:39 am, Apr 04 2015)

 

eclipse nearing totality, Saturday morning (05:41 am, Apr 04 2015)

 

off tripod and low in the sky, the fully-eclipsed moon setting behind the antenna farm on Cheyenne Mountain (05:58 am, Apr 04 2015)

 

off tripod and low in the sky, the fully-eclipsed moon setting behind the antenna farm on Cheyenne Mountain (05:59 am, Apr 04 2015)

 

out-of-focus view of the antenna farm, after moonset, on Cheyenne Mountain (06:01 am, Apr 04 2015)

 

Locally, there were several places where it was able to be observed with very little obstruction. For us, we have a decent view of the sky for astronomical viewing from the backyard. It is limited, by trees, when looking to the west and southwest. If the subject is low in the western sky, viewing is further restricted by the mountains.

While the line of sight to view the eclipse, or many other astronomical subjects, is much better from the garage roof, climbing a ladder in the dark is not recommended.

 

Note

The final eclipse of this tetrad will occur on September 28, 2015. This graphic by NASA will indicate if the eclipse can be seen from your location.

Traditional Friday Catblogging

In preparation, may be, for tomorrow morning’s total lunar eclipse before sunrise.

Maxie and Tuxie ready for their sleep

 

Saturday morning’s total lunar eclipse is the third in a “tetrad”, four total lunar eclipses in a row occurring at six month intervals. When the eclipse reaches its maximum, the moon will take on a deep red/rust color – hence the reference to the “blood moon”. Farther west an observer is located, better the view. In the USA, the Eastern and Central Time zones will not see the total lunar eclipse as the moon would have already set and daylight present. In the Mountain Time zone, the first rays of sunrise adding extra color to the sky may make for a special extra viewing of the totally eclipsed moon. The better viewing will be on the West Coast, and the best viewing will be across the Pacific, in Hawaii and points westward into the Western Pacific with darkened skies. The eclipse will be seen in Australia and East Asia on Saturday evening. Like all celestial events, viewing depends on the weather conditions.

For additional information on the eclipse, please read here.

 

Sidebar

If away from the city lights, another sight worth taking in will be the close proximity of the Milky Way. A darker sky will be needed to observe the Milky Way and the eclipse together. The better views will begin on the West Coast (USA), with the best across the Pacific expanse. For additional information on the Milky Way and lunar eclipse viewing in the same sky, please read here.

Photographic Puzzle

 

With the long Thanksgiving (USA) weekend beginning later this afternoon, a photographic puzzle to ponder between football, turkey, treats, online shopping, etc.

 

What is it? A darn good astronomical photo from my telescope? A sprinkling of salt or sugar on a black surface? A night-time shot through an iced-over window? Or, is it something else?

You may leave an answer(s) in a comment. Conversely, you can wait for the solution that will be given next Tuesday, Dec 02, 2014.

 

Update: The solution to the puzzle is that it’s an ice pattern on the window. The illumination is from an outdoor yard light. Cheers to Carlos and Lori who submitted their guess in the comments.

Fly Me To The Moon

“Fly me to the moon
And let me play among the stars
Let me see what spring is like
On a Jupiter and Mars”

 

The street was largely quiet. Thoughts of paling around the neighborhood were set aside. Like many others, we were glued to the TV set for a singular, momentous event – the lunar landing. The feeling was palpable.

Apollo 11 had arrived the day before. The astronauts were definitely busy, making sure everything was ready. Checklists reviewed, equipment readied and checked. Once, twice, and probably again.

We had read about the mission many times over.

 

 

We knew the crew. Neil Armstrong, mission commander. Edwin “Buzz” Aldrin, Lunar Module pilot. Michael Collins, Command Module pilot. Among the best of astronauts. Professional and steady. Calm and cool under pressure. All veterans of manned spaceflight, the second all-veteran crew in history.

 

Then, it began. The descent and landing. We had an inkling of the extensiveness and thoroughness of the preparations and the hundreds of hours of training ahead of the mission. It was off-the-charts risk taking. It had an excitement level of the nth degree. It truly fired the imagination for those of us growing up at the time. Study hard, work hard and cultivate the astronaut-like skills of professionalism, intelligence and steadiness, that could be us in the future. Taking those small steps outward into the whole new frontier of space.

We watched, we listened, in the last minutes before the landing, the speed and altitude callouts by Armstrong and Aldrin. Then, Mission Control indicated Lunar Contact was achieved. A few tense moments passed before the iconic words, “Houston, Tranquility Base here. The Eagle has landed.”

Though tired, Armstrong and Aldrin were likely excited, probably more than any of us on Earth. They had asked about advancing their walk ahead in the schedule, saying it would be hard to take the planned two-hour nap. Instead of walking in the wee hours of the night for America, Armstrong and Aldrin also said moving the walk ahead would allow most of America to watch it live. The planned nap was cancelled. The wait to see the walk seemed to last forever. Finally, it came. The not-too-clear, B&W live feed from the Moon. Though Armstrong was still descending the ladder, the camera image of the Lunar Module’s leg was a big wow. Bigger yet, seeing Armstrong step onto the lunar surface. Then, seeing Aldrin step onto the surface.

We stayed up late, even listening to the half-speech by President Nixon congratulating Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin of their success, and the realization of the goal set forth by President Kennedy.

The landing and walk inspired many. Ginny, my sister, was already intrigued with math and physics. It motivated her more to pursue that as her course of studies in college. It also led her to apply to NASA as a mission-specialist astronaut in the late 1970s. She scored that all-important first interview. Unfortunately, she didn’t make it to the next round. My direction was a bit different with the chemistry degrees and the military life, but the inspiration was there. It proved anything, and everything, is possible.

While much has changed in the intervening years, the Apollo 11 mission, and those that followed, accomplished the pinnacle of spaceflight. It was a bit of derring-do. But, it was also a dedication and a determination to fulfill what was long considered a nearly impossible dream. It is what America does best – “we do things not because they are easy, we do things because they are hard.”

 

Extras

NASA videos:

  • A video of 3-D imaging performed by the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter of the Apollo 11 landing site. Please watch here.
  • A video of  the MAVEN survey mission to Mars. Please watch here.

 

About the photos

The Life “Special Issue” magazine on the Apollo 11 mission is my own. The photos of two articles found inside was the first time the magazine had been opened in nearly 44 years. The magazine has a few creases from when it was sent by mail.

 

Bonus

The back cover of the magazine: