06 April 2006

Ecliptic / Solar Eclipse

From our earthbound perspective we see the Sun, Moon and planets all move across the heavens in a small band known as the Ecliptic. In this same band we find the 12 signs of the Zodiac -- that is, 12 familiar constellations through which the Sun, Moon and planets wander during the 12 months of the year. This band stretches from east to west through the southern part of the sky. Right now in the springtime the band is quite high in the evening sky. The attached illustration shows the position of the Moon and Saturn this evening (April 6th) where they are visible just next to the "twin" stars in Gemini. The Moon moves once around the heavens every 29 days so each day you can easily notice its daily change in position. Saturn, on the other hand, is so far away it takes years to move once around the Sun. Consequently you can find Saturn near Gemini each night for the forseeable future. If you watch the Moon change position each night and look for Saturn and Jupiter and the other planets you will come to know the Ecliptic quite easily.

Here's a brief report from Turkey where my family and I observed the total solar eclipse on March 29th. We had clear skies and an excellent view from the Mediterranean coast of Turkey near the ancient city Side. Brittany (grade 6) describes the scene as follows. "The horizon looked like sunset all around but the Sun was high above, covered by the Moon. The Sun's corona looked really interesting, like flames shooting out of the Sun. It went from being a hot day to a cold one during the eclipse. My brother and I had just been swimming but it was so cold we had to get dressed again."

A total solar eclipse is an impressive sight indeed and there are many websites and magazines with lovely pictures of last week's eclipse. But a camera cannot replace the experience of standing in the shadow of the Moon! If you get a chance to see one, you will not regret the effort it took to get there. If you want to see one in the USA the next total solar eclipse will be in 2017. If you are willing to travel outside the USA, you can see a total solar eclipse in August 2008 or July 2009.

No comments: