31 August 2011

Big Astronomy Events in 2011 and 2012

Much of the time, I enjoy astronomy as a day-to-day hobby, taking in the sky often and enjoying the slowly changing view of the heavens. Sometimes, however, big events come along and obligate the observer to be present at a specific moment in time -- and also have the good luck of clear skies. We have a three such events in the coming year, and the San Francisco Bay Area is a good base from which to see these events.

This Lunar Eclipse will peak on Saturday morning, December 10th, just before sunrise here in San Francisco, meaning that if the skies are clear, the best view will be at the coast, where the Full Moon will be entering Total Eclipse just as it is setting over the Pacific. This will be impressive!

An Annular Eclipse, also called a "Ring of Fire" eclipse, happens when the Moon's disk fits "inside" the disk of the Sun, creating a ring of sunlight in the sky. It's not the same as a Total Solar Eclipse, but still a beautiful natural phenomena, one worth a trip to Northern California to see. The viewing path can be seen on the map in this link, and will pass near Redding and Mt. Shasta in Northern California. I'll be organizing a road trip with the San Francisco Amateur Astronomers (SFAA) to see this spectacle.

A transit of a planet in front of the Sun is a rare and unusual event. This is one of a pair of transits of Venus, the first of which occurred in 2004, paired with this one in 2012. Then we have a 100-year gap until the next pair of transits of Venus. It will be a daytime event, of course, because we are going to see the tiny disk of Venus cross directly over the Sun's disk.

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I'll write about each of these events as the time draws nearer, so for now the main thing is to mark your calendar and do a bit of background reading by following the links in this blog post.

Image courtesy of NASA.


Sidewalk Universe said...

What a line up of events! Oh my all in one year too! Astronomy bliss!

The Urban Astronomer said...

It is bliss, Richard, and I am happy for these special moments. Total Solar Eclipse chasers talk about "shadow time" which is a something I absolutely love. An annular eclipse won't be quite the same, but I'll be there nonetheless!

J Santascoy said...

Excellent wrap-up. Count me in for the Annular Eclipse of the Sun!

Paulie said...

Nothing against the shadow chasers, because I'd love to see a total solar eclipse someday (I have to wait until August 2017), but there is no way the annular eclipse is the big event of the next year. No. Way. Venus transit. Last chance, and I mean it. Last chance.

I've been thinking about this one since the last one in 2004. Seeing the 2004 transit with nothing but the cheap "eclipse glasses" they sell in the Adler Planetarium gift shop had me pumped up for the 2012 transit.

I don't have the means to travel to a dry, high altitude observation site, but believe me, on transit day my PT Cruiser will be packed, gassed, and ready to drive until I find a clear sky or run out of gas money.

Total solar eclipses anywhere on the planet aren't that rare. Most of us can expect to see a total eclipse or two without much of an expenditure. Those with significant means and passion can see dozens. Venus transits, nobody can expect to see more than two.

The 2012 Venus transit is what got me back into astronomy, and I'm going to do everything I can to observe it. I will never see another.

The Urban Astronomer said...

Paulie: I saw the 2004 transit and am looking forward to the 2012 transit. It is indeed rare and we are lucky to have a chance to see this.

Meanwhile, come out to California for our Annular Eclipse party. I'll have a bunch of San Francisco Amateur Astronomers in tow!

-- Paul

BEcky Farrar said...

Hello Urban Astronomer! The solar eclipse happens on my 30th birthday this year, I'm so excited! How can I get more information about the events planned for that day?? Any information would be greatly appreciated!

The Urban Astronomer said...

hi Becky - lucky you to have a birthday and solar eclipse all on the same day. I'm working with the San Francisco Amateur Astronomers on a road trip to Mt. Shasta to see the eclipse, and there will be some information about that on the SFAA website in the coming days. I believe the Cal Academy in San Francisco will have solar viewing from the museum, and undoubtedly other science museums (Chabot, Lawerence, San Jose) will have similar telescope viewing of the eclipse. Stay tuned.

We are going on the road trip because the eclipse will be deeper and more 'central' from Northern California, while here in San Francisco it will be a bit 'off-center' but still impressive.

-- Paul