30 May 2012

Partial Lunar Eclipse of June 2012

Early in the morning hours of Monday June 4, west coast viewers will witness a partial lunar eclipse. This follows the dramatic Ring of Fire Solar Eclipse by roughly two weeks, the interval from a New Moon (with the Moon causing the solar eclipse) to the Full Moon (with Earth causing the lunar eclipse). These are two events in an Eclipse Season, and as should be expected, if one event is really great (the annular solar eclipse) the next will be less impressive (just a partial lunar eclipse).

Nonetheless, it's always a treat to see an eclipse of the Moon, and this one will be a nice sight, starting at 3:00 am for viewers in the pacific time zone, peaking around 4:00 am, and ending around 5:00 am as the light of dawn starts to break. EarthSky has some good images.

Image courtesy Wikimedia Commons.

28 May 2012

Corona Borealis - The Northern Crown

Facing east in May, you can see a number of very nice constellations filling the sky from horizon to zenith. The small constellation Corona Borealis takes some work to find in city skies, but it something to discover and remember among the bright stars and busy constellations of the springtime sky.

Corona Borealis, or The Northern Crown, is a simple "C" of stars sandwiched between the constellations Bootes and Hercules, two big constellations that dominate the late spring skies. Bootes is easy to find because it contains Arcturus, the third brightest star in the heavens, and is located just down the 'arc' of the handle of the Big Dipper. Hercules is a massive constellation that features the well-known deep space object M13, or the Great Globular Cluster. But Corona Borealis has none of these special features; it's just a simple collection of 2nd and 3rd magnitude stars that are grouped together nicely and are a simple pattern that is easy to locate, giving some texture to a small patch of the heavens for those whose eyes stop for a moment between the "big guys" in the sky. Try to spot it tonight.

The mythology of Corona Borealis is interesting, stemming from the crown of Ariadne, daughter of King Minos of Crete.

And the Northern Crown is balanced in the southern hemisphere by Corona Australis, the Southern Crown. I'll be on the lookout for that one this summer when Scorpius and Sagittarius come into view.

Image courtesy of Sky & Telescope.

22 May 2012

Report from Mt. Shasta: Ring of Fire Annular Eclipse

I led a Road Trip to Mt. Shasta for viewing of last Sunday's Ring of Fire Annular Eclipse. The event was well attended and we had a nice array of telescopes and a lot of very enthusiastic participants taking in this special event, each in their own way.

I observed the January 1992 annular eclipse from San Diego, CA, and had a very different experience, finding the eclipse at that time to be interesting but not inspiring. However, Sunday at Mt. Shasta, the Ring of Fire was very inspiring. I enjoyed the view through a number of telescopes, including some Hydrogen-Alpha, and the usual white light filters. I enjoyed the collective shout of excitement as the eclipse reached annularity. And I was pleased to simply have clear skies, with some light high cloud but nothing that disrupted the view of the magical display in the sky.

I'll be posting photos and links of pictures and videos from the event. If you were at Mt. Shasta, send me a link and I'll add it here: 

Video of the actual solar disk from Anju Saksena. Note the sounds of the crowd from 7:00 to 7:30.

Annular Eclipse image (above) taken at Mt. Shasta Resort, courtesy John Belew.

16 May 2012

KALW Broadcast - May 16, 2012

Ben Trefny of KALW's Crosscurrents interviewed me about the Annular "Ring of Fire" Eclipse. It's a wide ranging discussion, with some fun mixed in as well. Listen here.

09 May 2012

KFOG Broadcast - May 9, 2012

I always enjoy visiting the Morning Show at KFOG to talk astronomy. Listen in to our fun discussion about the Super Full Moon, the Ring of Fire Eclipse, and Lunar Gravity! Click here to listen.

01 May 2012

Ring of Fire Eclipse 2012 in Northern California

It's May, and that means it is almost time for the Moon to cast its shadow on the Earth and create a wonderful spectacle in the afternoon sky. On Sunday May 20th, we will experience a very significant Solar Eclipse, a very rare and exciting "Ring of Fire," also known as an Annular Eclipse.

The afternoon of Sunday 20th, much of the western United States will see a very deep partial eclipse of the Sun. But in a special path across Northern California and several western states, we will witness the Moon fully enclosed within the disk of the Sun, creating a beautiful "Ring of Fire" effect. This effect will only last about 4 minutes, and will only be visible from the special path. Earth-Sky has an excellent overview article about the eclipse. If you choose to remain in San Francisco, you will see a very deep (90%) eclipse of the Sun, but if you travel a few hours north, you will experience the full Annular effect.

The map shows the path of the Moon's shadow across Northern California. I plan to watch this eclipse from the Mt. Shasta area, and there are many more areas to go to see this event. If you wish to join me and the San Francisco Amateur Astronomers (SFAA), check this article on the Ring of Fire Road Trip or my past blog post. But you have lots of choices, and depending upon the weather outlook, you will want to have some mobility to get to a good viewing spot in case of (gasp!) clouds. Here is a much more detailed map from Eclipse-Maps.com.

One of the most important factors when preparing to watch an eclipse is eye protection. I encourage all readers to purchase specialized viewing equipment such as eclipse glasses or a shade 14 welder's filter. At all times, the intense radiation from the Sun can cause permanent eye damage and even blindness, and during an eclipse it is tempting to stare up at the Sun. However, with simple planning and preparation, you can enjoy the eclipse without any fear of damaging your eyesight. Mr. Eclipse has some valuable information about eye safety and resources for buying solar glasses.

I wish all of you clear skies and a great view of this special event.

Map courtesy of Eclipse-Maps.com.