31 March 2015

Total Lunar Eclipses Explained: Videos from NASA and the California Academy of Sciences

A picture is worth a thousand words, and a video ten thousand. Here are some excellent video resources that provide solid science and fun learning about Lunar Eclipses:

California Academy of Sciences, courtesy of Bing Quock.

Science At NASA.

NASA Goddard: Understanding Lunar Eclipses

22 March 2015

The Spring 2015 Eclipse Season

We are in an Eclipse Season, a period of time approximately every six months when we experience 2 or 3 eclipses in a short period of time. Just a few days ago Europe experienced a Total Solar Eclipse far in the north of the continent, and by coincidence I was in the region on a business trip and experienced a partial eclipse. Being there reignited the love I have for eclipses and now that I am back in San Francisco, I am counting down the days to the next Total Lunar Eclipse on the early morning hours of April 4th. This is the third in a 'Tetrad of Total Lunar Eclipses' that started in 2014 and conclude later this year.

Lunar Eclipse April 4
The upcoming Lunar Eclipse will be visible from the west coast of the United States in the pre-dawn hours, starting at 3:17 AM and reaching totality from 4:58 until 5:03 AM. This should be a unique eclipse due to the very short duration of totality. As the Moon will barely be fully engulfed in the umbral shadow of Earth, the color will likely be quite unusual. The past few Lunar Eclipses have produced 'blood red' Moons, but I expect this one will be a more shallow shading with more light on the limb of the Moon and not the dark or ruddy color that is often seen during totality. I look forward to a high-speed Lunar Eclipse. In many ways it will be reminiscent of a Total Solar Eclipse, in that we will only experience a tantalizing short few minutes of totality - something I am quite used to when it comes to Solar Eclipses, but not used to for Lunar.

The San Francisco Amateur Astronomers are planning a public viewing event at Ocean Beach in San Francisco on April 4th. Come join us for a fun time viewing this unique eclipse at the beach.

Image courtesy Fred Espenak.

09 March 2015

Saturn and Scorpius in the morning

Saturn and Scorpius
With the onset of daylight savings time, there is plenty of darkness in the morning to step outside and appreciate the view to the south, with the constellation Scorpius dominating the southern horizon. Over the past months, the planet Saturn has slowly moved from Libra into Scorpius where it will spend the next two years on a slow journey eastward across the constellation. The Moon joins the pair for the next few days in a lovely showing in the pre-sunrise sky.

Image courtesy of Sky & Telescope.

06 March 2015

Comet Lovejoy still visible

Path of Comet Lovejoy
Comet Lovejoy has been a good target for binoculars over the past months. It remains a nice celestial object this month, gradually heading north toward Polaris. In the coming weeks you can find it in the northern constellation Cassiopeia, a faint but distinctive smudge of light that glows against the background stars. I have seen Lovejoy over the past months and enjoy the glow of its coma and tail. Comets don't often remain visible for this long, so if you have a moment and clear skies to the north, enjoy!

Image courtesy of Sky & Telescope.