Sunday, January 20, 2019

Government Shutdown Expands: Moon Goes on Furlough Tonight


In the above table, you can see the timing of tonight total eclipse of the Moon for all the North American time zones. Click on the image to see it bigger.
Don't worry about the first and last rows of the table. Just focus on when the partial eclipse begins (when the Earth's shadow first starts to move across the Moon) and when the total eclipse begins (the Moon is full covered by shadow and turns red.)
Remember, if there are clouds, this eclipse last a long time, so come back out after a few minutes and see if you can glimpse the Moon. Often the Moon plays hide and seek with layers of clouds, and patience will pay off.
Full details of the eclipse and what to watch for are here:
http://bit.ly/mooneclipse2019

Thanks to Sky & Telescope magazine for the table.  The composite photo below is by amateur astronomer and NASA educator, Brian Day.  Note the Earth's round shadow in the outer images and the coppery red color of the eclipsed Moon (the Earth's atmosphere bends red colors of light more effectively than other colors on to the shadowy face of the Moon.)

Saturday, January 12, 2019

Heads Up: Total Eclipse of the Moon Sunday Evening January 20



On Sunday evening, January 20, there will be a nice total lunar eclipse (where the Earth’s shadow darkens the full moon) visible in all of North America. Since this is the day before Martin Luther King Day in the U.S., many students will not have school the next day and can stay up to enjoy the celestial spectacle with their families.
Total eclipses of the Moon are perfectly safe to look at, don’t require special viewing equipment, and are visible all over one hemisphere of planet Earth. Your eyes are just fine to see the show. This is quite a contrast with the total eclipses of the Sun, where viewing can sometimes hurt your eyes, special equipment is a big help, and the best show is only visible in a narrow path. As Bernie would say, the lunar eclipse is for the 99%, not just the special 1%!
A more detailed information sheet I put together (with questions and answers, plus the timing in each time zone of the continental U.S.) can be found at:
http://bit.ly/mooneclipse2019 
Here is wishing you a cloudless evening, and a few hours thinking about the heavens and not the craziness in Washington.
[Our beautiful photo is by Conrad Jung of the Chabot Space and Science Center, 2007]

Monday, December 31, 2018

Andrew Fraknoi: Exploring the Universe: Encounter with the Furthest Object Humanity Has Ev...

Andrew Fraknoi: Exploring the Universe: Encounter with the Furthest Object Humanity Has Ev...: Tonight, the New Horizons spacecraft will fly by a chunk of ancient ice and dirt nicknamed "Ultima Thule." 4.1 billion miles ...

Encounter with the Furthest Object Humanity Has Ever Explored


Tonight, the New Horizons spacecraft will fly by a chunk of ancient ice and dirt nicknamed "Ultima Thule." 4.1 billion miles distant from us, this small world, estimated at perhaps 20 miles across, is the the furthest object ever visited and examined by human technology. We should have first pictures and other information about it by Wednesday, when NASA plans a press conference.
The accompanying image shows an artist's attempt to draw this minor member of the zone beyond Neptune we call the Kuiper Belt. Pluto is also a member of this belt, but with far better property and voting rights than little Ultima. Several observations from afar have suggested that Ultima is elongated (maybe even two chunks that might just barely touch) and reddish. Its orbit indicates that it may well be very ancient, one of the first building blocks from which our solar system (the planets and moons that accompany the Sun) was assembled more than 4 1/2 billion years ago.
Moving at 32,000 miles per hour, and with sunlight only 1/2 of one percent as bright as it is at Earth, New Horizon's cameras will be put to the test to take pictures. The power (from radioactive materials) available to power the spacecraft is now only 190 watts! We will get within 2200 miles of the Ultima, closer than we got to Pluto with the same spacecraft in 2015.
New Horizons can either point at its target or at Earth. So it will at first send very little information and spend most of its time as it whizzes by pointing at Ultima. When it has gone by, it will point back to Earth and take 20 months to send the encounter data back to Earth (it's transmission rate is slow, but steady, much like this Facebook page.)
By the way, the term Ultima Thule means "Beyond the Known World"; it was term used on medieval maps to mark parts of our planet that were not yet explored and thus were veiled in mystery.  (It was a nickname suggested in a public naming contest run by the SETI Institute.)
Keep your fingers crossed that things go better 4 billion miles from Washington DC than they have gone at home! 

Tuesday, December 11, 2018

Andrew Fraknoi: Exploring the Universe: A New Selfie from Mars

Andrew Fraknoi: Exploring the Universe: A New Selfie from Mars: NASA's InSight lander on Mars has sent back its first "selfie" -- a great mosaic of 11 images, taken by the color camera o...

A New Selfie from Mars



NASA's InSight lander on Mars has sent back its first "selfie" -- a great mosaic of 11 images, taken by the color camera on the "elbow" of its robotic arm. You can clearly see the round solar panels (7 feet wide) which collect power for the lander, and, between them, the instrument deck for measuring weather, marsquakes, and other conditions on Mars. Eventually, the instrument package nicknamed the mole will try to dig a hole 16 feet deep and see how heat flows inside the red planet. It's terrific to see InSight's systems slowly being tried out and working so well.

Click on the picture to see it larger.