May 23, 2017

A Partial Eclipse of the Strawberry Moon: An Update.

T’was an uncharacteristically clear morning here at Astroguyz HQ as we awoke to photograph the Moon’s only transit of the Earth’s umbra for 2012 this AM. As always, the partial lunar eclipse did not disappoint, and the celestial mechanics of the heavens clicked over right on time. [Read more...]

AstroEvent: A Loooong Central Eclipse!

Last December’s colorful lunar eclipse… (Photo by Author).

One of nature’s finest spectacles is on tap this week for observers stationed from Europe to the Far East. A total lunar eclipse of a particularly long duration is in the offing spanning the night of June 15th-16th. The duration of totality is 100 minutes, nearly the maximum 107 minutes possible. A question we frequently receive as of late is “how often does such a long eclipse occur?” Well, keep in mind that the umbra or the dark inner core of the Earth’s shadow is about 3 times the apparent diameter of the Moon as seen from Earth. For an eclipse to occur, the Moon has to be very near the ascending or descending node of the ecliptic; its orbit is canted about 5 degrees to our own and thus usually passes to either side of our 1.5 degree wide shadow. For an ideal eclipse to occur, the Moon would have to occupy that node while its smack dab in the center of the Earth’s shadow… this current eclipse will be the longest in duration until July 27th, 2018 with a duration of 103 minutes. In fact, a quick perusal of NASA’s eclipse website reveals that although this week’s eclipse is the longest this century thus far, & eclipses on 2029, 2047, and 2094 also beat it out for duration, making it the fifth longest of the century.  This could as prove to be an especially dark eclipse, as the Moon passes through the central part of the Earth’s shadow… be sure to note the Danjon number of the eclipse, as well as use our tried and true method of magnitude estimation via the reverse binocular method. Particulars of the eclipse are as follows;

Penumbral 1st contact: 17:25 UT

Umbral 1st contact: 18:23 UT

Totality Begins: 19:23 UT

Totality Ends: 21:03 UT

Umbral last contact: 22:02 UT

Penumbral last contact: 23:01 UT

The penumbral phases will only appear as a diffuse shading, while entry into the umbra will be more distinct. Also, there has been plenty of volcanic activity worldwide in hot spots such as Chile and Iceland, so the eclipse may prove to be quite colorful. And yes, this eclipse occurs in the constellation Ophiuchus, the bad boy “13th constellation” of the zodiac! (Shhh… don’t tell astrologers!) This is also the 68th eclipse of saros 118.

Photographing the eclipse with even a moderate (i.e. 200mm or larger) zoom is relatively easy; just remember that the Moon will be much darker during totality than partial phases and thus you’ll need longer exposure settings… I’ve even lost telescopic acquisition of the Moon during particularly dark eclipses!  Finally, some interesting occultations of background stars will occur during totality, the brightest of which is the +4.8 magnitude star 51 Ophiuchi as seen from the Far East… speaking of which, folks around the periphery of the eclipse (i.e. Japan, U.K. and Australia) should be vigilant for the possibility of a Selenelion, or the chance to catch totality while the Sun is still above the horizon!

Well, it looks like us folks in North America will just have to sit this one out, or at least watch it through broadcast via the Net… will tweet links (@Astroguyz) if live… We’ll just have to console ourselves with a rising pre-eclipse Honey (or do you say Strawberry or Rose) Full Moon as we eagerly await the next Total Lunar Eclipse of December 21st that occurs for North American observers at moonset/sunrise!

The Astro-word for this week is Lunation. This is simply the period of time that it takes the Moon to return to the same phase (i.e., New to New, Full to Full, etc). This is the same as our friend, the synodic month, and is on average 29 days, 12 hours, 44 minutes and 3 seconds long. This period can however, vary by up to 15 hours due to the elliptical nature of the Moon’s orbit about the Earth the period for which is getting ever so slightly longer as the Moon recedes from us by about 38mm per year. This means that eventually, total solar eclipses will no longer occur as the Moon of millions of years in the future will be visually tinier than the Sun, even at perigee. We will, however continue to enjoy total lunar eclipses during that far off epoch!

The Solstice Eclipse: An Update

AWESOME!!! (All images and video by Author).

This is just a brief update: the solstice lunar eclipse was one for the record books, a bright Danjon “L4″ and easily visible thoughout totality. A coppery red, this was one of the brightest on record for this seasoned observer… expect a more through after action report in this space later today… more pics can also be seen here at our shinny new Flickr account. Now… sleep!

…a brief nap and the astronomer’s friend, coffee, has brought with it some more processed results, including the stop motion/live footage above and the processed stills below. For those interested, I shot with a JVC Digicam afocally through the 8″SCT, while shooting stills with a piggybacked 800-1600 DSLR. The rig worked out pretty good, all in all; having WWV radio call out time signals in the background was a huge help, as I just let the video run while shooting stills at the top of each minute.

Also, our Twitter “danjon count” was a huge success, with a clean sweep for a Danjon number of L4, the brightest eclipse possible… the power of crowd sourcing in action!

AstroEvent: Would the REAL Blue Moon Please Rise?



A Heavily Photoshoped Blue Moon...(Photo by Author).

   This week, we here at Astroguyz seek to re-ignite the controversy (or do you say non-troversy?) That swirls in some of the more obsessive astronomical circles; just what is a Blue Moon? Modern vernacular states this as simply the “second Full Moon of a calendar month,” but as researchers first point pointed out in a Sky & Telescope article in the March 1999 edition, the history behind the term is much more convoluted. [Read more...]

AstroEvent of the Week: A Solstice/Lunar Eclipse Tie-In.

Hudson-henge! (Photo by Author).

Hudson-henge! (Photo by Author).


   Astronomers and lovers of the dark rejoice; Monday we take begin to take back the night! The summer solstice occurs June 21st at 11:28UT; this is the point that the Sun is at its highest apparent northerly declination and begins its long march southward. If you’re down under, of course, it’s the beginning of winter and the reverse is true. You probably won’t notice the slow creep of darkness and ever shortening days until around September, but it’s the thought that counts. The higher northerly latitude you are, the greater the variation. And to top things off, a partial lunar eclipse occurs on Saturday, June 26th. This will be visible from the Far East at moonrise eastward across the Pacific in its entirety to North America at moonset. Only the northeastern US gets left out. This will be the first lunar eclipse over the contiguous US since February 2008, and at its maximum the Moon will be 54% eclipsed. First contact with the umbra occurs at 10:16UT and the Moon departs the umbra at 12:59 UT. This eclipse is part of saros series 120, and sets the stage for the Tahitian total solar eclipse next month. This is also a good primer for December’s total lunar eclipse, which will occur in its entirety over the US on the winter solstice!  

The Astroword for this week is Gnomon. Ever wonder what that protractor-looking arm is called on a sundial? Of course you have, and now you can tell people with authority that this is known as a gnomon, complete with the silent “g”. Gnomon is Greek for “indicator” or “one who discerns”, although the phrase “she was the gnomon for all which was a failure in my life,” might be stretching it a bit. For a sundial to work function properly, the gnomon must be set parallel to the Earth’s axis, which is a fancy way to say to the north in the northern hemisphere and south…well, you get the idea. Hopefully, this knowledge won’t spark a lawsuit against the Ancient Greeks by any manufacturer of polar aligned telescopes. Now during the summer solstice is a good time to check that garden sundial against your local standard solar transit time or measure the sun fast as evinced by our friend, the equation of time… gnomon also makes a good “gn” Scrabble word, right along with “gnarled” and “Gnostic,” a sure fire way to get folks scrambling for the dictionary!

AstroEvent: A Very Looong Annular Eclipse!

Animation of the Annular Eclipse on January 15th, 2010.

Animation of the Annular Eclipse on January 15th, 2010. (Credit: NASA/A.T. Sinclair).

          One of the more unique celestial events on the calendar for 2010 occurs on Friday, January 15th; an annular eclipse of the Sun, and the longest for the millennium! An annular solar eclipse occurs when the moon is at or near apogee (its most distant point from the Earth) and/or the Earth is at or near perihelion (its closest approach to the Sun)… these happened on January 17th and January 2nd respectively, setting us up for a visually large Sun and correspondingly small Moon, small enough that it won’t completely cover the Sun’s disk.   The maximum possible duration for an annular eclipse is 12 minutes and 24 seconds and the actual maximum for this eclipse is 11 minutes and 7.7 seconds, which occurs off of the southwestern coast of the Indian subcontinent. [Read more...]

Top Astronomy Events for 2010.

(Photo credit: Art Explosion).

(Photo credit: Art Explosion).

Ah, it’s that most hallowed time of year yet again; a time to look ahead at what astro- wonders await in 2010. Here’s a quick month-by-month rundown of the curious, unique and bizarre coming to a sky near you. Like last year, rather than bore you with a laundry list of every obscure wide conjunction and moon phase, we distilled ‘em down to the best of the best. [Read more...]

12 Very Special Events for the Century.

The Moon posed to occult Mars & Mercury in 2056! (Credit: Stellarium).

The Moon poised to occult Mars & Mercury in 2056! (Credit: Stellarium).

“Bizarreness” is part of our business in astronomy. We always get the top billing with the “how big, how far, how bright” records, but one thing that is hard to quantify is just how unique certain events are. Here, I present you a quick list, a baker’s dozen of astronomical oddities that are worth setting your alarm clock for in the coming century in chronological order. A sort of Astroguyz to-do list for the coming century!

-January 15th 2010: The Longest Annular Eclipse Until 3043: Coming right up after the new year is what’s billed as the longest annular eclipse of the millennium. An annular eclipse occurs when the New Moon is near apogee and the Earth is near perigee, and hence the angular diameter of the Moon is too small to fully cover the Sun. This is a direct consequence of the longest totality of this past summer, in which the situation was reversed. “Annularity” lasts for a whopping 11 minutes and 8 seconds, and the entire event spans an area from the horn of Africa to China. This eclipse is part of saros series 141.

-October 8th, 2011: A possible Draconid Outburst?: The Leonids aren’t the only shower prone to storm level outbursts. The Draconids, also known as the Giacobinids, are a little known shower that peaks around Oct 8-10th of every year and generally is of little notice to all but the most avid meteor observers. It has been prone to outbursts, most notably in the years 1998, 1985, 1933, (33′ must have been a good year for meteors!) and 1946, when the ZHR peaked at 10,000! Another date worth noting is 2018, when the debris trail we’re predicted to pass through is very close to the 1946 storm trail. The Draconids hail from comet Giabobini-Zinner.

-June 6th, 2012: A Transit of Venus: The second transit of Venus for this century and pretty much the last one for anyone currently alive (unless they perfect that putting-our-brains-in-cyborgs thing) occurs on this date. This transit favors the Pacific rim, with North America getting a sunset transit and central Asia receiving a sunrise one. Most likely, the world won’t end on this date. The next transit won’t occur for another 105 years!

Ganymede: New Horizons shows its stuff during a swing by of Jupiter. (Credit; NASA/JPL).

Ganymede: New Horizons shows its stuff during a swing by of Jupiter. (Credit; NASA/JPL).

-July 14th 2015: The New Horizons Pluto Flyby: We include this as the sole mission oriented event because its the last semi-planet to be recon’d by mankind. Launched in 2006, New Horizons completed a gravitational swing-by assist of Jupiter in 2007 and is now the fastest object ever launched by mankind, and will whiz through the Pluto-Charon system on July 14th, 2015 at 14km per second. After this date, those blurry Hubble images of Pluto will be forever replaced by real pictures! What surprises await us in the denizens of the frigid outer solar system? More moons? A ring? An alien etched “Astroguyz” logo? And will the “is Pluto a Planet?” debate once again rear its ugly head?

-August 21st, 2017: A North American Eclipse: Total eclipses seem to avoid North America, Japan and Europe like the plague and hang out in places like Djibouti and Outer Mongolia. The dry spell ends in 2017, bringing an eclipse for the suburban masses. Do you live in or near Markanda, Illinois? Then you will have the distinct privilege to host two eclipses in the span of seven years, as another eclipse passes over on April 8th, 2024! expect the population of 419 to expand exponentially…(Howard Johnsons take note…)

-April 13th, 2029: The Flyby of Apophis: Will the world end on a Friday the 13th? The asteroid 99942 Apophis will indeed whiz by the Earth on such a date, within the realm of the geosynchronous satellites. Apophis carries with it the distinction of being the first, and so far the only asteroid to reach a “4” rating on the Torino scale for a short time back in 2004. Will it hit that tiny 600 meter key hole for an impact in 2036? Vegas odds are 1 in 45,000 against…viewing for the pass will favor Europe and Africa, where Apophis will appear as a swiftly moving star. Will we have the gumption by then to launch a manned mission to scope it out?

- November 19th, 2034 A Leonid Storm: I should be collecting social security just in time for this one…a meteor storm can be the event of a lifetime. The Leonids have always been a surefire bet; usually a lackluster shower of around ten meteors an hour, this stream is prone to well documented bursts in access of 1,000 ZHR every 33 years or so. The 1998 storm was still one of the coolest things I’ve ever seen! The years leading up to 2034…(i.e., 2030-2033) should merit your early AM attention around this date, as the peak “storm” may arrive a year early or late!

A tight grouping of classical planets! (Credit: Stellarium).

A tight grouping of classical planets! (Credit: Stellarium).

-September 8th 2040: A Tight Planetary Group: This evening in 2040 brings a very special view; all of the naked eye classical planets plus the waxing crescent Moon in a 9.3 degree grouping! This the tightest assemblage of these worlds visually this century!

-October 1st, 2044: An Occultation of Regulus by Venus! Naked eye occultations of planets by bright stars happen maybe a few times a century, and this is one of the best. If you find yourself in Eastern Asia or the western U.S., be sure to check this out!

-February 13th, 2056: The Moon occults Mercury & Mars at the same time. OK, now for the truly bizarre. Sure, you’ve seen the Moon occult planets and bright stars; this happens a few times a year from any given locale…but how often does the Moon occult two planets at the same time? This very event, it turns out, it rarer than a total solar eclipse during a Metallica concert… rare enough to only occur once or twice a millennium. This rarest-of-the-rare will occur over western North America in daytime afternoon skies. Venus and Jupiter will be close by.

-November 22nd 2065 Venus Occults Jupiter. Live in Panama? You just might catch a planet occulting a planet on this not so far off date. The apparent diameters of the two worlds will be 10” and 29”, respectively. The rest of the world will see a very close conjunction. For you history buffs, this is the first planet-planet occultation since 1818, also featuring Venus and Jupiter!

-August 11th, 2079: Mercury Occults Mars. This is rare, in that the worlds involved are tiny and thus generally miss each other in their apparent paths. This time the Middle East is favored to view this rare event; Mercury and Mars will be at a diameter of 5” arc seconds each and the rest of the world will again see an extremely close conjunction in the dawn skies…will we be cyber-Tweeting in our sleep by then?

-December 31st, 2099: The Aliens Invade & Become our Masters… OK, maybe they’ll be tired of the bad press they get in cheesy Sci-Fi movies and this will happen long before then…

So there you have it, twelve reasons to look up at the night sky throughout the 21st century. This list is by no means exhaustive; its just a quick pic of our faves. If your favorite, I’m-selling-my-house-and-moving-to-Panama-just-to-see-it event didn’t make the cut, drop us a line! For further astro-nerdiness, I invite you to peek at the outstanding Ultimate Almanac, as well as the wiki on planetary occultations. Its gonna be a wacky century…perhaps some budding 3-year old junior Carl Sagan out there just might live to be the first to collect them all!

Don't miss the 2012 transit of Venus! (Credit: Jan Herold under Creative Commons).

Don't miss the 2012 transit of Venus! (Credit: Jan Herold under Creative Commons).

Review: The Sun Kings by Stuart Clark


We here at Astroguyz love a good read about the “secret history” of astronomy… sure, everybody knows the exploits of Galileo and Copernicus, but how many have heard of the trials of 18th century British astronomer Richard Carrington? The Sun KingsThe Unexpected Tragedy of Richard Carrington and the Tale of How Modern Astronomy Began, by Stuart Clark  and out now by Princeton University Press is the fascinating tale of how the science of astrophysics and space weather truly began, and of how astronomers went from passively observing to truly analyzing data gleened from the universe around us. A truly rare and engaging breed of science history book, we were almost sad to finish it. It stands probably as the best read we’ve had since The Search for Planet Vulcan, and tells how these old-time astronomers operated.

The tale opens with the now infamous Halloween flares of 2003, some of the most powerful of the previous solar cycle. This represented the first time that some of our most cherished solar watch dogs, such as SOHO and the GONG  network were on hand to witness the full fury of the Sun. The shock was even felt by our vanguards elsewhere is the solar system, such as the Ulysses, Voyager 2, and Mars Odyssey spacecraft, even burning out the radiation detectors on the latter!

But as with much in science, our interpretation and understanding took a long and torturous road. The book then whisks the reader back to late 18th century England, a time when William Herschel proposed an astonishing idea; that the observed 11 year sunspot cycle was linked to Earthly agriculture and commerce. Specifically, he noted that the price of wheat tended to fluctuate in a corresponding period, with prices at their highest and supplies at their scarcest during the solar minimum and the opposite occurring at the solar max. Of course, this was seen as the delusion of an aging astronomer and roundly dismissed by his peers. Herschel had discovered Uranus and the infrared part of the spectrum, but this third contribution was largely overlooked.

Enter Richard Carrington. He stands as the kind of guy you’d always root for, an astronomer of ambition and insight whose personal life was marred by tragedy. He’s is now remembered mostly for being on hand and having the prescience to accurately record what he saw, but also made the right connections to what was going on around the environs of the Earth in late 1859.  It was interesting to note that during the height of the electromagnetic turbulence, a telegraph operator in Portland, Maine noted that his transmission system worked better utilizing solely the charge on the line, with the batteries disconnected!

Carrington’s prime ambition was to observe the Sun through the span of one complete solar cycle, but like many of us, his plan to pursue astronomy was continuously be-deviled by the pursuit of funding and that whole “personal life” thing.  Perhaps he needed a blog…

First, the death of his father left him running the family brewery. Not that the title of “Gentleman/ Brewer/ Astronomer” is a bad byline… but his romantic exploits turned sour as well, when his marriage to an under class woman turned into a love triangle that pulls him into trial and scandal. The whole affair reads like a bad Jane Austin novel… unfortunately,  the innocent Carrington took his life by overdose of chloral of hydrate mixed with alcohol shortly after the death of his wife Rosa.

As sad a fate as Carrington’s life was, his insight sparked a vigilant monitoring of the Sun. In fact, in the late 19th century, the riddle of the Sun was the topic in astronomy, as scientists turned a battery of new toys on our nearest star, such as the spectroheliograph and that new fangled device, the camera.

Hereto unknown elements such as helium  were first discovered in the atmosphere of the Sun. But the source of its enormous energy output had to remain and mystery until Einstein revealed the miracle of fusion in the early 20th century.

Enter Edward Walter Maunder, in many ways the intellectual predecessor to Carrington. From his early childhood, Maunder had been transfixed by the Sun, spying a naked eye sunspot as a boy through a low heavy fog. It must have been an astonishing sight to the young Carrington, who went on to lead an expedition to India in 1898 to photograph the elusive solar corona.

Images taken by his wife Annie, an expert astronomer in her own right,  later confirmed the connection between the tenuous streamers seen and sunspot activity. Here finally lay the mechanism by which the Sun could reach out and touch the Earth.

But its for another fascinating theory that Maunder is now known. He noted during his historical research that large spans of spotless periods corresponded with eras of dramatic global climatic cooling; a famous stretch from 1645 to 1715 now bears his name as the Maunder Minimum. During this period, the Thames river froze annually, harvests were meager, and several “years without a summer” were recorded. At first, even Maunder himself was skeptical; he believed the apparent lack of sunspots could easily be explained away by the gaps in the chronological record. However, Maunder’s research was revived by Dr. Jack Eddy in the 1970′s, who also combed through Chinese records of naked eye sunspot observations. Today, the existence of the Maunder Minimum remains hotly contested, as does the Sun’s role and measure of effect in climate change.

Of course, today it is tempting and sometimes even fashionable to link the solar cycle to everything from fluctuations in the stock market to  the cycle of global conflict over resources to the prevalence of bikinis on your local beach, and the list of dubious links could provide headlines for your favorite search engine for years to come. But Hershel was in fact finally vindicated; in 2003, Israeli scientists proved that the link between wheat prices and the solar cycle in the 17th century was real. Similar assertions for top vintage wine years beg for a similar study. Wherever you stand on the global warming issue, few can deny that the shenanigans of our Sun  are tied up in the cosmic riddle.

The author ends on an interesting coda; in 2004, large gamma-ray burst tore through our solar system two days after Christmas.  This was powerful enough to effect our upper atmosphere for several hours, and was even recorded reflecting off of our own Moon! The source; a magnetar, a bizarre sort of pulsar just recently identified, about 50,000 light years distant. This event shows the emerging realization that not only are we at the mercy of our local Sun’s whim, but that there are much meaner beasties out there that can and do reach out and touch us. We owe the beginnings of this understanding to Carrington and his ilk, who proved, often amid controversy, that we are not immune or aloof from our cosmic environs. Read The Sun Kings and marvel at this largely unknown but fascinating chapter in astronomical history!


AstroEvent of the Week: 6.7.09: Can you spot the Penumbral?

A 2002 Sunrise/Penumbral as seen from Vail, Arizona. (Photo by Author).

A 2002 Sunrise/Penumbral as seen from Vail, Arizona. (Photo by Author).

This week, I give you what is surely the meekest of all eclipses; a very shallow penumbral eclipse. At about 5:38 Eastern Standard time on the morning of Tuesday, July 7th, the northern edge of the Moon will find itself not quite a quarter submerged in the Earth’s penumbra, the light outer part of the planet’s shadow. The geometry for most of the continental United States is not good, as the Moon will be setting in the brightening dawn twilight. So why should you care to wake up early for an almost non-eclipse? [Read more...]

AstroEvent of the Week, February 8th-15th, 2009; A Penumbral Eclipse.

Penumbral. Penumbral.

The Great Penumbral of ’02; Before and During. See the Difference? (Photos by Author). 

This weeks’ astro-event of the week isn’t exactly a real barn-burner, but is always interesting to note, none the less; a penumbral eclipse of the Moon. This occurs around 14:38 Universal Time on Monday, the 9th of February as seen from the Pacific Rim hemisphere of the planet. [Read more...]

Astro Event of the Week: January 26th-February 1st, 2009; An Annular Eclipse.

This week’s event is a rare annular eclipse of the Sun. The first eclipse of the year, this one traverses Borneo, Sumatra and the Mid-Indian Ocean. Folks from India and Southeast Asia to South Africa, Antarctica, and Australia will see varying degrees of partiality.

[Read more...]

Top Astronomy Events in 2009.



A 2002 Penumbral. Photo by Author.

The International year of Astronomy presents several outstanding viewing opportunities for 2009. Here is the Astroguyz short list of highlights for the year. These are our personal +12 best, must see events; we thought that rather than laundry list moons phases and solstices, we would narrow in on some of the best upcoming opportunities; [Read more...]

Convertable Gloves for Cold Weather Astronomy.


Astronomy Rocks! (Photo by author).

   Ahhh… it’s sometimes the simple things that make all the difference in observational astronomy. Now that we are once again spending northern hemisphere winter in sunnier climes (i.e. Hudson, Florida), I reminisce about all those chilly nights in Maine and Alaska under the stars. [Read more...]

To the Ends of the Earth: Chasing Eclipses.


   An obsession exists in the netherworlds of astronomy, and its bite is just as addictive as any; that of the secret world of total solar eclipse chasing. Not cure has yet been devised. No support group exists. (Although it might be fun to imagine such a beast in an alternate reality; “sure, I couldn’t afford that 2nd mortgage, but I told myself it was to complete saros 92…and I didn’t have a problem!) [Read more...]

Astronomical Observing in the Military.

    The military has enabled me to observe astronomical phenomena from some unique locales. My interest in astronomy has waxed and waned (pun intended) all of my life. I’ve basically been looking at the sky since I’ve been old enough to look at anything. [Read more...]

Determine your Longitude: the Lunar Eclipse Method Part II


(All Photos by Author).

Hopefully, you had clear skies at your locale. My luck was pretty good… mostly clear skies through-out! My initial impressions were that of a very bright eclipse; the southern rim of the moon seemed especially bright. The color ranged from a dark blood red on the northern edge to an overall brownish glow. This seemed particularly prominent through binocs. And it was extremely cold! Temps ranged around zero Fahrenheit. The night was even punctuated by a fast pass of spy satellite USA 193, on what turned out to be its final orbit. So much for a scoop by Astroguys… [Read more...]

A Lunar Eclipse Update:

A quick update concerning tonight’s Lunar Eclipse; in the event of clouds at your location, the eclipse can be viewed live via webcast on several sites. [Read more...]