February 28, 2020

AstroEvent: An Arctic Partial Solar Eclipse.

(Credit: Eclipse Predictions by Fred Espenak, NASA’s GSFC).

Are you a frustrated astronomer “North of the 60°”? Are you tired of hearing about the dark sky exploits by friends in the lower 48 while you are immersed in the astro-hell of never-ending daylight? Trust me, we’ve been there; we spent 4 years living in North Pole, Alaska just outside Fairbanks, where astronomy is a Spring and Fall sport (Wintertime’s for binocs and aurora watching only; focusers freeze at <-30°F!) But have faith; this week’s astro-event targets Arctic climes. On Wednesday, June 1st, the Moon reaches New phase at 21:03UT, and a partial eclipse of the Sun will occur from 19:25UT until 23:06UT. Areas of Northern Honshu and Hokkaido in Japan will get the start of a shallow eclipse at sunrise, while areas of Sweden, Norway, and islands just north of the UK will see partiality above the northern horizon or sunset, weather permitting. Note that Reykjavik Iceland gets a respectable 46% partiality low in the skies, a good photo op. Maximum eclipse occurs high over the pole at about 60%. The farther south you are, the lower your percent of coverage; the cutoff line runs from just north of Anchorage to New Brunswick and extreme Northern Maine. A filtered and/or Hydrogen Alpha scope will be best for catching this one… good luck, and we’re looking forward to those pics!

The astronomy word(s) of the week is Ascending/Descending node.  This is the point at which the Moon’s orbit intersects the ecliptic, which itself is a projection of the Earth’s motion around the Sun. of course, from our perspective, it appears as if it’s the Sun doing the travelling about the zodiac; for a lunar or solar eclipse to occur, the Sun and Moon have to be very near the ascending or descending nodes at the same time. A near miss will sometimes result in a partial, as occurs this week and again July 1st. The Moon’s orbit is inclined about 5 degrees relative to our own, otherwise eclipses would occur every lunation. The distinction of ascending/descending is biased for the northern hemisphere, i.e. when the Moon crosses south to north, as it does Wednesday, it’ll be crossing the ascending node. Take heart, this whole situation is setting us up for an outstanding total lunar eclipse for Eurasian viewers on June 15th!

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