Posted by: sweeneyblog | August 23, 2014

The Stellar Junkie: Be Prepared to Be Eclipsed!

Local astronomer Jeff Hoffmeister has volunteered to send us a few pieces when there is something truly unique and remarkable to observe in the night sky. So bundle up and gaze into the stars with the Stellar Junkie.

Jeff Hoffmeister

Jeff Hoffmeister is The Stellar Junkie

Be prepared to be eclipsed!

About every 6 months a solar and lunar eclipse occurs. A solar eclipse occurs when the Moon passes directly between the Earth and Sun. You may ask, well doesn’t that happen at every new moon?

It is true that when a new moon phase is present, it is in the direction of the sun. However, the Moon’s orbit does not precisely follow the Sun’s path in the sky. This path is known as the solar plane or the ecliptic. The Moon’s orbit generally takes it above or below the ecliptic about 5 degrees so most of the time at new moon it is above or below the sun in the sky.

But when the Moon does happen to be crossing the ecliptic (known as a lunar ascending or descending node) at the time of new moon, a solar eclipse will happen. Due to the size of the Moon, the area on the Earth that receives the full or maximum eclipse is only about 150 miles wide. So not everyone on the Sun-Moon facing side of the Earth will get to witness even a small portion of the solar eclipse.

Lunar Eclipse

Lunar Eclipse

In the case of a lunar eclipse, where the Earth is between the Moon and Sun (Full Moon phase), everyone on the Moon facing side of the Earth will observe the event to one extent or another. A solar eclipse can last as long as 7 ½ minutes, whereas a lunar eclipse maximum can last up to 1 hour 45 minutes.

I am writing this particular article now because we will have a couple of eclipse events occurring in October. In the early morning hours of October 8th we will be graced with a total lunar eclipse.

The Moon will enter the Earth’s shadow, known as the Umbra, beginning at 2:14 a.m.. Totality will be from 3:24 a.m. to 4:24 a.m. with the Moon leaving the Earth’s umbral shadow completely at 5:34 a.m. During totality you may notice that the Moon is reddish in color.

Lunar Eclipse

Lunar Eclipse

This is due to the refraction of sunlight through the Earth’s atmosphere that reaches the Moon. If the Moon appears nearly black with little red, it is due to excessive dust in the Earth’s atmosphere that does not allow as much light through. The next lunar eclipse for our area will take place on April 4, 2015.

On October 23rd we will experience our first partial solar eclipse since May of 2012. This upcoming partial solar eclipse begins at 1:39 p.m. and lasts until 4:24 p.m. The next solar eclipse for our area will be on August 21st 2017 where nearly 99% of the Sun will be eclipsed by the Moon.

If you were to head south of Salem, Oregon you would experience a total solar eclipse.

**Remember, Never Look Directly At The Sun, even during a total solar eclipse except at full totality. It would permanently damage your eyes and you wouldn’t even feel any pain as it happens.

Only use proper eye protection like special solar glasses or a # 14 or better welders glasses. NO Sunglasses! Projection works too and you can find ways of creating a solar projection box on the internet… just don’t look at the Sun. Please play it safe.

So go out there in October and enjoy what the wonders of the universe have to offer.


Responses

  1. Thankyou Jeff,

    As an amateur astronomer since 1954 i really appreciate your expertise.


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