EDITOR’S NOTE: Ever wish for advance alert of an upcoming meteor shower/eclipse/etc. – and/or wonder “What’s that bright ‘star’ up there?” This should help. It’s our periodic feature by West Seattle’s own Solar System Ambassador Alice Enevoldsen, famed for her solstice/equinox sunset watches, among other things.
By Alice Enevoldsen
Special to West Seattle Blog
We’re getting into stargazing weather again, and the Sun’s been active this week, leading to tantalizing chances for aurorae – though I haven’t actually seen one. That’s not what’s most exciting about this month, though: This month we will have a total lunar eclipse, and (depending on the weather) the entire thing will be visible from West Seattle.
(Diagram by Fred Espenak via MrEclipse.com, licensed via Creative Commons)
Date: The night of Monday April 14, 2014 to early morning on Tuesday, April 15, 2014
Time: 10:58 pm-2:33 am
The Cool Part: 12:07 am-1:25 am
What is a lunar eclipse?
A lunar eclipse is when the full Moon passes directly through the Earth’s shadow. Although the full Moon happens every month, lunar eclipses usually only occur twice a year. They can occur more or less often, and are not always visible from the same part of the world.
First you’ll see the edge of the Earth’s rounded shadow, crossing across the face of the Moon. When the Moon passes fully into the Earth’s shadow, some of the Sun’s light is refracted around the Earth by the atmosphere, causing the Moon to look reddish. In fact, it’s the same effect as what makes sunsets look pink, red, and orange. The Moon will be basking in a ring of sunset light for a little more than an hour.
How and where should you watch?
I recommend you check in on this eclipse periodically for two reasons. First, it’s a long time to sit and do one thing, and second, it’s quite late at night. I’ll be on Twitter as @AlicesAstroInfo to hear your observations, and celebrate the excitement and beauty with you. Do make sure you’re checking in during totality, and I recommend watching for 10-15 minutes at each of those listed contact points (when the Moon contacts the edges of the Earth’s shadow) as well.
You’ll want somewhere with a nice view of the southern sky, but the Moon will get high enough in the sky to see over many obstacles, so I recommend your backyard, or the sidewalk of a side street that runs North-South.
Hey, what’s that?
Well, that’s my first guess, because it is the most brilliant this month. It will be high in the West after sunset, and will set over the course of the evening. Sirius is also there, but lower in the sky.
Low in the East after sunset are Mars and Arcturus – Mars is a bit farther South.
Rising Southeast around 10 pm-ish: Saturn – a great target for viewing through binoculars if you happen to be out. Be sure to mount your binoculars on a tripod or brace them on the porch railing. You should just be able to make out Saturn’s rings.
Just before sunrise in the East: Venus
Tuesday, April 8th – Mars is at opposition, which means that on the “race track” of the solar system, we’re lapping Mars.
Saturday, April 12th – Yuri’s Night, a global celebration of spaceflight. I’ll be hosting activities in Olympia the night before at the Hands On Children’s Museum, but there are two other parties in Seattle, including one at the Museum of Flight (that almost counts as West Seattle, right?) and you have the option to start your own!
Monday, April 14th, 11 pm-2:30 am – Total eclipse of the Moon.
Sunday, May 4th – Space Day
May 5th-11th – Astronomy Week – Museum of Flight and Pacific Science Center usually have some special events during this time
May 10th – Astronomy Day – At Pacific Science Center, our NASA-grant-funded youth development program will be hosting numerous activities for all ages. Last year it was mostly youth-planned and -led, and was fun all over the museum. This year, the youth (some native to West Seattle) are taking on even more of the work, planning new activities, and generally getting set to host an awesome time.
Did I miss something? Please add it in the comments!
Did you seen the Moon last week? So much Earthshine on the dark part. I love crescent moons.
April 7, May 6, First Quarter: The first quarter moon is ideal for late afternoon and early evening observation.
April 14 (eclipse), May 14, Full Moon: The full moon rises at sunset, and sets at sunrise.
April 21, May 21, Last Quarter: The week around the last-quarter moon, it is visible in the early morning sky.
April 28, May 28, New Moon: The day of the new moon, you won’t see the Moon at all, but in a few days before or after you might see a tiny sliver of a crescent Moon in the mid-day sky.
Stellarium: Free planetarium software for your home computer. Bring up the sky for anywhere in the world – any time and date in history, or the future.
Clear Sky Chart: The astronomer’s forecast for the next couple days. Cloud cover, darkness, and “seeing” which is how nice it is to view the stars, all on one handy chart.
USNO: Dates and times of astronomical happenings.
Who is Alice?
Alice is many things and works and volunteers for a few different notable organizations, but the suggestions and opinions put forth in this article are her own and no one else’s. You can find more about astronomy at alicesastroinfo.com.