West Seattle, Washington
Though the sun was a sunset no-show (that’s just a little residual color in the background of our photo), Alice Enevoldsen‘s 29th solstice/equinox watch drew and delighted a crowd just the same – we counted about 80 people. Above, right about the time the sun was setting behind the clouds, Alice and volunteer helper Christian demonstrated the relationship between the Sun and Earth on the solstice. See and hear part of it in our Instagram video (mouse over the image to get the “play” button, and click it again to stop):
Alice also talked a bit about newly discovered asteroid HO3. And she promised to be back for equinox sunset watch in September – “with a tiny baby” (she and husband Jason are expecting their second child later this summer). She cheerily wished all, “Happy Solstice!” as some departed, while others hung out to ask skygazing questions.
ADDED TUESDAY MORNING: You can hear Alice’s entire 17-minute presentation via this clip published to YouTube by Scott Scowcroft. The fish-eye video is an experiment but the audio’s clear and it’s fun to hear Alice’s discussion of solstices, the asteroid, and more.
(WSB photo from Summer Solstice Sunset Watch 2014)
Will the sun be out at sunset Monday night, so you can see what the people in our photo saw two years ago – the sun aligning with the solstice path/marker at West Seattle’s Solstice Park? Alice Enevoldsen invites you to come find out firsthand. She’s published her official Summer Solstice Sunset Watch invitation; be there at 8:45 pm, to see the sun slip behind the Olympics about 15 minutes after that. The Solstice moment is actually 5+ hours earlier – 3:34 pm – but Alice’s quarterly season-change sunset watches are usually set for the sunset closest to the solstice/equinox, and that means, in this case, Monday night. All ages welcome; dogs too, if leashed. Not familiar with Solstice Park? Read about it on Alice’s website.
P.S. Alice says this will be her 29th solstice/equinox sunset watch. (First one we covered was the autumn equinox watch in 2009.)
That’s Luca, leaping onto the Solstice Park marker that would have lined up with the setting sun tonight, if it had been visible for the sunset closest to the spring equinox (which arrived less than an hour ago, at 9:30 pm – earliest one in more than a century, because of leap year). He and the rest of the nearly 20 people who gathered for NASA Solar System Ambassador Alice Enevoldsen‘s 28th equinox/solstice sunset watch didn’t mind the clouds – which were sparse enough in the east to show the moon:
Alice, as usual, explained many things cosmic, including the path the sun takes across the sky each season, and how that correlates to the three paths that lead to the central viewing circle at Solstice Park.
Even without a sunset alignment to check, attendees admired the view.
Some stayed afterward to talk stargazing with Alice, who offered to help with any skywatching apps that people had installed on their phones. You can follow her on Twitter, and/or check her website, for news of the next sunset watch around the summer solstice, and other updates.
(WSB file photo)
Spring arrives with the vernal equinox at 9:30 pm tomorrow (Saturday, March 19th), and that means the closest sunset is a few hours earlier – so our local NASA Solar System Ambassador, Alice Enevoldsen, invites you to come watch at Solstice Park (address & map are on Alice’s website), where markers were set to line up with the equinox/solstice . Sunset’s around 7:10 pm (earlier than the official times because of the Olympic Mountains) so be there around 6:45. Forecast suggests clouds but you never know around here – see you there!
After a day of pelting rain, the clouds lifted and even parted enough to show some color just as our Skies Over West Seattle correspondent, NASA Solar System Ambassador Alice Enevoldsen, led the Winter Solstice Sunset Watch at West Seattle’s Solstice Park a little over an hour ago.
The hardy souls who turned out got to hear, and see, what the solstice is all about. Here’s part of her demonstration:
Since the sunset itself wasn’t visible, the Solstice Park stones that line up with the solstice sunset couldn’t be “tested,” but the sun’s not moving that much in the next few days, so if we get some clearing around sunset time, you can still get to the park and have a look.
Bonus for today’s eventgoers: Alice mentioned a launch attempt planned tonight, the SpaceX ORBCOMM-2 mission, with a launch window at 5:29 pm – check out the live feed here, if you see this before then; Alice pointed out that a key feature of this launch will be an attempt to bring part of the rocket back down to solid ground. (5:40 pm note – It was a success!)
On a gray rainy day, if you’re longing for more light, it might be some consolation that the winter solstice is just a few days away. And as is customary for the changing of the season, you can celebrate it – and learn about it – at Solstice Park in West Seattle, with NASA Solar System Ambassador Alice Enevoldsen from Skies Over West Seattle and Alice’s Astro Info.
(That photo from Winter Solstice Watch 2014 was shared by Lori.) If you’ve never been to a solstice or equinox watch with Alice – Solstice Park has markers placed at spots that line up with the sunset closest to the solstices and equinoxes, and Alice usually gives a short, fun presentation explaining and demonstrating exactly what the terms mean. Next Monday, the sun will disappear around 4:05 pm, so show up at the park around 3:45 – more info on Alice’s website – all ages welcome, and encouraged. P.S. If you’re keeping track, the solstice moment itself is a few hours later – 8:40 pm – the official arrival of winter.
By Alice Enevoldsen
Special to West Seattle Blog
There are currently eight active meteor showers over our heads (which is more common than it sounds), from which you can expect to see about 4 meteors per hour, though if you happen to catch the peak you might see as many as 30 per hour.
Around 5 am or earlier on the next three mornings — October 21, 22, and 23 — will be the peak of the Orionids Meteor Shower. Given good viewing conditions, you can expect to see about 10 meteors per hour, up to 20 meteors per hour during the peak times. These meteors will seem to radiate from just above and to the left (east) of the constellation Orion, high in the south:
(Radiant of the Orionid meteor shower. Starfield from Stellarium)
Around 6-6:30 am on October 22nd will be the peak of the Epsilon Geminids. You might see as many as 2-3 meteors per hour. Watch for these radiating from the constellation Gemini, just a little farther east and higher in the sky than the Orionids.
Also, 5:30 am-6:30 am on October 22nd is the peak of the Leonis Minorids, which adds up to another 4-10 meteors we might per hour before dawn on the 22nd. These will be radiating from the constellation Leo, about halfway up the sky in the east (great chance to look at Venus, Mars, and Jupiter as well).
The other five showers are even more minor, each with rates of between 1-3 meteors per hour, though some of those can be fireballs/bolides. The American Meteor Society has a report of a fireball from last night, which could easily be one of these meteors. Those showers are the Southern Taurids, the Gamma Piscids, the Eta Taurids, the October Luncids, and the Tau Cancrids.
To set your expectations for the coming evenings, with these three showers happening at the same time we have a chance at a few very nice shooting stars this week, especially if you’re up early in the morning watching the skies. This isn’t one of the biggest meteoric events of the year, but meteor showers vary.
Meteors: Meteor Activity Outlook October 17-23 (All dates and times are from this source).
Stellarium: free planetarium software for your home computer, or Android device. 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.
WHO IS ALICE?
The suggestions and opinions put forth in this article are Alice’s own and not those of any organizations to which she belongs. You can find more about astronomy from Alice at alicesastroinfo.com or on Twitter as @AlicesAstroInfo and Facebook.
(Still lots to see in the sky, post-eclipse. Monday night moon, by Doug Branch)
By Alice Enevoldsen
Special to West Seattle Blog
I can see from all the photos here on WSB and on social media that plenty of people enjoyed watching Sunday night’s lunar eclipse, from as close as your own backyard, the sidewalk in front of your apartment, or a quick jaunt down to the nearest park.
What’s next? Three conjunctions in a row and maybe some fireball meteors.
Upcoming Conjunctions and ‘Hey, What’s That?’
(SCROLL DOWN for Monday additions)
7:19 PM: Thanks to Craig B for that photo from Hamilton Viewpoint Park, where a sizable crowd was reported by sunset, awaiting a hoped-for view of the eclipsed supermoon. Are you seeing it yet?
(Added: Myrtle Reservoir Park photo, by Steph)
7:43 PM: Alice Enevoldsen tweets from Kevin Freitas‘s eclipse-viewing party that they’re seeing it – a hint of red:
— Alice's AstroInfo (@AlicesAstroInfo) September 28, 2015
7:47 PM: Moments later, we glimpsed it looking east from the top of the SW Genesee hill at Avalon.
(Added: Photo by WSB’s Christopher Boffoli)
8:16 PM: Via tweeted and e-mailed photos, and a brief spin around for a firsthand view, it’s clear LOTS of people are/have been out for a look:
— Pam Mandel (@nerdseyeview) September 28, 2015
8:40 PM: The eclipse has peaked but continues until its official conclusion at 10:22 pm, according to the timing listed here (Alice shared that link).
— ariana guerra (@photographappy) September 28, 2015
— Katy (@bluejayway) September 28, 2015
10:57 PM: All over! Next total eclipse of the moon, 2018. See all the phases of this one in Kevin Freitas’s chronicle of the (mentioned above) viewing party he hosted. And with this next photo from Chris Frankovich …
… it’s “good night, moon.”
(Click image for larger view)
Trileigh Tucker‘s view (that’s a plane leaving Sea-Tac)
And a last look at the “supermoon” before it set this morning, about 12 hours before it rose – from Lynn Hall:
You can check the moonset/moonrise (and sunset/sunrise) times ANY time via the WSB West Seattle Weather page, by the way.
(First 4 photos by WSB’s Patrick Sand)
Tonight’s sunset was the first of fall 2015, and a West Seattle tradition continued – watching the season’s first sunset from Solstice Park, where special markers line up with where the sun sets at the seasonal switchovers.
Sky-watchers arriving for the fall-equinox sunset watch organized by NASA Solar System Ambassador Alice Enevoldsen tried lining up in just the right spot to see their shadows. The park’s markers themselves were an attraction this time around:
They were missing during the summer-solstice sunset watch, in the shop for touchups, but returned in plenty of time for tonight’s event. Alice herself was just back from Oregon.
— Alice's AstroInfo (@AlicesAstroInfo) September 23, 2015
Her grandfather heads the team. Back to Solstice Park – one more look at Alice’s equinox gathering – this photo is courtesy of Scott Scowcroft:
She’s been doing this quarterly for more than five years now – making the change of seasons a little more meaningful for everyone who attends.
P.S. Another big sky-watching event is coming up this Sunday night – a total eclipse of the moon, which will start just after 6 pm, even before the moon rises in the east in our area. Stay tuned for more on that!
Fall officially arrives early tomorrow – 1:22 am our time- and yes, West Seattle’s own NASA Solar System Ambassador Alice Enevoldsen has confirmed this morning that she WILL help you welcome the new season with her 26th seasonal-sunset-watch event at Solstice Park tomorrow night. Be there by 6:30 pm Wednesday to (among other fun and educational things) see how the sunset lines up with the park’s special markers – which were not on hand for the summer solstice, due to restoration work, but, we are told, have since been returned. Solstice Park is east of the north end of Lincoln Park; Alice’s website AlicesAstroInfo.com has directions. See you there! (WSB photo from Alice’s 2014 fall-equinox event)
It came out of the blue – or, we should say, out of the green. Alice Enevoldsen of Alice’s Astro Info and Skies Over West Seattle suddenly turned up on Twitter earlier tonight saying that with a really good camera, a “dim” aurora was in view. Jason Enevoldsen subsequently got the view the orange clouds and green glow.
ADDED: Jed tweeted this photo:
— Jed (@jedmurdock) September 9, 2015
By Alice Enevoldsen
Special to West Seattle Blog
My favorite spots in West Seattle have changed a little since I first started suggesting places within the city for viewing the sky. Your first consideration needs to be whether your location of choice is open to the public at night. Most Seattle parks close at 11:30 pm, unless otherwise marked. So that makes stargazing difficult.
Within the city:
1) The Southern (upper) side of Myrtle Reservoir, on SW Myrtle Street between 35th Ave SW and 36th Ave SW.
(First 5 photos by WSB’s Patrick Sand)
Pluto time, it was, at the High Point branch of the Seattle Public Library tonight, as West Seattle’s own Solar System Ambassador (and WSB’s Skies Over West Seattle reporter) Alice Enevoldsen convened an informational celebration of the New Horizons Pluto flyby:
Not only did Alice draw a crowd, regional media even took note – TV on site, radio earlier:
With the spacecraft due to “phone home” about midway through the two-hour event – 21 hours after the flyby itself – she had activities ready to inform and entertain the younger participants:
New Horizons indeed “phoned home,” and Alice declared the event “amazing and awesome.” Here’s how the Mission Operations Center celebration in Maryland looked:
(NASA photo by Bill Ingalls)
What now? From the NASA coverage linked above: “New Horizons will continue on its adventure deeper into the Kuiper Belt, where thousands of objects hold frozen clues as to how the solar system formed.” You’ll find updates on NASA’s website for the mission.
(Recent NASA images: ‘Two faces’ of Pluto)
If you were at Alice Enevoldsen‘s Summer Solstice Sunset Watch last month, you heard Alice mention a plan in the works to host an event the day the New Horizons spacecraft makes its Pluto flyby. The plan’s now in place and she’s sent the details, adding, “As far as I can tell, this is the ONLY day-of Pluto-flyby event in all of Seattle.”
What: Plutopalooza Phone Home!
When: Tuesday, July 14, 2015, 5 – 7 p.m.
Where: High Point Branch Library, 3411 SW Raymond
Who: Everyone welcome, as usual. (Themed craft activity for children approximately ages 3-14, short talk about New Horizons aimed at upper elementary through adult, and NASA TV phone home broadcast for everyone.) Hosted by “West Seattle’s Own” NASA Solar System Ambassador Alice Enevoldsen.
At 4:49 am on July 14th, New Horizons spacecraft will make history as it flies past Pluto, after a journey of more than nine years and 3 billion miles. For much of the day the New Horizons spacecraft will be out of communication with mission control as it gathers data on Pluto and its moons.
At 6:02 pm, on that same day, the spacecraft is scheduled to “phone home” confirming that it completed the rendezvous. This is the nailbiting moment of suspense that we will watch together during the event at the High Point Branch.
While we are waiting for the signal, there will be Pluto-themed activities for kids ages 3 and up, Alice will give a short presentation on the New Horizons mission appropriate for ages 9 through adult, and will be available to interpret the broadcast events as well as answer questions.
P.S. If you want to build a model of the New Horizons craft and bring it with you to the event, I would love to see it. You can also post your West Seattle PlutoTime photos to social media, and tag me: @AlicesAstroInfo.
Library events and programs are free and everyone is welcome. Registration is not required.
Alice also writes periodic Skies Over West Seattle updates for WSB, with advance alerts and info about some of what you’ll see in the sky, including eclipses, planetary conjunctions, meteor showers, and more – they’re archived here.
Unlike last year, the sun skunked this year’s hello-summer sunset viewing at Solstice Park:
It sneaked behind those clouds around 8:45 pm Saturday, about 15 minutes before it would have been in view slipping behind the Olympic Mountains. But sun visibility challenges don’t daunt Alice Enevoldsen, West Seattle-residing NASA Solar System Ambassador and astronomy writer:
As she’s done 25 times now at solstices and equinoxes, Alice hosted the sunset-viewing event to mark the changing of the seasons and explain the astronomy facts of those particular dates of the year. With her in our photo above is the young assistant she chose from the audience to help those in attendance understand the movements of the earth and sun. When visible – the setting sun lines up, at the sunset closest to the solstice, with a certain point at which the park has a granite marker – but they weren’t back yet (backstory here) – the city did place explanatory signs on sticks.
The signs say the markers will be back next month. So you’ll see them for the fall equinox. Might even see the sun, which, though out of sight tonight, left some color in its wake:
Watch for Alice’s work at alicesastroinfo.com and here on WSB in her periodic Skies Over West Seattle updates – next month, she said, she’s hoping to organize a viewing event for the Pluto flyby of the New Horizons spacecraft (launched nine and a half years ago).
By Alice Enevoldsen
Special to West Seattle Blog
Venus. Venus, Venus, Venus, Venus, Venus. Oh, and also Jupiter and then Regulus, but mostly Venus. That’s what we’ve been seeing every night gleaming in the West, so bright I keep thinking it must be an airplane.
(Click image to see it full-size: Looking west from West Seattle at 10:30 pm in mid-June 2015)
Venus will continue to brighten until July 12th before slowly beginning to get dimmer. I highly recommend the article about the difference between Venus’s greatest elongation, greatest illuminated extent, and maximum brightness by Guy Ottewell. As with many things in astronomy and observing there are a number of “best” or “most” moments, and his article clearly illustrates the ones applicable to Venus this month. It continues to be a wonderful observing target for the rest of the month and next month.
By Alice Enevoldsen
Special to West Seattle Blog
Today a beautiful blue-green iridescent cloud stretched straight across the sky, contrasting impressively with the white clouds behind it. As we watched, more rainbow-spectrum colors showed up in a second partial arc a little further south. The colors persisted for hours, though will be gone by the time you read this article.
(Added Tuesday: West Seattleite Don Brubeck‘s photo of how it looked @ Mt. Rainier NP)
We see many rainbow phenomena regularly here in West Seattle: Rainbows, secondary bow rainbows, supernumeraries, sun pillars, halos, heiligenschein, crepuscular (and anti-crepuscular) rays, and sundogs. This was a new one to me: The circumhorizon arc.
The circumhorizon arc is only visible when the Sun is higher than 58° in the sky. This can be true in Seattle only around noon from early May through mid-August. Like other halo-related visual effects, the arc is formed by sunlight refracting through ice crystals. As you can see in the photos, this arc is visible where there are streaky, filamental cirrus clouds. Those clouds are high enough in the atmosphere that even on hot days ice crystals can form.
(Circumhorizon arc and halo over West Seattle — with labels: © 2015 Jason Ayres Gift Enevoldsen)
Although this is not a common event, the circumhorizon arc is not classified as rare for our latitude. Look for it again throughout the summer around noon whenever you see cirrus-type clouds in the sky. This is the same event as a fire rainbow, but “fire rainbow” is not an accepted term, as it is misleading.
Before I go, let me mention noctilucent clouds, because the section of circumhorizon arc we saw today was almost exactly the same color, and now is the time to watch for them. Noctilucent clouds are also visible only in summer, but about 30 minutes to two and a half hours after sunset. They’re high enough in the atmosphere that they are still bathed in sunlight even as the sky darkens through twilight, giving them an ethereal blue glow in the dark sky.
We report a fair number of great new visual cloud and sky events around June. With the Sun reaching its highest altitude (nearly 66° off the horizon here) at solar noon on the summer solstice, the days and weeks around now are when we have the opportunity to see effects that require the Sun to be high.
You can read about many common sun/atmosphere effects we see in West Seattle in this Skies over West Seattle article from two years ago. I would love to discuss this effect and any others at the solstice sunset watch on Saturday.
Who is Alice?
Alice is many things and works and volunteers for a few 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.
ORIGINAL REPORT, 4:18 PM: In the most recent “Skies Over West Seattle“ written by Alice Enevoldsen for WSB, she called tomorrow morning’s lunar eclipse the most exciting upcoming event. The excitement’s been dampened a bit by the weather – but we have some blue sky right now, so we have hope for tonight/early tomorrow, and we’re publishing a reminder. It peaks with totality at 5 am; here’s the rest of the timeline. (Photo by David Hutchinson – 2011 lunar eclipse, seen from Alki)
SATURDAY UPDATE, 4:42 AM: We’ve been working all night and caught a few glimpses – around the half-eclipsed and 3/4-eclipsed marks – just looked again, seems the clouds are winning as totality approaches in about 15 minutes.
ADDED: Thanks to Jack Miller for this photo of the “blood moon” phase:
And “Diver Laura” James shared a time lapse:
6:26 PM: If you were wondering – yes, the spring equinox sunset watch is on, says Alice – Solstice Park, starting around 6:45 pm.
(WSB photos by Torin Record-Sand)
8:32 PM: No sunset, but, as promised, Alice was there for a handful of skywatchers.
Those two were the youngest attendees – Alice’s daughter Vera (left), and Cameron.
If you’re new here, by the way, Alice (Enevoldsen) is a NASA Solar System Ambassador and, among other things promoting astronomy and sky-watching (such as writing Skies Over West Seattle for us, and publishing info at Alice’s Astro Info), has been hosting educational sunset viewings on equinox and solstice dates for going on six years! (Last year, the sun DID make a welcome-to-spring appearance.)
Thanks to James Bratsanos for capturing tonight’s sunset colors. His photo reminded us to mention to you that the spring equinox arrives this Friday (3:45 pm on March 20th), which means it’s season-change sunset-watch time Friday night with Alice Enevoldsen of Skies Over West Seattle, Alice’s Astro Info, and more. As she wrote in this month’s SoWS roundup of reasons to look up at night: “6:55 pm-7:55 pm — Come and watch the Spring Equinox sunset with me at Solstice Park across from Lincoln Park. The sunset itself will be around 7:10 pm. Bring your children and your parents.” (Forecast looks iffy now, but check back as it gets closer.)
By Alice Enevoldsen
Special to West Seattle Blog
Well, that was a lovely conjunction of Mars and Venus we had last month, wasn’t it? This month continues to have beautiful planets in the sky, followed by an Equinox Sunset Watch and warming temperatures for pleasant evening stargazing.
HEY, WHAT’S THAT?
There are too many “Hey, What’s That?” options this month! You’re going to have to know which direction you’re facing, and what time of day as well.
Starting with the early pre-dawn sky for early commuters and folks on the night shift, look high in the sky. The two objects are the star Spica and the planet Saturn. Which is which? Stars twinkle, planets don’t.
Evening viewers are probably noticing Venus or Jupiter. You can’t miss them, except due to clouds or trees. Low in the West following the sunset is Venus. Jupiter is behind you when you look at Venus, halfway up the sky in the Northeast.
Did you see something else? We’ve got five or six particularly bright stars in the winter skies. Just like above, if it twinkles it is a star.
NOTABLE IN THE SKY