EDITOR’S NOTE: What a difference a night makes – between Friday night’s sunset and Thursday night’s official Summer Solstice Sunset Watch with jackets and umbrellas:
If you haven’t met her, that’s Alice Enevoldsen at center, photographed by WSB’s Katie Meyer. A handful of people joined her in braving the Thursday night rain. Now, as for what else is happening over us in the weeks ahead – here’s her latest in a series of WSB features:
By Alice Enevoldsen
Special to West Seattle Blog
Welcome to summer! School’s out, the nights are warm, the skies are less cloudy. It’s wonderful. It also doesn’t get decently dark until after 10 pm, unless it is cloudy.
Hey! What’s That?
Well, before I get into solar effects and sundogs, let’s look at what you might have seen recently in the night sky. If you were seeing a stationary object in the night sky, it could have been a number of bright stars, but the prime suspects are Arcturus, Vega, or maybe Antares. Otherwise it was likely Saturn.
Arcturus: directly overhead
Vega: high in the East
Antares: very low in the Southeast
Saturn: medium-high in the Southwest (Watch carefully, there are two objects there. Saturn is the one that doesn’t twinkle and is slightly yellower)
We saw a beautiful halo around the Sun last week.
Technically this is a weather phenomenon, not astronomical, but as it is still in the sky, I’d like to include a brief list of related events here. (Please, if you have local photos of these phenomena, I’d love to include them.)
First, let’s talk halos and sundogs. When I saw the ring around the Sun on Saturday I immediately called it a sundog. Oops. Sundogs are the brighter sections of a rainbow halo around the Sun that we see from time to time. A halo is a ring of light or rainbow that surrounds the Sun. Both are caused by ice crystals high in the atmosphere, but sundogs are the one or two brighter sections on opposite sides of the ring. The ring itself is rarely seen without sundogs, but that’s exactly what we saw on Saturday: a beautiful rainbow halo with no dogs in sight.
(Video by William Drumm, shared via the WSB Facebook page)
Because of our proximity to the water and our beautiful Western horizon, there are some other Sun effects you’ve probably seen. Here is a good resource for more on solar phenomena.
Crepuscular or anticrepuscular rays: this is one of the most beautiful of all Sun effects. Honestly, my personal slang term for it is “God light” because it looks like Rococo iconographic art, and always reminds me of the Hudson River School of painting and Rembrandt. Shafts of sunlight piercing through the clouds, slicing down and looking almost solid in their brightness.
Heiligenschein: Another example of not being able to believe your eyes, and having nature take your breath away. I have seen this most often when riding the ferry on a sunny day. I always stand on the outside decks, and when I face away from the Sun and look down into the water I see rays of light radiating from my own shadow’s head. Take a ferry ride and try it! Once again, this reminds me of art (in this case, Renaissance paintings). You can also see this effect on dewy grass, dusty fields, and if you stand on the Moon. In fact, this is the same effect (retro-reflection) that is used to make highway paint and freeway signs so visible at night.
Pillars: We had one of these a couple months ago on March 29, but keep an eye out, they’ll happen again. Pillars are columns of light that seem to shoot straight up from the rising or setting Sun.
(©2014, Jason Gift Enevoldsen, reproduced with permission)
This pillar was seen from Lincoln Park, West Seattle, as the Sun was setting on March 29, 2013. You can see it over Blake Island, with a diffuse cloud or spread-out contrail crossing through the pillar.
The Summer Triangle
The Summer Triangle is a large triangle of stars visible overhead in the summer. Mm-hmm, obvious naming scheme there. This early in the summer, it starts the night low in the East, but later on it will be more directly overhead. It is perhaps the most visible pattern of stars in the Summer sky, each star is part of its own constellation: Altair in Aquila the Eagle, Vega in Lyra the Harp, and Deneb in Cygnus the Swan.
Currently: Mercury and Venus are very close in the post-sunset sky.
Early warning: August 12, 12 am-3 am – Start making your reservations; the Perseid meteor-shower peak is in mid-August. You’ll see some shooting stars from Seattle, but the farther you can get from city lights, the more you’ll see. Face Northeast.
Got events to add? Please comment below.
June 23, Full Moon: (It’s this year’s Supermoon-largest full moon of the year) The full moon rises at sunset, and sets at sunrise.
June 29, Last Quarter: the week around the last quarter moon, it is visible in the early morning sky.
July 8, 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.
July 15, First Quarter: the first quarter moon is ideal for late afternoon and early evening observation.
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. Cloudcover, 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.
International Dark Sky Association
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.
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