See the transit of Mercury Monday, November 11

Photo: 2016 Transit of Mercury. Photo by James Guilford
Transit of Mercury, May 9, 2016. A cloudy sky left occasional openings for views of tiny Mercury slowly gliding across the solar disk. Photo by James Guilford.

UPDATE: The Transit of Mercury program planned for Edgewater Park has been canceled due to a forecast of clouds, rain/snow, and below freezing temps. We’ll have to try again in 13 years when the next transit comes around.

The planet Mercury will cross between Earth and Sun on Monday, November 11, 2019. Given clear skies, members of the Cuyahoga Astronomical Association (CAA) will be stationed at the lower level of Edgewater Park offering safe viewing of the event. Viewing times at Edgewater will be from noon until just after 1:00 p.m.

CAA members will be present with their solar-safe telescopes offering several ways of viewing our Sun. Cloudy skies will, of course, cancel the event. No tickets or reservations are required; those interested should simply come to the park. The transit is a natural, astronomical occurrence and cannot be rescheduled; when it has finished, it is finished!

Anyone with eclipse viewing glasses would be able to view the transit but without the magnification offered by a telescope, the event will be hard to see. Mercury, officially a planet, is not quite three times the size of Earth’s Moon. Viewed from Earth, around 48 million miles distant, Mercury is tiny!

The 2019 transit begins at about 7:35 a.m. and will end at 1:04 p.m. November 11. Another transit of Mercury won’t take place for 13 years.

WARNING: NEVER look directly at the sun through binoculars, a telescope, or with your unaided eye. Permanent eye damage and even blindness can result. Astronomers use special filters and glasses to safely observe the sun. Sunglasses, photo negatives, etc. will not protect against eye injury.

January 20 – 21: Total Lunar Eclipse

Photo: Total Lunar Eclipse Sequence, February 2008
Total Lunar Eclipse Sequence, February 2008. – Images and Composite by Lynn Paul

Exciting News: A total lunar eclipse will take place January 20 – 21 and our area will be able to view the entire event, IF we are fortunate enough to have clear skies!

On the night of January 20, 2019 Earth’s shadow will cross the face of its Moon and viewers across North America will be treated to a total lunar eclipse. We, in Northeastern Ohio, are in luck this time as the entire eclipse will be visible to us given clear enough skies, of course.

Image: January 2019 Total Lunar Eclipse Timing - Credit: TimeAndDate.com
January 2019 Total Lunar Eclipse Timing – Credit: TimeAndDate.com

As the penumbral phase of the eclipse begins, at 9:36 PM, viewers will see the Full Moon gradually dimming, entering the lighter outer portion of Earth’s shadow. At 10:33 the partial eclipse begins and the disk of the Moon will show a dark, curved area expanding across its area. As the Moon moves deeper into shadow it will continue to darken until begin to glow a copper-red until at totality, 11:41 PM, Luna will hang colorfully in our star-sprinkled sky as totality begins — the time the Moon is fully within the darkest portion of Earth’s shadow, known as the umbra. Maximum eclipse is reached at 12:12 AM (Jan. 21) and totality ends at 12:43 AM.

As the eclipse ends, the process reverses until in the wee hours of Monday, the Full Moon will brightly shine again. Click here for more information from TimeAndDate.com.

NOTES: A telescope is not necessary for your enjoyment of this wondrous natural phenomenon, just go outside and look up! Binoculars or a small telescope may give a more detailed view but are not required. A lunar eclipse is completely safe to watch — it’s moonlight — so you need no special glasses or vision protection.

It’s Happening August 21: Edgewater Eclipse Watch

The Cuyahoga Astronomical Association (CAA), in cooperation with Cleveland Metroparks, will host an Eclipse Watch event at Edgewater Park, on Cleveland’s western Lake Erie shore, from 12:30 to 4:00 PM, Monday, August 21. The event will be free and open to the public, no reservations required, to observe the day’s solar eclipse. In case of rain, the event will be canceled.

Image: Eclipse at Maximum - Edgewater Park, Ohio, August 21, 2017 - SkySafari 5 Simulation
Eclipse at Maximum – Edgewater Park, Ohio, August 21, 2017 – SkySafari 5 Simulation

The Edgewater Eclipse Watch will include:

  • Telescopes equipped to safely view the eclipse, tended by CAA members
  • Eclipse viewing glasses provided by AstroZap, one per group, please!)
  • Non-profit organizations, including Cleveland Metroparks, with family activities.
  • Additional activities to be announced!

The venue for the Edgewater Eclipse Watch will be at the west end of Edgewater Park’s lower level parking lot (see map below). Telescopes and other activities will be in the grassy area adjacent to the parking lot. Visitors may come and go as they please during the event.

Image: Here is where the Eclipse Watch will take place.
Here is where the Eclipse Watch will take place. Click to visit Google Maps for a more complete map and directions.
Image: Timing of Our Partial Solar Eclipse, August 21, 2017 - Via SkySafari 5
Timing of Our Partial Solar Eclipse, August 21, 2017 – Via SkySafari 5

Millions of people will enjoy this eclipse of the Sun, some portion of which will be visible from everywhere in the continental United States; it’s even been dubbed “The Great American Eclipse” and “The National Eclipse.” Locations along a relatively narrow strip of land stretching from Oregon and the Pacific Northwest to the Atlantic off South Carolina will enjoy the full glory of a total solar eclipse. Here in Northeastern Ohio, we will see a deep partial eclipse with, at its peak, the Sun reduced to a brilliant crescent in our early afternoon sky.

CRITICAL: Vision safety is a major concern: It is important to note: even during the maximum point of our partial eclipse it is not safe to look at the Sun without proper vision protection. According to a statement from NASA, “The only safe way to look directly at the uneclipsed or partially eclipsed Sun is through special-purpose solar filters, such as ‘eclipse glasses’ or hand-held solar viewers. Homemade filters or ordinary sunglasses, even very dark ones, are not safe for looking at the sun.Here’s a quick video about how to safely view the eclipse via WKYC and our own Jay Reynolds.

A solar eclipse takes place when our Moon comes between Sun and Earth casting its shadow on Earth’s surface. The illustration below shows how the depth of Moon’s shadow varies depending upon how much of Sun is covered. The small black dot indicates the area where all of the solar disk is covered and where a total solar eclipse is in progress; outside of that dot, a large shaded area shows where various levels of partial coverage — the partial eclipse — is visible.

Image: Diagram of the Solar Eclipse - Image Credit: NASA
Diagram of the Solar Eclipse – Image Credit: NASA

This video from NASA shows how eclipses work and why they don’t happen every month. Spoiler: Moon’s shadow “misses” the Earth most of the time…

Too cloudy to see the total lunar eclipse? Try a webcast!

If local conditions don’t allow viewing tonight’s total lunar eclipse or if you just can’t get out, try one of the several live webcasts. Seeing the eclipse would be much better “in person,” but watching via computer or TV is better than nothing!

NASA TV — both a webcast and a cable TV service, the space agency’s coverage begins at 8:00 EDT through 11:30 PM. See it: http://www.ustream.tv/channel/nasa-msfc or directly from Griffith Observatory at: http://livestream.com/GriffithObservatoryTV

Slooh, the remote telescope company, offers their own 9:00 PM webcast at: http://live.slooh.com/?utm_campaign=space&utm_medium=textlink&utm_source=launch which will also be carried by Space.com at: http://www.space.com/19195-night-sky-planets-asteroids-webcasts.html

The venerable “Sky & Telescope” magazine hosts a program beginning at 9:00 here: http://livestream.com/SkyandTelescope/Sept27eclipse

And the University of Arizona will stream their coverage live at: http://www.lpl.arizona.edu/css/eclipse/

Jupiter and Venus as a “double star” June 30

June 30, 2015 Conjunction
Let’s hope for clear skies the evening of June 30 when the ongoing conjunction of Jupiter and Venus gets really cozy! Tuesday evening will see the two planets sharing a space only 1/3-degree apart in our sky; they will look like a brilliant double star. After Tuesday’s encounter, the planets will drift slowly apart night-by-night but will remain a beautiful sight in twilight. Chart courtesy Sky & Telescope – www.skyandtelescope.com

Partial solar eclipse gets great exposure, reviews

Photo: Solar eclipse sequence by Stan Honda.
Solar Eclipse Sequence from Voinovich Park, by Stan Honda

Members of the Cuyahoga Astronomical Association (CAA) were present across the Greater Cleveland Area both hosting and participating in observation of the October 23 partial solar eclipse. The club hosted an event at Voinovich Park in Downtown Cleveland, assisted with an event at Gordon Park with the Cleveland Museum of Natural History, and observed from the Chapel Hill Mall parking lot (Cuyahoga Falls), Mapleside Farms (Brunswick), Bradstreet Landing (Rocky River), and the Avon Lake Boat Launch. Members watched and, in some cases, imaged the sunset eclipse.

Photo: Partial Solar Eclipse, October 23, 2014, by Dave Watkins.
Note the Large Sunspot Group Near Center, Long Filament Near Top – Image by Dave Watkins

Member and event organizer Jay Reynolds wrote, “At Voinovich Park, I had so many compliments about the quality of the event and the generous members ‘letting us use their equipment’ and ‘sharing with us’. Six people commented ‘how nice everyone was’, ‘What a great group to do this’, ‘We are so lucky to have such a proactive group’, ‘They really connected us with something special, I had no idea’, and ‘This was great’.”

Photo: Observers at Voinovich Park, by Jay Reynolds.
Observers at Voinovich Park, Cleveland, by Jay Reynolds

The eclipse and the CAA received widespread media coverage, according to Reynolds, including pieces on WTAM, Fox 8, WKYC, and others. Channels 3, 8, and 19, during their evening news broadcasts, credited the club with the event. Reynolds also learned that WKYC (Channel 3) was streaming the event live via the Internet and recorded more than 1,000 viewers.

Photo: Partial Solar Eclipse. Photo by Dave Nuti.
Eclipse Image Through the Eyepiece – Christopher Christie’s Telescope, Photo by Dave Nuti

Carl Kudrna: “I can report a nice turnout at Bradstreet’s Landing too. I had about 20 folks/children at my scope, and using the transit viewing filter too. We had a good view all the way to maximum then the sun started hiding behind trees along the cliffs. We had great views of the huge sunspot area at low center. Couldn’t see the sunset but we watched there till around 7:00. One young lady and her daughter had the only other scope there – a nice scope from the ’70s – a 60mm Unitron with a handsome wooden tripod. Due to the absence of a filter for it, they used the projection method of viewing the sun…. It was a great time.”

Dave Watkins: “I ended up at the north west corner of the parking lot at Chapel Hill Mall in Cuyahoga Falls. There were about 10 people there. Somebody called security on us, so we got a visit by the mall security. They said they got a call about a large group of people behaving strangely.”

Photo: Partial Solar Eclipse with airplane. By Matt Franduto
Lucky Catch – See Airplane Near Bottom of This Image! – by Matt Franduto

Matt Franduto, observing from Mapleside Farms with another club member, wrote of his photo (above), “It was late, Carl and I were getting a little frustrated with the clouds and I was having a little trouble keeping the sun centered for my imaging.  I snapped off a few shots, not really expecting much.  Then I got home and saw the {airplane}.” He believes this may be a “once in a lifetime shot!”

Astronomy enthusiasts often complain about Northeast Ohio’s often less-than-perfect skies (being polite here) but one man disagreed with that assessment.

Photo: Suzie Dills and Stan Honda, by Jay Reynolds
CAA Member Suzie Dills with New York City Visitor Stan Honda, by Jay Reynolds

“A special guest, Stan Honda, came all the way from New York City in an 8-hour drive to see the eclipse and to take photos at Voinovich Park,” reported CAA President William Murmann. “Stan is in a club that has star parties in New York’s Central Park, where he said they basically can just see the Moon and a few bright objects. Stan emailed me earlier this month about coming to Cleveland to see the eclipse. It was great to meet him!”

Photo: Eclipse Viewers in Avon Lake. Photo by James Guilford.
Eclipse Viewers at Avon Lake Boat Launch’s Fishing Pier. Photo by James Guilford.

Steve Korylak and James Guilford viewed and photographed from the Avon Lake Boat Launch fishing pier along Lake Erie. A good-sized crowd of perhaps 100 gathered there and the Lake Erie Nature and Science Center, Bay Village, led public viewing.

Streaks of Cloud and a Giant Sunspot Group Cross Sun's Face - Photo by James Guilford
Streaks of Cloud and a Giant Sunspot Group Cross Sun’s Face – Photo by James Guilford

Lakefront viewers were hoping for a colorful sunset with the eclipsing Sun sinking into the waters of Lake Erie. That didn’t happen. Instead, as the eclipse progressed, it descended into a bank of Lake Clouds streaking, at first, the brilliant crescent-shaped Sun, then covering it entirely. The clouds made for a dramatic and mysterious view, memorable in its own way.

Photo: Eclipsing Sun sinks into Lake Clouds. Photo by James Guilford.
Eclipse Ends in Clouds, by James Guilford

 

March comet comes to (low) northern skies

Image: Mid-March sky positions for Comet PANSTARRS. Credit: NASA
For those in search of comet L4 PANSTARRS, look to the west after sunset in early and mid-March. This graphic shows the comet’s expected positions in the sky. Image credit: NASA

Comets visible to the naked eye are a rare delicacy in the celestial smorgasbord of objects in the nighttime sky.  Scientists estimate that the opportunity to see one of these icy dirtballs advertising their cosmic presence so brilliantly they can be seen without the aid of a telescope or binoculars happens only once every five to 10 years.  That said, there may be two naked-eye comets available for your viewing pleasure this year.

“You might have heard of a comet ISON, which may become a spectacular naked-eye comet later this fall,” said Amy Mainzer, the principal investigator of NASA’s NEOWISE mission at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, Calif., and self-described cosmic icy dirtball fan.  “But if you have the right conditions you don’t have to wait for ISON. Within a few days, comet PANSTARRS will be making its appearance in the skies of the Northern Hemisphere just after twilight.”

Discovered in June 2011, comet 2011 L4 (PANSTARRS) bears the name of the telescopic survey that discovered it — the less than mellifluous sounding “Panoramic Survey Telescope and Rapid Response System” which sits atop the Haleakala volcano in Hawaii.

Since its discovery a year-and-a-half ago, observing comet PANSTARRS has been the exclusive dominion of comet aficionados in the Southern Hemisphere, but that is about to change.  As the comet continues its well-understood and safe passage through the inner solar system, its celestial splendor will be lost to those in the Southern Hemisphere, but found by those up north.

“There is a catch to viewing comet PANSTARRS,” said Mainzer. “This one is not that bright and is going to be low on the western horizon, so you’ll need a relatively unobstructed view to the southwest at twilight and, of course, some good comet-watching weather.”

Well, there is one more issue — the time of day, or night, to view it.

“Look too early and the sky will be too bright,” said Rachel Stevenson, a NASA Postdoctoral Fellow at JPL. “Look too late, the comet will be too low and obstructed by the horizon.  This comet has a relatively small window.”

By March 8, comet PANSTARRS may be viewable for those with a totally unobstructed view of the western horizon for about 15 minutes after twilight.  On March 10, it will make its closest approach to the sun about 28 million miles (45 million kilometers) away. As it continues its nightly trek across the sky, the comet may get lost in the sun’s glare but should return and be visible to the naked eye by March 12. As time marches on in the month of March, the comet will begin to fade away slowly, becoming difficult to view (even with binoculars or small telescopes) by month’s end.  The comet will appear as a bright point of light with its diffuse tail pointing nearly straight up from the horizon like an exclamation point.

What, if any, attraction does seeing a relatively dim naked-eye comet with the naked eye hold for someone who works with them every day, with file after file of high-resolution imagery spilling out on her computer workstation?

“You bet I’m going to go look at it!” said Mainzer. “Comet PANSTARRS may be a little bit of a challenge to find without a pair of binoculars, but there is something intimately satisfying to see it with your own two eyes.  If you have a good viewing spot and good weather, it will be like the Sword of Gryffindor, it should present itself to anyone who is worthy.”

NASA detects, tracks and characterizes asteroids and comets passing relatively close to Earth using both ground- and space-based telescopes. The Near-Earth Object Observations Program, commonly called “Spaceguard,” discovers these objects, characterizes a subset of them, and predicts their paths to determine if any could be potentially hazardous to our planet.

Article courtesy JPL