The Total Solar Eclipse
The absolute show stopper this year is the total solar eclipse on August 21. This is the first total solar eclipse visible from the continental United States since 1979. That year my wife and I drove nearly 3,500 miles round-trip over five days from Greenville, South Carolina, to Arborg, Manitoba, to see that eclipse. It was the most incredible 2 minutes and 46 second that I have ever experienced. No photographs or descriptions do justice to a total solar eclipse. It’s not just the beauty and wonder. Trust me, it is a very moving event that one must experience to appreciate.
The NASA website has a map of the path of totality. The eclipse will be total between the two blue lines. Outside the blue lines, the eclipse will be partial. Partial eclipses are interesting, but they are not as spectacular as total solar eclipses, so you ought to attempt to be within the path of totality. The duration of totality will be only a second or so on the blue lines. The greatest duration is along the red centerline, so you ought to attempt to be as close to the centerline as possible. The greatest duration will be 2 minutes and 40 seconds in southern Illinois. Going east or west of this location will produced a shorter duration.
For instance, that day I plan to be southeast of Portland, where the maximum duration will be a little over 2 minutes. I’m sacrificing some duration for the very good prospect of clear skies east of the Cascade Mountains. Plus, I’ll be conducting a field trip with the Design Science Association of Portland that morning to watch the eclipse. There will be other creation groups and institutions that are sympathetic to creation that will host eclipse-watching events that day. For instance, Bob Jones University in Greenville, South Carolina, is along the path of totality, so they are planning an event too. I will be happy to blog about other viewing parties organized for that day. Simply contact me here at Answers in Genesis to give me the details to pass along.
The Perseid Meteor Shower
The Perseid meteor shower, also in August (9–13), is one of the most dependable and enjoyable meteor showers. The peak time this year is the early hours of August 13, after midnight but before dawn. Similar times on 1–2 nights before or after are good too. However, the moon is full on August 6, and it will be waning gibbous on the night of August 12–13, rising about the time that the Perseids are best to see. Therefore, we may not be able to see too many Perseids this year. The nights later in the observing window will be best, because the moon’s bright light will lessen each morning.
Unlike last year, Venus will put on quite a show, at least in the first half of the year. For the first two and a half months, Venus will be very prominent in the southwestern sky right after sunset. It will be difficult to miss Venus because it is the brightest “star” in the sky. The only objects brighter are the sun and moon. In the US, Venus reaches its greatest elongation east (47 degrees) of the sun on January 11. At that time, even through a small telescope, Venus will appear half lit, similar to what the quarter phase moon looks like (half-moon is not a proper name of a lunar phrase). After this date, Venus will grow larger in the telescope as it moves closer to us, assuming an ever-thinner crescent shape as it does. Venus reaches greatest brilliancy on about February 16-17. A month later, Venus will be difficult to see as it approaches inferior conjunction, passing between the earth and sun.
By late March, Venus will re-emerge in the morning sky, visible shortly before sunrise. Through a telescope, it will be a large, thin crescent that will gradually shrink as it transforms to being half lit. Being half-lit coincides with Venus being at greatest elongation west of the sun (again 47 degrees), which occurs on June 3. For the rest of the year, Venus will gradually move away, getting progressively smaller through the telescope. By year’s end, as it approaches superior conjunction, Venus will once again disappear in the sun’s glare, passing behind the sun.
By late March, Jupiter will rise in the east shortly after sunset and will be in the sky the entire night. This coincides with the disappearance of Venus from the evening sky, so Jupiter will be the brightest “star” in the sky spring and summer. Throughout this time, Jupiter’s position in the early evening sky gradually will shift from east to west. Jupiter will leave the evening sky at the beginning of autumn, as it disappears in the sun’s glare in the western sky.
The circumstances of Jupiter’s visibility this year will be like those in 1969, the first time that I saw Jupiter. I was a freshman in high school that year when I noticed a bright “star” shortly after sunset one evening in April. From my modest knowledge of astronomy at the time, I realized that it was too bright to be a star, and I guessed that it was Jupiter. I got out my even more modest telescope at the time and examined Jupiter. I was delighted to see Jupiter’s disk, along with its four large Galilean satellites. Even a small telescope will reveal them, and they obviously move from night to night as they orbit Jupiter. With an orbital period of nearly twelve years, I’ve watched Jupiter make four treks around the sky since then. I still have that little telescope. Perhaps I’ll get it out in April and have another look at it. It would be nice to do this on the 48th anniversary of my first view of Jupiter, but since I don’t remember the exact date, any night in April will do.
Saturn will show up in the evening sky in early June. It will be visible in the evening sky until late autumn, disappearing in the sun’s glare by early December. As with Jupiter, I first saw Saturn in 1969, though it was a few months later, probably in September. Even through my small telescope, I clearly could see the rings. To this day, Saturn remains my favorite thing to look at through the telescope. Why don’t you join us for one of our Stargazer evenings at the Creation Museum this summer or early autumn and see Saturn?