Total Solar Eclipse: 2019-07-02

Total solar eclipseA total solar eclipse will take place today, 2019-07-02.  Totality will be visible only in the southern hemisphere, on a path seemingly crafted to avoid land as much as possible.  Totality will touch down in the southwest Pacific Ocean, pass over Pitcairn Island, then finally touch land, crossing Chile and Argentina.  Totality will begin at 18:03 UTC and end at 20:42 UTC.

The Exploratorium is planning a live Webcast of the eclipse from Chile, originating from the Cerro Tololo Observatory, which totality happens to cross.  The Webcast will last for one hour, beginning at 20:00 UTC.  Occurring in early July, near the time of Earth’s aphelion, with the Moon around two days from perigee, this will be a fairly long eclipse, with four minutes and 32.8 seconds of totality at maximum eclipse in the mid-Pacific.... [Read More]

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Solar Corona Visualization, 2017 Eclipse

A total eclipse of the Sun occurred in August,2017.  Observers gathered images and manipulated them digitally.  In consequence we see the solar corona like never before. There, that is everything I know about astronomy with respect to this image, said image being presented today as NASA’s “Astronomy Picture of the Day.”  I just did want you all not to miss it.  Maybe somebody will comment!

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Now, that’s Funny

The Kepler spacecraft was launched into heliocentric orbit in 2009.  Its primary mission was to stare at a small area of the sky and monitor around 150,000 stars in its field of view (around twice the size of the bowl of the Big Dipper), watching for the subtle dimming of stars when planets orbiting them passed in front of their parent stars (a transit).  Before its retirement in October, 2018, it had discovered 2,662 exoplanets (planets orbiting stars other than the Sun).  It also saw some other, very curious things.

You may have heard about Tabby’s Star (KIC 8462852), a main sequence star which exhibits irregular deep dimmings which have, so far defied all attempts to explain them.... [Read More]

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Long-Lost First Movie of a Solar Eclipse Found, Restored

In May, 1900, British magician Nevil Maskelyne, Jr., travelled to North Carolina in the United States to observe and attempt to photograph the total eclipse of the Sun on May 28th of that year.  Maskelyne was the son of John Nevil Maskelyne, a celebrated magician who was also the inventor of the pay toilet.  (Neither should be confused with the unrelated Rev. Dr Nevil Maskelyne, the fifth British Astronomer Royal from 1765 to 1811.)  Solar eclipses had been photographed before, with the first completely successful photograph taken of the eclipse of 1851-07-28, but Maskelyne wanted to take the next step and make a motion picture of the eclipse.  He used a camera with a telescopic adapter developed by his father, which he had previously attempted to use to photograph the eclipse of 1898-01-22, but his film was stolen during the return to Britain so we’ll never know what it contained.

The film from the 1900 eclipse was stunning.  I have photographed four total solar eclipses (1999, 2001, 2008, and 2010), and even with modern equipment, dealing with the rapid and dramatic changes in light level in the seconds before and after totality is very challenging.  However Maskelyne managed to do it (nothing is known about his equipment or technique), the result was a total success, which was shown in British theatres.  The film disappeared shortly after its theatrical presentation and was believed to have been lost for over a century.  In 2018, a copy (it is unknown whether this was the original or a print) was found in the archives of the Royal Astronomical Society, whose curator did not know what it was, and upon consultation with the British Film Institute’s (BFI) curator of silent films, it was identified as the Maskelyne eclipse film.  The BFI’s conservators re-photographed the original celluloid film onto 35 millimetre film, which was then digitally scanned and restored as a 4K video.  Here is the restored film.  It is embedded here as a smaller video: click on “Watch on YouTube” to watch in full resolution.... [Read More]

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A Meteor Hits the Moon During the Eclipse

Meteor impact on the Moon, 2019-01-21During the recent lunar eclipse (the date on which it occurred depends upon your time zone: mid-eclipse was at 05:12 UTC on 2019-01-21, while the eclipse occurred on the evening of January 20th in western hemisphere time zones) several amateur astronomers capturing the eclipse on video observed a flash of light, just a single video frame, near the limb of the eclipsed Moon just at the beginning of the umbral phase.

The fact that three observers in different locations have so far reported the same flash excludes other explanations such as a reflection off an Earth satellite or a “point meteor” burning up in the Earth’s atmosphere on a trajectory pointed directly at the observer.... [Read More]

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Perseid Meteor Shower 2018

Perseid meteor, 2015-08-13

Tonight (August 12–13, 2018 UTC) the Perseid meteor shower will peak.  This meteor shower occurs every year around August 12th as the Earth passes through the orbit of debris from comet Swift-Tuttle.  This is one of the most reliable and intense meteor showers and, in ideal conditions (clear, dark sky and dark-adapted eyes) you may see a meteor a minute.  (As with everything, Pareto is on the job—there are many more dim meteors than bright ones.)... [Read More]

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Saturday Night Science: Losing the Nobel Prize

“Losing the Nobel Prize” by Brian KeatingEver since the time of Galileo, the history of astronomy has been punctuated by a series of “great debates”—disputes between competing theories of the organisation of the universe which observation and experiment using available technology are not yet able to resolve one way or another. In Galileo’s time, the great debate was between the Ptolemaic model, which placed the Earth at the centre of the solar system (and universe) and the competing Copernican model which had the planets all revolving around the Sun. Both models worked about as well in predicting astronomical phenomena such as eclipses and the motion of planets, and no observation made so far had been able to distinguish them.

Then, in 1610, Galileo turned his primitive telescope to the sky and observed the bright planets Venus and Jupiter. He found Venus to exhibit phases, just like the Moon, which changed over time. This would not happen in the Ptolemaic system, but is precisely what would be expected in the Copernican model—where Venus circled the Sun in an orbit inside that of Earth. Turning to Jupiter, he found it to be surrounded by four bright satellites (now called the Galilean moons) which orbited the giant planet. This further falsified Ptolemy’s model, in which the Earth was the sole source of attraction around which all celestial bodies revolved. Since anybody could build their own telescope and confirm these observations, this effectively resolved the first great debate in favour of the Copernican heliocentric model, although some hold-outs in positions of authority resisted its dethroning of the Earth as the centre of the universe.... [Read More]

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Total Lunar Eclipse: Now that’s a dark one!

On the night of July 27, 2017 (as reckoned in Universal Time, as we use at Ratburger.org), the longest total lunar eclipse of the 21st century occurred.  As I am writing this, the total eclipse is just about to end.  The eclipse is not visible in the Western Hemisphere.

Total lunar eclipse: 2018-07-27, mid-eclipse... [Read More]

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March Equinox 2018

Equinox: 2018-03-20 16:15 UTCThe March equinox occurs this year at 16:15 UTC on March 20.  This is the moment when the subsolar point crosses the equator headed north.  The line of day and night as seen on a map as above (produced by Earth and Moon Viewer using NASA imagery with snow and ice cover representative of March) is vertical, indicating that day and night are of equal duration everywhere on Earth.  The terminator (day/night line, not killer robots from the future) appears to curve near the poles because of the projection of the spherical Earth onto a flat map.  Here is a view of the Earth above the terminator at the moment of equinox.

Terminator at equinox: 2018-03-20 16:15 UTC... [Read More]

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TOTD 2018-01-10: Natural Philosophy, Then and Now

William Herschel (1738–1822) wrote:

In this great celestial creation, the catastrophy of a world, such as ours, or even the total dissolution of a system of worlds, may possibly be no more to the great Author of Nature, than the most common accident in life with us, and in all probability such final and general Doomsdays may be as frequent there, even as Birthdays or mortality with us upon the earth. This idea has something so cheerful in it, that I know I can never look upon the stars without wondering why the whole world does not become astronomers; and that men endowed with sense and reason should neglect a science they are naturally so much interested in, and so capable of enlarging their understanding, as next to a demonstration must convince them of their immortality, and reconcile them to all those little difficulties incident to human nature, without the least anxiety.... [Read More]

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