Theodor Jacobsen Observatory at the UW. Photo: Greg Scheiderer.
Spring has sprung, and one of the many wonderful manifestations of that is the resumption of bi-monthly open houses at the University of Washington’s Theodor Jacobsen Observatory. The first of the year will be held beginning at 8 p.m. Tuesday, April 2. Future open houses will be held on the first and third Tuesday of each month through September.
The day of the week is a change. The open houses have been held on Wednesday evenings ever since we can remember.
The open houses typically include a couple of astronomy talks by UW students. This week Aislynn Wallach will talk about The Future of Telescopes and Aleezah Ali will discuss Binary Stars. Unfortunately, reservations for these free events are usually snapped up pretty early, and the April 2 event is already listed as full. The observatory classroom in which the talks are held only holds 45 people. You can check out future topics and make reservations on the TJO website.
Volunteers from the Seattle Astronomical Society staff the observatory dome on open house evenings and, weather permitting, give visitors a look through the vintage 1892 telescope, which has a 6-inch Brashear objective lens on a Warner & Swasey equatorial mount.
Seattle astronomy buffs are downright pessimistic about seeing celestial events, even those that happen during our good-weather months. (And we have them.) Thus in the week before the total lunar eclipse of January 20, 2019, I posted this on the Seattle AstronomyFacebook page.
Amazingly enough, at about mid-day on eclipse day the clouds actually did begin to part a little, and a check of the Seattle Clear Sky Chart revealed a prediction that we’d have just 30 percent cloud cover come eclipse hour, and that it would be downright clear late in the evening.
One learns not to trust these things, but when the full Moon actually got up above the trees and into a clear sky out back of Seattle Astronomy headquarters, I decided this was going to happen and hauled the telescope out of the basement and onto the back deck. As the eclipse began I snapped a quick photo in order to express my amazement.
I am not an astrophotographer, as people who evaluate the entries for the Seattle Astronomical Society‘s quarterly photo contest always remind me. This one was shot with my smartphone, though when using it with the telescope I find it devilishly difficult to get the proper aim through the eyepiece (must pick up one of those gadgets from Cloud Break Optics soon.) My other “astro” camera is an old Canon Powershot A530, which is pretty easy to just stick up to the eyepiece and shoot.
I used the phone to get a pretty OK, if somewhat pixellated, pic at totality, too.
Interestingly enough, I found that the color of the “blood Moon” wasn’t quite so pronounced through the telescope and camera is it was in my naked-eye view. I think the magnification diffuses the color a bit, and the camera isn’t really made for that sort of work.
Even my sweetie, who is not normally prone to looking through telescopes at night in January, or any other month, for that matter, went out quite a few times for a magnified look, and we both spent most of the eclipse watching from a warm environment inside behind the glass of the French doors.
I hope you got a chance to see the eclipse wherever you were. The next one visible in Seattle will happen in May of 2021.
The weather gets to amateur astronomers from Seattle sometimes. I had several conversations at the Seattle Astronomical Society’s annual banquet back in January with attendees who, like me, fessed up to not doing much observing these days. It’s so cloudy so often that we tend to forget about the telescope, waiting patiently in the corner down by the door to the wine cellar. So it was fun on a string of clear evenings recently to get out and get some scope time.
The views of Jupiter on that night were a little murky, though the Great Red Spot occasionally popped into sight as plain as the cyclone on your face. The next evening seeing and transparency were about as good as they get in West Seattle, and I enjoyed some of the best views of Jupiter I’ve ever had.
I also took a look at Saturn, which was at opposition June 27, but on that evening it was still awfully low in the southeast sky and thus looked pretty fuzzy. I’m looking forward to some better views of Saturn as it comes around a little earlier in the evening each day. I took a few peeks at Venus, too.
While Jupiter and Saturn are among my favorite observing targets, the big show of the summer will be put on by Mars. The Red Planet will reach opposition on July 30, and this particular apparition will be an outstanding one. Mars will be the closest it has been to Earth since 2003, which was its closest approach in 60,000 years! It was that event that pushed me to get more involved in observational astronomy. This summer we’ll have great opportunities to see surface details on Mars.
As I write this, at 1 p.m., it’s looking pretty clear outside, though some clouds are in the forecast for the early morning hours. I shouldn’t even think this, lest to jinx clear skies, but I think I’ll get out again today and see how Saturn is looking.
A total lunar eclipse is a pretty cool event in its own right. Add in a blue moon and a super moon and you’ve got three celestial treats in one. Tomorrow morning we on the west coast may enjoy the first super blue blood moon visible in North America since 1866—if the weather cooperates.
Seattle Astronomy writer Greg Scheiderer talked about the super blue blood moon on the KING 5 television program New Day Northwest January 30. His planets tie was a hit with the studio audience. Photo: Greg Scheiderer.
A lunar eclipse isn’t all that rare. They can happen two or three times a year, but tomorrow’s will be the first visible (theoretically) from the Seattle area for a couple of years. The blue moon, under the generally accepted modern definition of the second full moon in a calendar month, isn’t quite so rare as the phrase “once in a blue moon” would suggest. On average, a blue moon happens once every 2.7 years. This year is a bit of an oddity, as not only will we have a blue moon tomorrow, but there will be another in March as well, and February has no full moon at all! Yes, there’s a name for that, too—black moon. And that’s also the name for a second new moon in a month.
Finally, the super moon—when full moon occurs near the perigee of the Moon’s orbit around Earth—happens about every 14 months, though we’re on a streak now; our December and early-January full moons were super as well. Blood moon is just a nickname for a lunar eclipse because the Moon often looks orange to deep red when totally eclipsed. None of these things, then, is unusual in and of itself, but getting them all to line up on the same day is quite a trick. The last super blue blood moon was 35 years ago (and I bet it wasn’t called that then), and the next won’t happen until 2037.
For the super blue blood moon on January 31, 2018, the penumbral eclipse begins just before 3 a.m., but this is subtle and difficult to spot even with telescopes or binoculars. The real show starts just before 4 a.m., when the darker part of Earth’s shadow, the umbra, begins to work its way across the face of the Moon. The Moon will be totally eclipsed at about 4:51 a.m., and will stay that way until 6:07 a.m. The umbral eclipse will end at 7:11, and the Moon will set about 7:45.
To see it—presuming it’s not cloudy—simply go outside and look west. The Moon will be fairly high in the sky at the start of this, but closer to the horizon towards the end.
Seattle Astronomy’s Greg Scheiderer talked about the eclipse on KING 5 television today with Margaret Larson on the station’s program New Day Northwest; video of the segment is attached below.
My biggest concern about viewing today’s total solar eclipse was that, after doing 14 podcasts and at least 25 blog posts about the event over the last 19 months, it would be underwhelming.
Greg Scheiderer of Seattle Astronomy snapped a selfie while watching the eclipse from Western Oregon University.
I’ve seen Saturn hundreds—thousands?—of times, but I still do a little gasp whenever I get the planet into the field of view of my telescope. There it is! Crank that up about a thousand times, and that’s what I felt when I saw first contact of my very first total solar eclipse from “The Grove” at Western Oregon University in Monmouth, Oregon, and again when the diamond ring went away and the whole campus went dark as if a light switch had been thrown, revealing the Sun’s shimmering white corona for a glorious two minutes.
The intervening hour and 13 minutes (or so) between the onset of the eclipse and totality offered plenty of chances to observe interesting natural phenomena, tricks of light, and human behavior. The university had a number of semi-official viewing spots, on the football stadium and other athletic fields, mostly. But some hundred of us chose The Grove, with nice trees providing shade from the diminishing summer Sun, and also leaving easy access back into the lawn for a view of the progress of the eclipse.
My favorite eclipse watcher, or non-watcher, perhaps, was a young lad of seven or eight who kept stomping off from his family group muttering, “It’s not that impressive.” Some time into the eclipse another kid was heard informing the elders that he needed a bio break. Mom loudly exclaimed, in order to make the point emphatically, that you shouldn’t poop during an eclipse. She soon relented and escorted the kid to the loo, no doubt considering the consequences. Many of the kids in attendance—one of the weekend activities was a camp for children—seemed far more interested in play than in some dumb-ass sky thing the adults wanted to see. Where are the water-powered rockets when you need them?! Other kids were totally along for the ride, watching through their eclipse glasses or goggles and declaring, “It’s awesome.”
Mini eclipses project through oak leaves during the eclipse.
We saw the little mini eclipses projected through the gaps between oak leaves in The Grove. We noticed bright Venus popping out in splendor several minutes—an hour? Time moves at a different pace during an eclipse—before totality. It got considerably cooler. I kept looking west for a glimpse of the Moon’s shadow. I noticed that deep, twilight purple of dusk relatively high in the sky; was that the umbra, above us but not yet reaching ground? I’m not sure. Then—BAM! Just like that it was dark and there was that amazing corona. I’ve since seen social media posts from people who took photos, and the corona looks round in those images. I saw almost wing-like structure reaching out a couple of solar diameters on either side. The eye and the camera see very different things. As a total solar eclipse newbie, I took the advice of many: Don’t try to photograph totality; just watch and enjoy.
I was expecting to see more stars, but they didn’t really appear. I thought I saw Mars, just for a moment or two, but it was pretty close to the Sun, and it might have been a trick of the light. I couldn’t spot Mercury. I really just kept going back to the corona. I can see all of that other stuff most any time. I also didn’t catch any animal behavior. There are a few squirrels on campus, but I didn’t spot any of them going eclipse crazy.
Then, in what seemed like way less than the two minutes we were promised, the Sun came back out from the other side of the Moon. The glasses went back on, for most. Others began to pack up and head on their way. Said one kid: “Can we go play now.” But I can’t help thinking that the “It’s not that impressive” kid will wind up with a Ph.D. in astronomy. Old Sol works in mysterious ways. We stayed and watched as the Moon slowly slipped away, and in another hour the eclipse was really over. The light and warmth came back and everything was as it was, even though everything had changed. I will always remember this amazing natural spectacle, watched from a lawn at Western Oregon University.
I can’t wait for the next one, and already have a great plan for the eclipse of 2024.
Scenes from around Monmouth–Total Solar Eclipse 2017
Seattle Astronomy is in Monmouth, Oregon for the total solar eclipse. As of this writing, just after 1 p.m. on eclipse eve, the weather outlook is highly optimistic for eclipse viewing from Salem and environs. We noted that Cliff Massnamed Salem number one in a Thursday article about eclipse weather, and stuck with that analysis in updates on Friday and Sunday.
We arrived in Monmouth at just after noon on Saturday, August 19, having set out from West Seattle at 8:04 a.m. after breakfast at Luna Park Café. Our goal: get to Salem ahead of the slackers, though it has been suggested that we actually ARE the slackers! Traffic problems were nil on Saturday morning. We took the I-205 route to avoid downtown Portland, and the only traffic delay we encountered on the trip south was a brief slowdown right near the PDX airport.
We’ve seen several reports of clear sailing on the highways from others headed into the path of totality, both here in the I-5 corridor and also in Eastern Oregon. It made us wonder if predictions of eclipse-ageddon traffic were merely ways to discourage the faint of heart from making the trip. This morning we’ve also seen reports that officials are now worried that previous light traffic means a super crush later today and on eclipse morning. We shall see; a big part of the job of “officials” is to worry, and we had some discussion of this in our blog and podcast with Jim Todd of OMSI last year. In any event, we’re here early and enjoying this college town.
We’re in Monmouth because we’re bunking at Western Oregon University. Greg is giving a talk about chasing the Sun at 3 p.m. today, Sunday, at the Wine Country Eclipse event. We’ll also be watching the eclipse there on Monday morning. Our original plan was to be at the OMSI event at Salem Fairgrounds until Orbit Oregon offered us the speaking gig at the festival.
A few local businesses are embracing the eclipse to a degree. Portland-based Breakside Brewery has created Path of Totality IPA, and several pubs in town are carrying the eclipse-themed brew. (We’ve been doing exhaustive research on this.) As we enjoyed a burger and a couple of pints over lunch at Main St. Pub & Eatery in downtown Monmouth, there was just a trickle of foot and vehicle traffic in mid-afternoon.
Monmouth would qualify as a small town at population just over ten thousand. We’ve seen no sign yet that the town and its infrastructure will be over-run with eclipse-watchers, though our wait at breakfast was a bit long this morning and many of the folks at J’s Café were wearing eclipse t-shirts of various designs, a sure mark of a tourist. We probably made the wait a bit longer for locals coming in for their Sunday breakfast! There are definitely more people around that there were on Saturday, but it’s hardly a crunch.
Even Monmouth City Hall is getting into the act; they’re not opening until 1 p.m. on Monday so that everyone can enjoy the eclipse.
We hope you do, too! Tell us about your eclipse destination in the comments!
There are people who have been planning for the August 21 total solar eclipse for 20 years or more. If you’re more of a procrastinator, there are still outstanding opportunities popping up for us ten days ahead of the much-awaited event.
The Big Eclipse Family Weekend will happen August 19–21 at Western Oregon University in Monmouth. In addition to viewing of the eclipse on Monday, August 21, the camp includes lodging and meals, a t-shirt, eclipse glasses, and copies of the book and activity book. The camp is best recommended for kids ages 5–12 and their families, and will include hands-on activities related to eclipses and space science.
Check out the website for tickets and more information.
The other event is a little more adult-oriented. The Wine Country Eclipse is a three-day music and wine festival that will take place at the Polk County Fairgrounds in Rickreall, Oregon. It is a benefit for Solar Oregon, a not-for-profit organization bringing solar energy to the state.
The best news for those in need of lodging is that a festival ticket can include a room at Western Oregon University or tent or RV camping accommodations at the festival site. Check the website for tickets and more information.
Planned activities include:
Live music all three days
A square dance lesson on Saturday
A sing-along to eclipse tunes on Sunday
Wine and spirits tastings
The Totality Tent – a 21-and-over wine garden near the concert stage featuring wine, beer, and special cocktails including Totality Punch, Sungria and Moonaritas
Local artisan fare and crafts for sale
Displays featuring solar and renewable energy
Educational seminars about wine, astronomy, and eclipse photography
That last item is especially exciting because it includes a talk titled “Get Offa My Cloud: Adventures in Seeking a Glimpse of Old Sol,” by Seattle Astronomy’s Greg Scheiderer. You don’t want to miss that!
As with all things eclipse related, tickets for these events are likely to be snapped up quickly, so hurry!