The Transylvania Times -

Mountain Skies: Monday's Great American Eclipse!

 

August 14, 2017



The Stars And Moon

There is really only one star to write about this month. That is, of course, the sun which this coming Monday will disappear from our daytime sky for up to 2 minutes 40.2 seconds depending on where we are located to observe it. I am, of course, talking about the Great American Solar Eclipse, a.k.a. the eclipse of a lifetime. Most of Transylvania County will be within the path of totality. For circumstances for various locations as determined by the U.S. Naval Observatory visit their website at http://aa.usno.navy.mil/data/docs/Eclipse2017.php#index. For other locations, use NASA’s interactive map at https://eclipse2017.nasa.gov/sites/default/files/interactive_map/index.html.

Please note that for all times before and after totality, viewers must use caution to protect their eyes from the intense light of the unfiltered sun. Eclipse glasses have been readily available throughout the county for months now. If you do not have yours, please be sure to obtain them prior to this momentous event. Waynesville and Asheville are outside the path of totality. Therefore, eclipse glasses must be worn the entire time!

The Stars And Planets During The Eclipse

Our sky map with this column is a bit unusual since it illustrates, not our evening sky, but what we might see during the totality phase of Monday’s solar eclipse. First of all, while the sight of the totally eclipsed sun will be spectacular, the sky will not be totally dark. The corona of the sun will display some light and around the horizon will be a 360° band of light similar to a continuous sunset or sunrise. Obviously, the weather conditions, i.e., haze, high cirrus or complete overcast (bah!), will play a part. But let’s assume ideal circumstances.

On either side of the sun the two brightest planets will be visible. To the west will be the brilliant planet Venus and Jupiter will be to the east. I’ll stick my neck out and say we should have no problems spotting these two planets. Closer in to the eclipsed sun is Mars to the west and Mercury to the east. I’m hoping we will be able to spot them too, but they are nowhere near as bright as Venus and Jupiter.

Of the brighter stars, Pollux and Castor, the Gemini twins, will lie above Venus. Use Venus as a guide to try to spot these two. Similarly, use Jupiter to see if you can find Spica in Virgo below and to the giant planet’s left. Next, things get a bit tricky; Procyon, known as “the pup,” may be spotted below Venus while Arcturus in Boötes will be above Jupiter.

Finally, if we’ve been successful so far, let’s see if we can find Leo, the lion. First, we’ve got a problem; Regulus, the heart of the lion and the brightest star in that constellation, is a mere 1° to the left of the eclipsed sun. I would be very surprised to see this star embedded in the glow of the sun’s corona, but I’ll certainly look for it there. However, we might spot Denebola, the tail of the lion, off to the east. There you have it. I will be at PARI searching for these planets and stars for our entire 1 minute 47 seconds of totality. Here’s hoping you don’t miss the eclipse of a lifetime; play it safe and wear those eclipse glasses at all times except during totality!

Celestial Calendar

Aug. 21, 2:30 p.m. EDT - New moon. Total solar eclipse!

Aug. 29, 4:13 a.m. EDT - First quarter moon.

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(PARI is a public not-for-profit public organization established in 1998. Located in the Pisgah National Forest, PARI offers STEM educational programs.

For more information about PARI and its programs, visit http://www.pari.edu.)

 
 

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