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  1. Yesterday Louise and I played golf. As we started the back nine, I noticed the last quarter Moon high in the western sky. You can see the Moon in the morning sky before sunrise. It will be visible in the morning sky and even in the afternoon for the next few days. As it creeps closer to the Sun, it will be more difficult to find, a smaller crescent in the brightest part of the sky, near the Sun. On Thursday morning the waning crescent Moon will be above and to the right of a bright object in the pre-dawn sky, the planet Venus. Look again on Friday morning and you will be able to gauge how far the Moon travels in it's orbit in one day. The Moon will still be above and right of Venus but much closer on Friday Morning. By Saturday morning, the Moon will be almost directly below Venus. You would have to look very closely on Sunday morning to find the thin waning crescent Moon. Not only will the Moon be just over 1 day's travel in it's orbit from the Sun, you would only be able to see it in the light of dawn if you had a near perfect eastern horizon. Any hills, buildings or trees will block your view. On Monday, eclipse day, if you are in that narrow ribbon where the total eclipse will be seen, you should be able to find Venus to the west of the Sun. Even those seeing a near total eclipse (partial eclipse) may be able to find Venus as the maximum eclipse occurs at their location. If you know where to look, the planet Venus is visible in full daylight if it is far enough from the Sun in the sky. If you can find the Moon during the day on Thursday you may be able to use it as a guide to viewing Venus during full daylight. There will be another planet easily visible during the total eclipse. That planet is the largest of the planets in our solar system, Jupiter. Jupiter is visible in the evening just above the horizon in the western sky. So Jupiter is east of the Sun. During the Eclipse you should see Jupiter east of the eclipsed Sun. Those with a deep partial eclipse may also notice Jupiter to the east of the Sun, not far away. If you are looking for the planets during a partial eclipse. Take off you eclipse glasses, block the sun with your hand, a piece of paper or another object. Be sure to keep the Sun covered as you search the sky near the Sun for Venus and Jupiter. Never look directly at the Sun without eclipse glasses. We are camped on the high plains in Eastern Colorado. Our weather has featured fairly frequent afternoon and evening storms. This has been pretty consistent since we arrived on August 1. Areas where we plan to go had thunderstorms early this morning. The forecast for now seems to be improving for those areas (Casper, WY or Scottsbluff, NE). As eclipse day approaches I'll be watching the weather, on my smart phone and tablet as well as on the weather channels (WEA - The Weather Channel and WN - Weather Now). For the moment, we are planning on a car trip from our current location but if we have to travel further for clear skies we may leave the campground on Saturday or Sunday. Given two days we could roam from western Oregon to eastern Missouri. That is what I want, maximum mobility and the clearest skies I can find. I wish clear skies and good viewing to all.
  2. Look up at the sky tonight or any night in the next few days. The brightest thing in the sky is the Moon. Our Moon will play a key role in the coming total solar eclipse. Between now and the 21st of August, the Moon will move from its current position, slowly closing in on the Sun. On August 21 the Moon will slide between Earth and Sun, casting its shadow on Earth. You can watch this drama starting right now. If you look at the Moon in the next few nights, you will notice that shortly after the Sun disappears below the western horizon you can turn to the eastern horizon to see the Moon rising higher into the sky. Continue to watch every night, you will notice that the Moon is closer to the horizon each night at sunset. Next week if you look for the Moon it won't be in the sky until after sunset. At the same time you will notice that the Moon changes in appearance, becoming fully lighted, full Moon. A few nights later the Moon will begin to darken along one side and you will have to stay up later to see it in the sky. All of this can be quite mysterious until you think about what is happening in three dimensions. At this point the show becomes much more exciting. You will be able to see the Moon in the morning sky before sunrise. Watch carefully each day as the Moon moves closer to where the sunrise is occurring. In the days just before the total solar eclipse, a thin crescent Moon will be poised in the eastern sky above the sunrise point. You will have to look very carefully to find it in the eastern sky on August 19. Few people will be able to find the Moon on the morning of August 20 but if you have been watching you will have a real good idea where it is hiding in the glare of the Sun. On August 21 the invisible Moon will slowly reveal itself as it slides between Sun and Earth. Of course we won't be seeing the familiar Moon we are used to seeing. During the eclipse we will see it's silhouette as it moves between us and the Sun. If you are fortunate enough to be within the ribbon of totality, the Moon will slide across the face of the Sun and for just a few precious seconds the Moon will fit exactly over the Sun. Then just as fast as it moved in front of the Sun it will retreat, slowly exposing the full face of the Sun. Once more, the Moon will become invisible. By the evening of August 23 or 24 you will once again see the Moon in the night sky. When it makes it's reappearance, be sure to give it the applause it deserves. That wonderful total solar eclipse you saw was brought to you by the greatest supporting actor of all time, our Moon. If you watch each night and morning until the eclipse you can also challenge yourself to think in three dimensions about what you are seeing. See if you can keep track of where the three actors in this play are each night. Earth, Sun, Moon in a dance of the centuries. The show never ends. Follow it every night, just as your ancestors did.
  3. In a previous entry I described the total eclipse of the sun which is happening next month, August 21, 2017. Total solar eclipses are rare. How rare? It has been 26 years (July 11, 1991) and that was only seen in only one state, Hawaii. The next solar eclipse for the US will be April 8 2024. This one enters from Mexico into Texas and slices northeastward through New England exiting the US in Maine, continuing on through New Brunswick, and Newfoundland. There have been many partial eclipses, but the difference between a partial eclipse and a total eclipse of the Sun is night and day if you will pardon the obvious. The eclipse next month can be seen from the entire US as a partial eclipse but only those who are in a ribbon that is 71 miles wide at it's widest, will be able to see the total eclipse. That ribbon of totality enters the US near Portland, Oregon and exits on the east coast of South Carolina. If you are exactly in the center of the ribbon of totality, you will get about 2 minutes of darkness before the Sun reappears. Standing near the edge of the ribbon the length of the eclipse could be just a matter of a few seconds before the Sun reappears. It is going to take some planning to see this eclipse. Millions of Americans will flock to that ribbon. They will be joined by many thousands of visitors from all over the world. Now some details. States with larger populations are already issuing travel alerts and making provisions to handle the millions of people who will see the eclipse. States with smaller populations will have fewer locals to deal with but they also are states that have widely spaced roads which will concentrate crowds on the few roads in those states that cross through the ribbon of totality. RV parks, motels and hotels along the ribbon of totality are already sold out in many locations. Those of us with RV's are fortunate, we travel with our motel. I would not plan to take your motor home into the ribbon of totality unless you have already secured a campground. My personal planning is to watch the weather as the eclipse approaches. I'll start watching the weather weeks before the eclipse. I plan to get close to the area with the greatest probability of clear skies with the motor home and then use the toad to get to the clearest skies with the toad. I'll try to be at my chosen observing site by sunrise and will watch the entire eclipse from that location. We'll pack food for the day, liquids and perhaps a celebratory bottle of Champagne. Once totality passes, many people will start for "home." This can create tremendous traffic jams so plan to sit tight and watch the whole show before departing your observing site. Where do you find specific details? I gave several references in my entry several months ago. More are available now as the eclipse approaches. There are good sites that show details of the ribbon of totality so you can position yourself precisely on its center line. Many of the sites have eclipse glasses for sale. These protective glasses, some with aluminized mylar are quite cheap but very effective, are necessary for the partial phases of the eclipse. Once the sun is completely covered the glasses can be put aside and you will be looking at one of natures most spectacular displays. The Moon is the dark spot, silhouetted against the light of the corona of the Sun. You may discern a drop in temperature as totality approaches. Birds will be singing as though it was sunset coming on. Listen during totality, can you hear any birds chirping? At totality, the sky becomes dark enough that planets and bright stars can be seen. Using binoculars (during totality only) you can get a good look at solar prominence which look like small red "flames" rising from the Sun. If we are lucky we may even be able to see other features. Large solar ejections and flares can cause the corona to have strange shapes. Whatever you see, it will be an event you will never forget. Just a few links: The Great American Eclipse - Fantastic traffic and crowd information Eclipse 2017 - Great video of the shadow sweeping across the US NASA - As only NASA can do it. Great images of the Sun. What to look for. A great set of nine regional, detailed maps of the path of totality. How to photograph. Weather prospects. Much more... Space.com - Great detail, how to photograph, what to look for. Each link has it's own special information, most have eclipse glasses for sale, as does Amazon. Order soon, don't be disappointed. Your eyes are way too important to take chances with someone's home-made eclipse viewer. I ordered 50 glasses for less than $1.00 each.
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