Thursday, May 24, 2012

annular solar eclipse

I posted recently about the upcoming astronomical events visible in North America. The super-moon earlier this month was gorgeous, although I heard that clouds blocked the view in a lot of the country. But the big event for May was the Annular Solar Eclipse on May 20.

I was supposed to be driving to Wyoming on that Sunday evening, to start a new job on a ranch (more on that later), but decided to detour through Albuquerque, New Mexico, which was right in the path of the eclipse. It added four hours and a few hundred miles to the journey, but the end result was a view that couldn't be beat.

My dad was traveling with me, and we decided to go up to the top of Sandia Peak, 10,000 feet above sea level, to watch the setting sun as it was eclipsed by the moon. A few hundred people joined us, and it was a small (very nerdy) party on the mountain top.

looking up at the sky

the show starts. the complete eclipse will be several hours, but we're all just waiting for the four minutes in the middle

getting closer, the moon now looks like an upside-down crescent moon

totality. stunning. the crowd literally went wild... or as wild as a bunch of astronomy nerds can get.

the sun started getting closer to the horizon, so it was bigger and redder, even through the eclipse glasses.

the sun started to sink below the horizon, still in the middle of the eclipse, and the show was over as the temperature dropped on the mountainside.

I'm currently on a ranch outside of Dubois, Wyoming, where I'll be working the summer (and maybe riding a bit!). Next up: road trip to Wyoming, and then a post about the ranch itself... with horses!

Thursday, May 3, 2012

upcoming astronomical events!

As an amateur astronomy geek, I love hearing about upcoming meteor showers, eclipses, and other astronomical events... and there are some really amazing events coming up in the next month!

First up, on May 5: The biggest full moon of the year will occur this weekend! Also known as a "supermoon", this is the time when the moon is at its perigee (when it's the closest to the earth in its elliptical orbit), and also when it's full. What this means is that the moon is going to be bigger and brighter than average, and may give some spectacular views as it's rising!

the march 2011 supermoon as seen in washington (credit: tim mccord @

On May 20, an Annular Solar Eclipse (when a ring of sunlight will be visible around the eclipsing moon) will be visible for China and the Western US, although those in Northern California will have the best view. NASA has an interactive map, which allows you to view eclipse times in your location. The next full solar eclipse visible in the US won't be until 2017!

an example of an annular eclipse (credit: NOAA/SEC)

And finally, saving the best for last, on June 5 in the US (or June 6 on the other side of the world), a very special event: the Transit of Venus! This is the last time this will happen in our lifetimes, so it's a definite can't-miss event. A Transit of Venus occurs when "Venus passes directly between earth and the sun" and "we see the distant planet as a small dot gliding slowly across the face of the sun". The last Transit was in 2004, but the next one won't be until 2117.

the 2004 transit of venus, seen in grand rapids, mi (credit:

And finally, a reminder:


Companies like Rainbow Symphony sell affordable Eclipse Shades (starting at under $1/pair), and these will mean all the difference between going blind or not!