Category Archives: observing

Solar eclipse dispatch from Monmouth–Totality!

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

Greg Scheiderer of Seattle Astronomy snapped a selfie while watching the eclipse from Western Oregon University.

Silly me.

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

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

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Solar eclipse dispatch from Monmouth

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 Mass named Salem number one in a Thursday article about eclipse weather, and stuck with that analysis in updates on Friday and Sunday.

MonmouthWe 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.

Path of Totality IPAWe’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!

 

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Late-breaking eclipse and lodging opportunities in Oregon

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.

Two of these are available from our friends at Orbit Oregon, the Portland-based publisher of The Big Eclipse and The Big Eclipse Activity Book, a great pair of eclipse guides for kids and families. (Check our article and podcast about The Big Eclipse.)

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!

 

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Don’t forget about the Perseid meteor shower

The astronomically growing hullabaloo about this month’s total solar eclipse is threatening to outshine one of our coolest annual celestial events: the Perseid meteor shower. The shower has actually been going on for a couple of weeks now, but will reach its peak this weekend. The best viewing of the shower is expected late Friday evening, August 11 through the wee hours of Saturday morning, and again on Saturday night and into Sunday morning.

Perseids

Image: NASA

The Perseids are so named because they seem to originate from the constellation Perseus. The meteors are specks of material left behind by the comet Swift-Tuttle that burn up as they hit Earth’s atmosphere.

There’s good news and bad news about this year’s Perseids. The good is that it looks like we’ll be going through a particularly dense part of the comet’s debris tail, so we could get more meteors than usual. The bad news is that the waning gibbous Moon will be casting its bright light in the early morning hours, washing out some of the fainter meteors. But even with a bright Moon out, the most robust of the meteors can be spotted, even from city skies.

I’m often asked where to go to see the Perseids. In answer to that, I’ve created a Stargazing Sites page on Seattle Astronomy. The page features maps of stargazing spots in Seattle and around the Northwest. This has been up in “soft launch” mode for a while now, so this is our first public call-out. Check the maps for a site near you, and please feel free to ping me with your own favorites.

The short story for Perseid watching: get as far away from city lights as possible. I first saw them when I was about 12 years old and on a backpacking trip in the dark wilderness near Holden, west of Lake Chelan. The show in pitch-black skies was spectacular. I didn’t know there was such a thing as the Perseids; it was just luck being in the right place at the right time. If you have to stay in the city, find a spot away from street lights for the best prospects.

This article from EarthSky has some useful tips for viewing the Perseids. Good luck!

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Four star parties, three astro club meetings this week

It’s a busy week for local astronomy clubs, which have meetings and star parties galore on the docket as we roll into October.

Astronomy clubs

Olympic Astronomical SocietyOlympic Astronomical Society will hold its monthly meeting at 7:30 p.m. Monday, October 3 in room Art 103 at Olympic College in Bremerton. Presentations will include a look back at the New Horizons mission and a recap of the club’s recent Camp Delaney Star Party.

Tacoma Astronomical Society plans its monthly meeting for 7:30 p.m. Tuesday, October 4 in room 175 on the campus of the University of Puget Sound in Tacoma. Discussion topics had not been posted as of this writing.

The Spokane Astronomical Society will meet at 7:30 p.m. Friday, October 7 in the Planetarium at Spokane Falls Community College. Guest speaker Sukanta Bose, a member of the physics and astronomy faculty at Washington State University, will discuss the first direct detection of gravitational waves, and how the discovery is changing astronomy.

Astronomy night at MOF

MOFThe Museum of Flight will celebrate Astronomy Night as part of its free first Thursday event beginning at 5 p.m. October 6. The evening’s activities will include programs and family activities that tour the galaxies. Local science and astronomy clubs will be on hand to share their knowledge of the heavens and views through their telescopes. Celestial wonders will shine in the museum’s portable planetarium, and NASA JPL Solar System Ambassador Tony Gondola will give a special presentation at 7 pm.

Star parties

There are three star parties on the calendar for this week. The Covington Community Park Star Party is set for Friday, October 7. It’s a cooperative venture between the Boeing Employees Astronomical Society, Seattle Astronomical Society, and Tacoma Astronomical Society. We note a little confusion about the start time, as the SAS website has it at 8 p.m. and BEAS lists 7 p.m.

Tacoma Astronomical Society will hold one of its free public nights at 7:30 p.m. Saturday, October 8 at the Fort Steilacoom campus of Pierce College. The indoor program will be the movie Cosmic Collisions. If the weather cooperates club members will have telescopes out for observing.

The Seattle Astronomical Society’s free public star parties are set for 7 p.m. Saturday, October 8 at two locations: Green Lake in Seattle and Paramount Park in Shoreline. Bad weather cancels these events so watch the club’s website or social media for updates.

Up in the sky

Watch for the Moon near Venus during twilight on Monday and near Saturn on Wednesday evening. This Week’s Sky at a Glance from Sky & Telescope magazine and The Sky This Week from Astronomy have more observing highlights for the week.

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Equinox sunset watch, Tyson visit highlight week’s calendar

A visit from astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson, the final Jacobsen Observatory open house of the year, and a seasonal sunset watch are the highlights of this week’s calendar of astro-events in the Seattle area.

Tyson, director of the Haden Planetarium in New York, narrator of the recent Cosmos television series, author, and host of the StarTalk radio show and podcast, will speak at Seattle’s Paramount Theatre on two nights this week, Wednesday, September 21 and Thursday, September 22, both at 7:30 p.m. Some tickets are still available for both appearances.

Ring in autumn

AlicesAstroInfo-145Join Alice Enevoldsen of Alice’s Astro Info at Solstice Park in West Seattle at 6:30 p.m. Thursday, September 22 to enjoy the first sunset of autumn. The equinox sunset watch will be Enevoldsen’s thirtieth such event, part of her NASA Solar System Ambassador service. The event is free, low-key, and always informative.

TJO wraps its season

Theodor Jacobsen ObservatoryThe final open house of the year is set for 8 p.m. Wednesday, September 21 at the Theodor Jacobsen Observatory on the University of Washington campus in Seattle. The talk for the evening, reservations for which are already all spoken for, will be by student Anya Raj, who has been interning with NRAO-NM over the summer and who has built a dual-dipole radio telescope. Raj will talk about amateur radio astronomy and making your own radio telescope. Volunteers from the Seattle Astronomical Society will be on hand in the observatory dome to conduct tours and, if the sky is clear, offer looks through its vintage telescope.

The popular open house series will be on hiatus for the fall and winter and will resume in April.

Club events

Seattle Astronomical SocietyThe Seattle Astronomical Society will hold its monthly meeting at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday, September 21 in room A102 of the Physics/Astronomy Building on the University of Washington campus in Seattle. Guest speaker Ethan Kruse, a graduate student in astronomy at the UW, will talk about Proxima Centauri b, the exoplanet recently found orbiting our nearest stellar neighbor. Kruse will discuss how much we know about the planet right now, and what we might learn in the coming years.

By way of preview, check our articles about a talk by Kruse at an Astronomy on Tap Seattle event from earlier this year, and about a presentation by Prof. Rory Barnes at Pacific Science Center last month exploring the potential habitability of the planet.

Tacoma Astronomical SocietyThe Tacoma Astronomical Society plans one of its public nights for 9 p.m. Saturday, September 24 at the Fort Steilacoom campus of Pierce College. The indoor presentation will be about the reasons for the seasons as we shift into fall. Weather permitting, club members will have telescopes out for looking at the sky.

Futures file

You can scout out future astronomy events on our calendar. New additions to the calendar this week include:

  • World Space Week events October 4–7 at the UW Planetarium
  • The BP Astro Kids November 12 look at the craters of the Moon

Up in the sky

The ice giants Uranus and Neptune are well-placed for observing this week. The Sky This Week from Astronomy magazine and This Week’s Sky at a Glance from Sky & Telescope offer additional observing highlights for the week.

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Annual Moon viewing festival highlights week’s calendar

The last installment of the Pacific Science Center’s Science Café series and an annual Moon viewing festival are the high points of this week’s astronomy events calendar.

Viewing the Moon

Seattle Japanese GardenThe popular annual Moon Viewing Festival at the Seattle Japanese Garden will be held beginning at 6 p.m. Saturday, September 17 at the garden, which is within the Washington Park Arboretum in Seattle. The evening will include music, a haiku contest, and a traditional Japanese Tea Ceremony. Volunteers from the Seattle Astronomical Society will be on hand with telescopes to offer a great, close-up view of the Moon. Unfortunately, as of this writing the event is sold out.

Farewell to the science café

Pacific Science CenterThe Pacific Science Center is discontinuing its Science Café program after more than ten years at The Swiss Restaurant & Pub in Tacoma, Wilde Rover in Kirkland, and, up until a year or two ago, T.S. McHugh’s in Seattle. The center plans to have many of the same sorts of speakers and topics at its new, onsite Science in the City lectures.

One final astronomy-themed science café remains on the calendar and will be held at The Swiss at 6:30 p.m. Tuesday, September 13Josh Krissansen-Totton of the University of Washington Astrobiology Program and Department of Earth and Space Sciences will give a talk titled “The Search For Life Beyond Earth.” Krissansen-Totton will go beyond the headlines and explore how astronomers and astrobiologists are trying to detect life on exoplanets, and when they’re likely to be successful. Admission is free. Bring questions; there’s always plenty of time for Q-and-A.

OAS meets

Olympic Astronomical SocietyThe Olympic Astronomical Society will hold its monthly meeting at 7:30 p.m. Monday, September 12 in room Art 103 at Olympic College in Bremerton. They plan to make a comet, among other activities.

Futures file

You can scout out future astronomy events on our calendar. New additions this week include:

Up in the sky

September often offers great weather for stargazing as it’s still typically fairly warm in the evenings but the nights are getting longer. This Week’s Sky at a Glance from Sky & Telescope magazine and The Sky This Week from Astronomy have observing highlights for the week.

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