Tag Archives: Fred Espenak

Planning for the 2024 total solar eclipse

Last month’s total solar eclipse was the first one I had ever seen. Like many newly minted and experienced umbraphiles alike, I’m already thinking about the next total solar eclipse to cross the United States, which will happen on April 8, 2024. It seems like a long time off, but you don’t want to be like those folks who were frantically looking for eclipse glasses the day before the event!

As I ponder the last two years of planning for 2017, I realize that the advice received in the course of the enterprise was somewhat contradictory. In summary, when preparing for a total solar eclipse, one should plan carefully and well in advance, always have a plan B, and be ready to chuck it all and just wing it in the case of bad weather or other opportunities and circumstances.

Plan ahead

Fred Espenak

Fred Espenak. Photo: Greg Scheiderer.

Our first tutorial in eclipse planning came from Mr. Eclipse himself, Fred Espenak, who spoke at the Seattle Astronomical Society banquet in January 2016. (Here’s our recap of that talk.) Espenak and his weather guru partner, Jay Anderson of Eclipsophile, scouted the entire path of totality for viewing and weather conditions. It was Espenak’s declaration of Madras, Oregon as having the best clear-sky prospects for eclipse day that drove thousands of people to central Oregon. My favorite remark from Espenak from that talk: “On eclipse day you don’t get climate, you get weather.” Oregon had the best odds, many of us rolled the dice on that and came out winners.

Have a plan B

For many eclipse chasers plan B amounts to watching the weather forecast in the days and weeks leading up to the eclipse and, if things look dicey, going somewhere else. Many choose their preferred viewing site based on the ability to get away. That’s one reason that Espenak viewed last month’s eclipse from Casper, Wyoming: the weather prospects there were good, and major highways running east and west along the path of totality meant a good chance to run to find a break in any clouds that might move in. The Astronomical League held its annual convention there, too.


Seattle Astronomy’s Greg Scheiderer with Stephen O’Meara at the Seattle Astronomical Society meeting Aug. 16, 2017.

The week before the eclipse Steven O’Meara, a columnist for Astronomy magazine and an avid eclipse chaser, gave a talk to the Seattle Astronomical Society. He recounted how, as a young child, his mother showed him little eclipses reflected through the holes in their home’s window blinds.

“Partial eclipses have been dear to me ever since I was a child,” O’Meara said. He noted that a thought struck him after a recent similar presentation.

“I realized how wonderful partial eclipses are and how much more fun I have at partial eclipses, because there’s no pressure,” O’Meara said. We think he actually thrives on the pressure though, and he told a number of entertaining stories about last-ditch efforts to beat the clouds and catch at least a glimpse of an elusive eclipse. Some of the more interesting ones involved Pop Tarts and essentially hijacking a boat in Indonesia when it appeared there would be no eclipse viewing on land. He may well be the king of plan B.

My own plan

Writing the Seattle Astronomy blog and producing our podcast was my research and planning for last month’s eclipse. I’ve done 27 posts (including this one) and did 15 podcasts about the eclipse, with the subject of many being the question of why one would choose Stapleton, Nebraska or Nashville for eclipse watching over the other places in the path of totality. I learned a lot about the activities each community had planned, and what else there was to do there once an eclipse was over. With all of that information, I ended up picking Salem, Oregon. I had three reasons: proximity, population, and weather.

cloud chart

Data by NASA/GSFC. Graph courtesy Jay Anderson, Eclipsophile.com

Proximity. I reasoned that, if I lived in the Salem area, I probably would not have gone anywhere else. I’d have gone to a local park, or sat in my own back yard, to watch the eclipse. One short move may have been to get a little closer to the center line. With Salem just a four-hour drive from Seattle, this seemed a sensible option.

Population. At some point in my deliberations, I decided that I preferred a more urban setting to a rural one. It seemed that accommodations, the ability to get around, and access to stuff like food and a porta-potty might be more likely in a setting with more infrastructure.

Weather. Yes, many people would and did laugh about this. Walk up to anyone and tell them that you plan to watch a solar eclipse in western Oregon, and about 80 percent of them will immediately laugh and declare that, “It will rain.”

Looking at Anderson’s chart above of weather along the path of totality revealed a different story, however. While, statistically, the weather in Salem on August 21 of any year isn’t as good as that in Madras, it’s still pretty close, and a far sight better than just about any place east of Missouri. Salem seemed a good bet. When the date arrived and climate turned into weather, it helped that we were in the middle of the driest, clearest summer anyone can remember.

Chuck it

As I asked people along the path if accommodations were available in their town or city, most of them noted that hotels don’t even book for more than a year in advance. In fact, I heard several funny stories about innkeepers befuddled by someone wanting to book a room five years ahead of time! Naturally, when I went online to look for reservations in Salem 13 months prior to the eclipse, everything was completely sold out. Some time later I stumbled across an available motel room in Lebanon, Oregon and snapped up the reservation. I got tickets to OMSI’s eclipse event at the fairgrounds in Salem, and I was ready to go.

Back in December I published a post and podcast interviewing Elaine Cuyler of Orbit Oregon, publisher of the kids’ book The Big Eclipse. Cuyler, a former marketing director for Eola Hills Winery near Salem, was putting together the Wine Country Eclipse festival at the Polk County Fairgrounds. She invited me to speak at the festival, complete with gratis lodging in a residence hall at nearby Western Oregon University in Monmouth. It seemed like a no-brainer, and I jumped at the chance. I cancelled my motel reservation and gladly stayed in the dorms at WOU (pronounced “woo”, according to the staff.)

So, after about 20 months of planning, I ended up doing something that was only finalized about two or three weeks ahead of the eclipse. As noted in my post about eclipse weekend, it couldn’t have worked out better.

Total solar eclipse, 2024

Eclipse map 2024

Map courtesy Michael Zeiler, GreatAmericanEclipse.com

If this year’s was “The Great American Eclipse,” then some are already dubbing the 2024 event “The Great North American Eclipse.” As you can see from the map at left, this one will first hit land in Mexico, swoop up through Texas, cross the path of the 2017 eclipse in Carbondale, Illinois, and zip northeast until it crosses Maine and the maritime provinces of Canada. Thanks to Micheal Zeiler of GreatAmericanEclipse.com for the map; Zeiler was one of our interview subjects, too! Check out our post and podcast.

So, where will you be in April 2024? I’ve been looking at Jay Anderson’s weather maps already, and it seems the best weather prospects will be in Mexico, but I’m leaning toward Texas right now. I’d try to make hotel reservations, but nobody books more than a year in advance. And some cool opportunity might turn up at the last minute.

Gifts for the astronomy and eclipse buff on your list

Turkey day has come and gone, and we’ve started getting a few requests for gift ideas for astronomy enthusiasts. This year, in addition to the usual tips about books, gear, and gadgets, we’ll have a special section devoted to the total solar eclipse that will cross the United States on August 21, 2017.

Our advice doesn’t really change much from year to year. Check last year’s post Gifts for the astronomy enthusiast on your list, Gifts for the astronomy enthusiast from 2014, Picking a gift for the astronomy buff from 2013, and Choosing a gift telescope from 2012. Too busy to scrape around in the past? A few quick tips:

Visit the Seattle Astronomy Store. It’s packed with our favorite gear, books we’ve read from authors we’ve interviewed, cameras, gadgets, and accessories.

The best telescope

Smart-alecky astronomy types always say that the best telescope is the one that gets used. We tend to go with a Dobsonian reflector for outstanding bang for the telescope buck. Our personal model is the eight-inch Orion XT8 classic Dob. It’s nice on planets, super on deep-sky objects, but not so hot for photography, if that’s your thing. Dobsonians are pretty easy to set up and operate. For beginners, a good pair of astronomical binoculars can be a great tool for learning to find your way around the night sky. Get one that is at least 10×50—that’s ten times magnification and 50mm lenses. We have the Orion UltraView. Best yet, for great advice about how to choose the telescope that is right for your personal observing situation and interests, grab a copy of the classic The Backyard Astronomer’s Guide (Firefly Books, 2008) by Terence Dickinson and Alan Dyer. It’s a great reference, offers fantastic advice, and makes a fine gift in and of itself. The guide helped me get started, many moons ago, and I still use it often.

Your local experts

Cloud Break OpticsCloud Break Optics set up shop in Ballard last year, and has a fantastic showroom full of astronomy gear. They have an online store, but why non pop in and do some hands-on shopping and take advantage of their expertise and advice. Check their website for some great holiday deals. Support your local small business!

Eclipse info and swag

Next summer’s total solar eclipse will be the first to touch the continental U.S. since 1979. It’s not too early to start getting ready. That means that eclipse-related items will be welcome for most everyone. Michael Zeiler’s website The Great American Eclipse has an outstanding store through which you can purchase his fantastic eclipse maps and posters, as well as shirts, caps, sun-oculars, and other eclipse items. Get a 10-percent discount through Monday, November 28 using the code SAVE10. (Check out our article and podcast with Zeiler from earlier this year.) Eclipse glasses or viewers would make the perfect stocking stuffer this year; find them at Zeiler’s site or at the Orbit Oregon store.

Orbit Oregon has just published a children’s book called The Big Eclipse, written and illustrated by Nancy Coffelt. It and an accompanying activity book are aimed at kids from ages five to 11. These would be perfect for getting the younger set interested in the eclipse, and in science in general. It’s the only such resource we’ve encountered geared toward kids. There are a number of other books out there. Zeiler penned See the Great American Eclipse of August 21, 2017 (Great American Eclipse LLC, 2016). The book is packed with maps and information about the eclipse. We reviewed these two books earlier this month; watch for our upcoming article and podcast with Orbit Oregon’s Elaine Cuyler. In addition, Mr. Eclipse himself, Fred Espenak, has a number of eclipse books out, including Get Eclipsed: The Complete Guide to the American Eclipse (American Paper Optics, 2015) and several others shown below.

Eclipse posterAuthor, astronomer, artist, and night sky ambassador Tyler Nordgren has designed some fantastic travel posters about the eclipse, from generic nationwide posters to ones specific to some of the interesting viewing sites along the path of totality. You may have seen Nordgren’s travel posters for astronomy in National Parks and for visiting other places in the solar system. The eclipse posters are in a similar style, they’re a steal at $20 each, and they’re suitable for framing. Get them here.

Nordgren is a professor of astronomy at the University of Redlands. He was the keynote speaker at the 2014 annual banquet of the Seattle Astronomical Society.

AstroBox rocks

AstroBoxOur friend Sorin this year started a business called AstroBox; you can read the article we wrote about it in August. AstroBox is a quarterly subscription collection of cool and unique items based on a space theme. The theme for December is New Horizons: Discovering Pluto, and the box includes a cool Pluto t-shirt, a fine art print, an inflatable Pluto globe, mission patches, the AstroBox magazine filled with mission news and activities, and other goodies. Order here and use the coupon code PLUTOSA and you will get a nine-percent discount just for being a friend of Seattle Astronomy! (The coupon is good through November 30.) Plus, in the spirit of giving, for every subscription sold AstroBox will donate $1 to help restore the Pluto Discovery Telescope at Lowell Observatory. The winter AstroBox will ship in early December, so order soon!

More books

Here are a few of our other book picks for this year:

Tyler Nordgren’s new book Sun Moon Earth: The History of Solar Eclipses from Omens of Doom to Einstein and Exoplanets (Basic Books, 2016) is a delightful read. It is part travelog, part primer for the eclipse, but the best part is the history of eclipses and Nordgren’s thoughts about the development of scientific thinking. We’ve just finished it; watch for our full review soon. Nordgren will speak at Town Hall Seattle on January 14, 2017. Tickets are available online now.

Scientist Amanda Hendrix and writer Charles Wohlforth have surveyed the solar system in search of the best place for a human colony away from Earth. Their conclusion: Titan, the largest moon of Saturn, is the place to go if we have to leave the home planet. Titan has an atmosphere, suitable shielding from radiation, near limitless, cheap energy, and Earth-like features that the authors say makes it the best bet for colonization. They explain their choice in their book Beyond Earth: Our Path to a New Home in the Planets (Pantheon, 2016). It explores the economics and ethics of a move off-planet as well. The pair spoke about Beyond Earth at Town Hall recently; check our recap.

Another author paid a visit to Town Hall this year; astronaut Chris Hadfield spoke about his book The Darkest Dark (Little, Brown Books for Young Readers, 2016), a volume aimed at children trying to overcome their fears. Hadfield himself was afraid off the dark as a little kid, which could have been detrimental to a career as an astronaut had he not overcome it. Hadfield is a most engaging and entertaining speaker. Our recap of Hadfield’s talk includes a link to a music video he created in support of the book.

Julian Guthrie penned How to Make a Spaceship: A Band of Renegades, an Epic Race, and the Birth of Private Spaceflight (Penguin Press, 2016), a book about the SpaceShipOne project that won the XPRIZE competition. The tale is an interesting one about the renegades and entrepreneurs who dreamed of getting to space without the help of the government. The book includes a preface by Richard Branson and an afterword by Stephen Hawking. It’s a thrilling tale of adventure and new space.

Happy astro-shopping!

Purchases made through links on Seattle Astronomy support our efforts to bring you interesting space and astronomy stories, and we thank you.

Mapping the 2017 total solar eclipse with Michael Zeiler

If you’ve been thinking about where to go to see the total solar eclipse that will cross the United States on August 21, 2017, you have more than likely come across the work of Michael Zeiler. Zeiler is the proprietor of the website Great American Eclipse.com. He has been an astronomy nut and eclipse chaser for many years, but just started making solar eclipse maps a few years ago.

Zeiler saw his first total solar eclipse from Baja, California in 1991 and was smitten.

Michael Zeiler

Michael Zeiler is the proprietor of the websites GreatAmericanEclipse.com and Eclipse-Maps.com. Photo: Eclipse-Maps.com

“It just was an amazing experience to see the eclipse hanging high in the sky with the blackest black you could see where the Moon is, and the shimmering corona, the most beautiful object in the sky that you never see in your life except for the few precious moments of totality,” Zeiler said.

“I was hooked from that point on,” he added.

Zeiler has used Fred Espenak’s eclipse maps ever since. In fact, back in 1991 he’d just purchased Espenak’s book Fifty Year Canon of Solar Eclipses, and noted the date of the 2017 eclipse 26 years in advance!

Making eclipse maps

Zeiler practically fell into the business of making eclipse maps back in 2009. He booked passage on a ship for a total solar eclipse in the Pacific Ocean in July of that year. The cruise advertised that it would sail to the point of greatest eclipse. He found that Espenak’s map didn’t have a key piece of information that he needed to know if that was true.

“For a land-based eclipse, it’s straightforward, because you see the road network, you see the cities and the roads and the other geographic features so that you can place yourself on the map,” Zeiler said. “But for an eclipse at sea, there’s no real geographic reference around you, so if you have a GPS receiver, what you really need is lines of latitude and longitude drawn on the map.”

gaeclipseZeiler, who works for the geographic information system software company Esri, decided to create it himself.

“I had the interest and the skill set so I made my own maps for this cruise,” he said. “I made a large map, laminated it, brought it on board the ship, taped it on one of the walls, and over a thousand eclipse chasers were on that cruise. That map was a smash hit.”

People encouraged him to make more, so he launched the website Eclipse-Maps.com late in 2009. The site became pretty popular. On May 20, 2012, the date of an annular solar eclipse visible from the American southwest, the site had a quarter million unique visitors and one million page views.

“I was stunned by that,” Zeiler said. “I didn’t expect that kind of response.”

It was at that moment that it struck him that the 2017 total solar eclipse was going to be huge. He snagged the URL GreatAmericanEclipse.com the very next day, launched the site, and has been working on it ever since.

“We constantly get emails or phone calls from people who are just jazzed about the eclipse and excited and wanting to learn more,” Zeiler said. “It’s a real thrill to participate in that.”

Vintage eclipse maps

Zeiler is a collector of vintage solar eclipse maps, and has images of some of them on the Eclipse-Maps website. His favorite era for eclipse mapping is the early 18th century, when the maps were not only gorgeous but amazingly accurate.

Casper eclipse map

Casper, Wyoming eclipse map courtesy GreatAmericanEclipse.com

“One of my key goals in making eclipse maps is to bring the artistry back into eclipse cartography, so I intentionally try and make the maps expressive, communicative, and just beautiful things to look at,” he said.

The man who has mapped the entirety of the 2017 total solar eclipse is headed to Casper, Wyoming as the starting point for his eclipse chase next summer. Zeiler said he considers three factors in making that decision: weather, mobility, and duration of the eclipse. He said the climate in Casper is good, and there are highways running east and west of town that pretty much hug the eclipse center line.

“All experienced eclipse chasers that I know are headed west for the weather, and we’re sacrificing ten or twenty seconds of maximum eclipse to get the great weather odds,” he said. The Astronomical League has chosen Casper for its annual conference in August for the same reasons. Catch our previous article and podcast about eclipse viewing in Casper.

Get eclipse stuff

GreatAmericanEclipse.com includes tons of information, maps, and a history of solar eclipses, plus a great selection of eclipse swag. You can buy your eclipse glasses there. Zeiler has also written a 44-page book, See the Great American Eclipse of August 21, 2017, that aims to answer all the questions people might have about the eclipse. The book includes two pairs of eclipse glasses.

Zeiler does it all with excitement about sharing the eclipse with people.

“This will be the most fantastic astronomy event in decades for this country,” he said. “It’s going to create a new generation of people that appreciate the beauty and the majesty and the science of our universe, and many people will become newly formed eclipse chasers.”


Podcast of our conversation with Michael Zeiler:

Astronomical League headed for Casper for 2017 total solar eclipse

Casper, Wyoming promises to be a major destination for total solar eclipse watchers in August 2017. The weather prospects are good enough there that the Astronomical League decided several years ago to hold its annual convention, the ALCon, in Casper during the days leading up to the eclipse.

AstroCon2017“Downtown Casper is right on the centerline,” of the path of totality said John Goss, president of the Astronomical League. “Plus Casper does have some amenities.”

The league considered places like eastern Oregon, but found the smaller towns along the eclipse path didn’t really have accommodations to support a large gathering such as the ALCon. It will be a tight fit in Casper, a city of just more than 55,000 population.

“There are only so many hotels in the Casper area and the Astronomical League has special rates set up with three of them,” Goss said. Those rooms are all reserved, and the league continues to work to secure convention rates at more Casper hotels.

Mr. Eclipse himself, Fred Espenak, will be the keynote speaker at the 2017 ALCon (see our article about his Seattle talk earlier this year). However the event won’t be entirely devoted to the total solar eclipse.

“We have room or slots for about 25 people to speak, so we’re going to have a wide range of topics that they’re going to cover,” Goss said. “The eclipse is a big deal, but that also means that it’s a dark-sky time for the month since the Moon is in the daytime. We want to make sure that people get some chances to go outside in the evening and get some observing done.”

Casper is at over 5,000 feet in elevation, and, given good weather, observing at night promises to be excellent.

“This is one ALCON in which we expect to have a big attendance, and it will be a lot of fun, too,” Goss said. He noted that Astronomical League people have visited Casper several times to meet with city officials.

Wyoming Eclipse Festival“Two years ago they were not knowledgeable at all about the eclipse,” he said. “They know about it now, and the whole town is planning for the big event.” The Wyoming Eclipse Festival will be held at the same time as the ALCon and will include camping, observing locations, and a variety of other activities.

Goss pointed out that while the total solar eclipse will follow a path across the country that is just 70 miles wide, the entire nation will be able to see a partial eclipse. It’s not the same, but it’s still a big deal, and one effort of the Astronomical League is to create materials for its member associations that are outside the path of totality to use in their outreach.

This year’s ALCon

With the growing anticipation about the total solar eclipse it is easy to look so far ahead as to miss what is right in front of you. The ALCon this year will be held August 10-13, 2016 in Arlington, Virginia. The keynoter will be NASA Administrator Charles Bolden.

John Goss

John Goss. Astronomical League photo.

“He is the top guy at NASA,” Goss said. “He’s the guy who reports to the president, he’s the guy who you want to speak to if you want to hear about the future of America’s space exploration and the future of NASA.”

Other scheduled activities include a behind-the-scenes look at the Goddard Space Flight Center and visits to the Smithsonian. Goss is especially excited for a tour of the U.S. Naval Observatory.

“You have to have an ‘in’ to be able to go in and see this place,” he said. “It’s full of history.”

About the Astronomical League

The Astronomical League is an umbrella organization of more than 240 astronomical societies across the United States. Membership has been growing and is currently at about 16,500, according to Goss. That’s down from a peak of about 17,500 in 2004 when they lost some members after a dues increase.

“What really got us was the beginning of the so-called great recession, and people were just cutting back all the way around,” Goss said. “That hurt us, but we’re coming back into it. I feel pretty good about it.”

Goss himself is an avid amateur astronomer and lived in western Washington at the time of the last total solar eclipse to hit the U.S. He watched the 1979 event from Yakima.

“It’s a great hobby,” Goss said of astronomy. “We want to emphasize to our members that they should get out and do some observing and enjoy the night sky.”

Podcast of our interview with John Goss:

Mr. Eclipse says west may be best for 2017 total solar eclipse

Fred Espenak has earned the moniker “Mr. Eclipse” though almost 46 years of observing, predicting, and chronicling solar and lunar eclipses. Espenak spoke about The Great American Total Solar Eclipse, which will cross the United States in August 2017, during his keynote talk Saturday, Jan. 30 at the annual banquet of the Seattle Astronomical Society.

Fred Espenak

Fred Espenak, known as “Mr. Eclipse,” gave tips during a talk at the annual banquet of the Seattle Astronomical Society for viewing the August 2017 total solar eclipse. Photo: Greg Scheiderer.

Espenak retired in 2009 after a long career as the head eclipse guy at NASA, where he maintained the agency’s eclipse information pages. His photography of eclipses has appeared in numerous magazines, and he’s often tapped by the news media to provide expert commentary about eclipses. He’s had a hand in several books about the topic.

Espenak was bitten by the eclipse bug when he was in high school. He had just gotten his driver’s license and went on a 600-mile road trip to watch and photograph a total solar eclipse from Windsor, North Carolina in March 1970.

“I was overwhelmed by the experience,” Espenak said. “It was like nothing I had read in the books. The spectacle of totality just cannot easily be conveyed through books, through writing, through photographs, through video.”

The total solar eclipse that will happen on August 21, 2017 will be the first one visible from the continental United States since 1979. We’re lucky to live in the Northwest because some of the best odds for clear weather for the event are close by. That’s not the sort of sentence we write often on Seattle Astronomy.

Madras in August

“In Madras, Oregon the prospects there are 35 percent [cloudiness] from satellite data and 24 percent probability of clouds from the nearest airport,” Espenak said. “Madras is favored with probably the best long-term climate along the entire eclipse path, and that’s why a lot of people are heading in that area.”

Madras is about 45 miles north of Bend in central Oregon.

Espenak and eclipsing partner Jay Anderson have done some exhaustive analysis of the 2,500-mile path the total eclipse will take across twelve states from Lincoln City, Oregon to Charleston, South Carolina. Anderson crunched weather data from satellite photos and airport reports and found that, in general, our chances are better out west. The midwest is prone to thunderstorms in the summer and the east coast can get clouds because of moist air from the Gulf of Mexico and the Atlantic. But Espenak cautions about relying too heavily on history.

Where to see the eclipse

“I can’t tell you the magic place where the best weather is going to be,” he said. “All of these statistics that Jay has concocted and derived are based on climate and 20-year studies.”

“On eclipse day you don’t get climate, you get weather,” Espenak added. While he has no magic spot, Espenak plans to start his personal pursuit of the 2017 eclipse in Casper, Wyoming, which is near the center of the eclipse path and has pretty good weather prospects.

“Casper is the location where the Astronomical League will hold its 2017 annual conference, and of course that’s going to bring a lot of eclipse chasers there,” Espenak explained. “That’s also what will bring me there, the conference. But I’m not saying I’m necessarily going to watch the eclipse from Casper, because it depends on what the two-day weather forecast is before eclipse day. If the weather looks good, I’ll stay there. If not, I’m prepared to run.”

That is Espenak’s most important piece of advice. As with real estate, when it comes to total solar eclipses, location is everything.

“Mobility, mobility, mobility is the key to seeing the eclipse, especially in this day and age with the wonderful weather forecasts you can get 24 to 48 hours in advance,” he said. “The biggest thing to keep in mind is if some large frontal system is moving across the United States, because that’s going to be the exception to the rule that throws these weather statistics out the window. That’s what’s going to change everything. If there’s a big front coming through, you want to look at the forecasts and make sure that you are on the dry side and clear side of that front at your location on eclipse day.”

That might mean you have to drive hundreds of miles to get a view of the Sun on eclipse day. Espenak said just do it if you have to.

“It’s worth it to see the total eclipse,” he said. “It’s the most spectacular thing you will probably ever see with the naked eye.”

Don’t miss this eclipse

After a long drought, it’s interesting to note that another total solar eclipse will be visible from the United States in 2024. But Espenak cautioned that this is no reason to bail on next year’s event because of a cloud or two.

“You really need to take every opportunity, becuase you never know what hand you’re going to be dealt in terms of weather,” he said, noting that, even with all of the data available and his experience chasing eclipses, about a quarter to a third of the time the weather leads to disappointment.

“It’s just a fact of the game,” he said.

More resources

Books by Fred Espenak

SAS banquet Saturday, Leavitt play opens this week

An appearance by “Mr. Eclipse” and the opening of a play about noted astronomer Henrietta Leavitt highlight the events on this week’s Seattle Astronomy calendar.

SAS banquet

EspenakThe Seattle Astronomical Society will hold its annual banquet on Saturday, Jan. 30 at the Swedish Club on Dexter Avenue in Seattle. The keynote speaker for the event will be Fred Espenak, known as “Mr. Eclipse” for his long career tracking, viewing, and writing histories of eclipses. Espenak will speak about preparing to view the Great American Solar Eclipse, the total solar eclipse coming up in August 2017 that will be the first visible from the lower-48 since 1979.

Tickets for the banquet are sold out. Check our preview of the event from earlier this month.

Silent Sky opens at Taproot

FB_Silent_Sky_banner_lowline_700x259Silent Sky, the true story of the work of American astronomer Henrietta Leavitt, will have its Northwest premiere when it opens Wednesday at Taproot Theatre in Greenwood.

The play, written by Lauren Gunderson and directed by Karen Lund, will run through Feb. 27. Leavitt discovered the relationship between the luminosity and the period of Cepheid variable stars. Her work at Harvard College Observatory received little attention during her lifetime, which spanned 1868–1921, but her discovery was the key to our ability to accurately determine the distances to faraway galaxies.

Remembering fallen astronauts

It’s hard to believe that Thursday marks the 30th anniversary of the explosion of the space shuttle Challenger that killed seven astronauts. Oddly enough, all three U.S. space disasters happened about this time of year. This Apollo I fire killed three astronauts on Jan. 27, 1967, and the shuttle Columbia was destroyed on re-entry on Feb. 1, 2003. The Museum of Flight pays tribute to the fallen fliers with its annual astronaut remembrance weekend this Saturday, Jan. 30.

The museum plans displays and video looking back at the events. NASA JPL solar system ambassador Ron Hobbs and Museum of Flight Challenger Learning Center coordinator Tony Gondola will give a presentation at 2 p.m. Saturday remembering the astronauts who paid the ultimate price in the line of duty.

Ready, Jet, Go!

Ready, Jet, Go!The Pierce College Science Dome and KBTC public television team up Sunday, Jan. 31 for a special event to launch the new PBS KIDS astronomy show Ready, Jet, Go! The event runs from 10 a.m. until 1:30 p.m. and includes hands-on science activities and screenings of the program at 10 a.m. and noon in the planetarium.

TAS public night

taslogoThe Tacoma Astronomical Society will hold one of its public nights at 7:30 p.m. Saturday, Jan. 30 at the Fort Steilacoom campus of Pierce College. The planned program will be about Apollo missions to the Moon. Club members will be on hand with telescopes for observing, weather permitting.

Up in the sky

The Moon passes near the star Regulus in the constellation Leo on Monday, Jan. 25 and flirts with Jupiter on Wednesday evening. The Sky This Week from Astronomy magazine and This Week’s Sky at a Glance from Sky & Telescope have other observing highlights for the week.

Mr. Eclipse to keynote SAS banquet

People around the U.S. are already gearing up for what many agree is the coolest of astronomical events: a total eclipse of the Sun. The one that will happen on Aug. 21, 2017 will be the first since 1979 that will be visible from the lower 48 in the United States. Fred Espenak, known as “Mr. Eclipse,” will give a detailed preview of the eclipse at the annual banquet of the Seattle Astronomical Society at 5 p.m. Saturday, Jan. 30, 2016 at the Swedish Club on Dexter Avenue North in Seattle.


Fred Espenak

If you want to know about solar eclipses, Espenak is the guy to ask. A retired NASA astrophysicist, he has seen 26 of them since his first in March of 1970, and he’s arguably the authority on the history of solar eclipses. He’s had a hand in writing The Fifty Year Canon of Solar Eclipses, 1986-2035 (Sky Pub Corp, 1987) and the Thousand Year Canon of Solar Eclipses 1501 to 2500 (Astropixels, 2014). He has contributed to three books about the upcoming 2017 event: a 2017 Eclipse Bulletin (Astropixels, 2015), Road Atlas for the Total Solar Eclipse of 2017 (Astropixels, 2015), and TOTAL Eclipse Or Bust!: A Family Road Trip (Astropixels, 2015). These last three have been recognized as hot products for 2016 by Sky & Telescope magazine. As you may have guessed, Espenak is the proprietor of Astropixels Publishing, too.

Reservations for the banquet are $45 and are available now to Seattle Astronomical Society members. Tickets for non-members will be available beginning Monday, Jan. 11 at $60. But why not join today, get the member price, save a few bucks now, and enjoy the other member benefits of SAS?

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