THE SCIENCE AND SPARSITY OF SOLAR ECLIPSES

by William J. Bechaver

Thanks for all the feedback and great questions about solar eclipses.

Solar eclipses are such a rare phenomena, they seem to elicit much curiosity and many questions. But most people go their entire lives without seeing one, unless they travel to where one is predicted.

The last one in our part of Southern Colorado happened way back in July of 1878. The next one here won’t occur until August of 2045, so you can go several lifetimes without having an eclipse in your area.

But in reality, solar eclipses occur frequently, and all over the globe. Besides the one last month in South America, in December this year, there will be another in Asia and Australia.

The one in December won’t be a proper total solar eclipse. It is designated as an Annular Solar Eclipse.

An annular eclipse occurs when the Moon is too far away from Earth to blot out the entire Sun. As we know, the distance to the Moon varies due to its elliptical orbit around the Earth. Sometimes it is closer, and appears larger, and sometimes further and smaller.

When a total solar eclipse occurs when the Moon is too far away to cover the entire disc of the Sun, it leaves a bright ring of sunlight around the Moon, not allowing for a proper total eclipse. These special eclipses resemble a ring of fire, and are deemed annular eclipses.

I have witnessed two such annular eclipses in the past, in 1994 from Amarillo, Texas, and in 2012 from Las Vegas, New Mexico.

Just as a total eclipse, you have to be in the right path to witness the most total phase of an annular eclipse, and one usually has to travel to where they are happening.

But the next total solar eclipses seem to be of the greatest interest to people.

The next will occur again in South America, across a very narrow part of the continent, and mostly in the South Pacific Ocean, on 14 December 2020.

For the next one closer to home, you will have to wait until 8 April 2024. That one will cross from Mexico into part of Texas, Oklahoma, and Arkansas, before continuing up into the northeast, and that’s the closest it will come to us.

But if you just want to sit tight at home, and wait for the next total solar eclipse, you will have a long wait. The next one in southern Colorado won’t occur until 12 August 2045. Northern New Mexico doesn’t even have one on the schedule through the end of this century, though they are expecting another annular one in 2077.

So, if you want to see a total solar eclipse, the chances are you are going to have to travel a little bit to witness it. I’ve seen two, The Great American Eclipse in 2017, from Atchison, Kansas, and the one in Chile earlier this month, from El Chañar. Both were spectacular, and both were worth the effort to see them.

And just to clarify, a Lunar Eclipse is when the Earth passes between the Sun and Moon, casting its shadow upon the lunar surface. During a lunar eclipse, a far greater number of people can see it, because it is a shadow on the moon, therefore, if you are somewhere you can see the Moon during the event, you can see the lunar eclipse, at least in part.

And for something to see this week, go out any or every night for the next week for a look at the Southern Delta Aquariid meteor shower.

Never heard of the Southern Delta Aquariid meteors? That’s not surprising. It is usually one of our more minor summertime showers. As its name indicates, it is further south, like the other Aquariid shower we watched in May. But this year, it promises to be a little better than usual.

The best time for these meteors is in the early morning hours, when Aquarius, from whence the meteors appear to originate, rises high in the southern sky. It reaches its peak in the south between three and four in the morning of Tuesday 30 July. The peak happens to fall near the night of the new moon, which means there will be absolutely no moonlight to interfer with the viewing of the meteors.

A meteor shower occurs when the Earth passes through a debris field, usually left behind by a passing comet. When Earth passes through the icy particles and remnants, they burn up in our atmosphere, creating the bright streaks of the meteors.

The point of impact of these particular meteors is further south, usually not making it a great show in the northern hemisphere. But this year, with the Moon out of the way during the peak, you should be able to see about twenty impacts an hour, or nearly one every three minutes, on average.

This meteor shower also has one of the longest peak periods, so you have a good chance of seeing at least one, almost any night during the next week or so, while we have generally moonless night skies.

Remember, meteors are not regular, so you may see several in close succession, then wait several minutes before seeing any. So, go out, get comfortable, every evening this week, and try to catch a rare glimpse of a southern visitor.

Thanks for all the positive feedback about our featured columns, and your continued interest in astronomy. If you have any questions or article requests, contact us at spacescape@rocketmail.com, or follow us on Twitter @ColoSpacEScapE for updates and additional viewing opportunities.
________________
• · William J. Bechaver is the director of SPACE • Spanish Peaks Amateur Cosmos Enthusiasts, the premier Astronomical Society for Southern Colorado and Northern New Mexico.

This month’s Total Solar Eclipse as viewed from El Chañar, in Rio Hurtado, Chile.

8 DAYS IN 1969

by William J. Bechaver

It is no secret, this week we will celebrate the 50th Anniversary of the Apollo 11 mission, the NASA mission that first landed Americans on the Moon.

The scientist in me loves the Apollo Program. I fondly look back at those times of human space exploration with admiration of what we were accomplishing, the risks we were taking, and the scientific advancements we were undertaking. Human lives were on the line in the name of exploration, on the grandest of scales. I was but a youngster when we went to the Moon, and I faintly remember the end of the program that took us there, but the impact it made on me, and the pride it brought to America, has never faded. The fact remains that, after a full fifty years, we are still the only nation to put man on The Moon.

The historian in me decided to look back, and see how we locally dealt with the big day, when Neil Armstrong first walked on The Moon.

Some things never change. Then, as now, The Huerfano World was a weekly newspaper, released on Thursdays. Armstrong and Aldrin walked on the moon on Sunday evening. By the time our local newspaper came out that week, the moon landing was old news. There was no one unaware that it had happened.

By the time the next issue of our paper came out, on July 24th, the astronauts were already on their way home. And the upcoming conclusion of the successful mission was featured on the front page.

It read, in part, “ON SUNDAY, JULY 20, 1969 at 2:17 p.m. MDT, the United States established Tranquility Base on the surface of the earth’s satellite–the moon.” It went on to announce, “Splashdown in the Pacific of the astronauts is today (Thursday) at 12:15 p.m. EDT.”

Also featured were two photographs, one taken from a fuzzy television screen, and one from NASA, and a reproduction of the plaque the astronauts left on the Moon.

So, though there was no mention of the launch in the issue the week before, our local paper covered the highlights of the most important exploration mission in human history, and announced the triumphant conclusion.

Elsewhere in the paper, more commercial and comical references were made to Apollo.

One announced, “We reached for the Moon…and grasped it, in the most thrilling achievement of man yet known. For centuries man has dreamed of landing on the moon and now that dream is a reality. Today he stands upon the lunar surface, awed by the universe and exalted by the thought of what he has achieved and will continue to achieve in years to come. Will your youngster be one of the few of his class who will go into future Aerospace programs? Start saving for their future education. Open an account today! Your money earns more interest at First National. 4% Paid on Saving Accounts. 5% Paid on Certificates. Insured up to $15,000 by F.D.I.C.”

But the most endearing sign of the times, I think, came in the form of a restaurant advertisement, which shows the impact Apollo had on small-town America. The advertisment announced, “Moon Day at the Rambler Cafe and Lounge, Sunday, July 27. All you can eat for $1.75. Smorgasbord. 10 different kinds of Salad including “Moon” Salad. 4 Kinds of meat, “Moon” potatoes, “Moon” rolls. Children under 10 – Half Price 88¢. Free balloons and bubblegum for the children.”

So this week, go out on the evening of Saturday 20 July, just before 11 o’clock, the Moon will rise in our area, and reflect on the sacrifice of fifty years ago, and the achievements of Apollo. Contemplate, fifty years ago, men were actually up there. It was a monumental achievement to remain unsurpassed in human exploration, even today. It was indeed, “One small step for a man. One giant leap for mankind.”

Then, think with fondness of those days-gone-by, of a simpler time, when man walked on the surface of the Moon, and inspired people everywhere, to strive for the peaceful and brighter future we now enjoy.

Thanks for all the positive feedback about our featured columns, and your continued interest in astronomy. If you have any questions or article requests, contact us at spacescape@rocketmail.com, or follow us on Twitter @ColoSpacEScapE for updates and additional viewing opportunities.

________________

• · William J. Bechaver is the director of SPACE • Spanish Peaks Amateur Cosmos Enthusiasts, the premier Astronomical Society for Southern Colorado and Northern New Mexico.

THE GRANDSTANDING MOON

by William J. Bechaver

Fresh off the total solar eclipse earlier this month, this week, on 16 July, the Moon makes another grand appearance, as it is involved in a partial lunar eclipse.

Lunar eclipses are more widely seen than are solar eclipses, but this one manages to evade us also, being seen, at least in part, by the entire globe, except for people in North America and northeastern Asia.

But fret not. The Moon will have something to offer us, also. With Saturn nearly to opposition, the almost full Moon will encounter the ringed planet in our night sky.

Being at opposition means that Saturn is as close as it will be to Earth this year. It is opposite the Sun in the sky, since we are both on the same side of the solar system. But Saturn is so distant, even at its closest, it is an amazing 840 million miles distant. So distant and dim, not nearly as bright as Jupiter, it will ease to discern by the proximity to the Moon.

On the evening of Monday 15 July, the Moon will rise in the east, just after sunset, accompanied by beautiful and faint Saturn to the left. The two will remain in a close pairing all night long, with the gap closing to less than 0.2° at one o’clock in the morning.

So go out on Monday night or Tuesday morning to see the close conjunction of Saturn and the Moon, culminating when Saturn is just above the Moon just after midnight.

Thanks for all the positive feedback about our featured columns, and your continued interest in astronomy. If you have any questions or article requests, contact us at spacescape@rocketmail.com, or follow us on Twitter @ColoSpacEScapE for updates and additional viewing opportunities.
________________
• · William J. Bechaver is the director of SPACE • Spanish Peaks Amateur Cosmos Enthusiasts, the premier Astronomical Society for Southern Colorado and Northern New Mexico.

A TOTAL SOLAR ECLIPSE

by William J. Bechaver

As I wrote earlier, I was in South America last week to witness the total solar eclipse.

Someone asked me why I would travel so far “just” to see a total eclipse of the sun. The answer is simple. A solar eclipse is a rare opportunity to witness the alignment of the Sun, Moon, and Earth.

In a total solar eclipse, the Moon passes between the Sun and the Earth, casting its shadow in a narrow band across the surface of the Earth. If you are not within that narrow band, you don’t witness totality.

Though not all that rare of an occurrence, a solar eclipse happens about every twenty two months somewhere on the planet, being in the right place at the right time to witness one is a rarity. One usually has to travel to where one occurs. To be living in a path of totality is extremely lucky.

It is estimated that less than fifteen percent of the people on Earth have actually seen a total solar eclipse.

The next one to occur in the United States will be in April, 2024, but the closest it will be to us will be in Texas. Walsenburg will actually lie in the southern path of totality for a later eclipse, but that won’t occur until 12 August 2045. The rest of our area will be just south of totality, so will have to fly north, if we have flying cars by then.

But witnessing the totality of a Solar Eclipse is a singular experience, to witness day instantly turned to night, and then minutes later, the return of day, is a unique phenomenon that is worth traveling to the ends of the earth to witness, if possible, and it is definitely worth a trip to Kansas or Texas.

So, that is the long and simple answer why I would travel to South America to see a total eclipse. As it turns out, many people travel to see eclipses just for the joy of it. Some on our tour, sponsored by The Planetary Society, had seen a half-dozen of the events over the years, from a variety of locations all around the world.

I have witnessed two, the one in 2017 in America, from Kansas, and this one, this year, in Chile.

The trip began with a four day visit to mysterious Easter Island. That was part of the allure that drew me to the eclipse expedition. As many know, Easter Island was populated about a thousand years ago, by polynesian sea men. In the centuries that followed, they established a society that shunned their sailing skills, and focused on their rock sculpturing talents, to create the mysterious Moai, the large stone statues that now populate the island, looking mysteriously into the distance, from long in the past.

The tours of the island were fascinating, from the quarries where the statues were created, to the distant places on the island where they were finally erected, the mysteries of how they were made, how they were moved, and how they were stood, all remain mere theory today. No one is sure how the native Rapa-Nui accomplished their magnificent feats of engineering. But the mysterious sculptures of their devotion and the descendents of those who created them, still inhabit the island today. One was our guide for the tour, and will remain a friend for life.

On the morning of the total solar eclipse, we awoke early at our lodging outside Ovalle, near La Serena, in Chili.

It is winter in South America, and still dark when we departed. I noted Venus above the eastern horizon, and hoped to be able to see it during the darkness of totality later in the day.

We then caravaned up into the Rio Hurtado valley, into the mountains at the base of the mighty Andes, to a small town of El Chañar. There we were hosted by the school, which has a total of nine students.

The parents of the school made us traditional dishes on which we dined, and provided a day full of entertainment with local dances and music. The hospitality of this small town of about 400 residents, was overwhelming.

As totality approached, I walked around the town, visiting the church yard and the local park. All was quiet as residents and visitors alike gathered for the event behind the school. I actually watched totality from the street near the school, with a few others.

As darkness descended on the high-mountain valley, the natives grew restless, whooping and hollering, beating drums and honking car horns. Then the moment of totality arrived, as the shadow of the moon darkened the entire valley.

I snapped a few images during totality, but then put aside phone and camera just to enjoy the spectacle of the total solar eclipse. The corona, the light shining around the Moon, was too bright to discern Venus in the darkened sky. A few stars did peer out above, but then were gone again, as the Sun reemerged, in a diamond ring apparition.

Totality lasted about two minutes. The small town that had generously hosted us sent us away with parting gifts by which to remember them.

There, in tiny El Chañar, I met Christian and his brother Pablo, two local young men from the area, a college student and his younger brother. In their excellent English, we visited, and they shared local lore with me, and extended their hospitality. It was a truly moving and amazing day, spent with the distant people in the tiny village of El Chañar, in Rio Hurtado, Chile.

Chile is a popular location for astronomical observations. In fact, most of the largest and most modern observatories are, or are being, constructed in the high mountains of Chile.

There are several reasons for this scientific boom on the high peaks of the Andes. The air is clear and dry way up there, the skies dark beyond compare.

Also is Chile’s location in the southern hemisphere. Being in the south, the constellation Sagittarius is perpetually in the night sky. Here in the north, we can only see the constellation in the summer months. Sagittarius lies toward the center of our galaxy, the Milky Way. There, most of the stars and nebula of our galaxy can be seen. It is the active center of our home galaxy. With perpetual observation opportunities toward the center of the galaxy, Chile looks right into the heart of the galaxy, every night of the year.

This was my first venture in the southern hemisphere, and therefore, my first opportunity to view southern stars and southern constellations.

From Easter Island I first saw the beautiful Southern Cross, high in the sky, near the stars of Alpha Centauri and Beta Centauri, in the region of Proxima Centauri the stars a little over four light-years distant, the nearest stars to our own, and our nearest neighboring solar system.

In the early morning hours, I saw the Large and Small Magellanic Cloud, small irregular galaxies among some of the closest to our own. They were first charted by Magellan when he circumnavigated the globe.

Our normal constellations of Pegasus, Orion, and even the teapot asterism in Sagittarius were visible in the southern winter sky, but difficultly discernable. They are inverted in the northern part of the sky, basically upsidedown and oddly situated in the northern skies. Not at all where we are used to seeing and identifying these common celestial star formations.

As the Sun oddly traverses the northern sky, from east to west, the south strangely feels like it is north, but then the Sun would be rising in the west and sinking in the east. Likewise, along with the Sun, the Moon, Jupiter, Saturn, and all the planets traverse the sky in the north, a position directly opposed to everything in my astronomical experience. Everything in the sky, day and night, is strangely inverted in the southern hemisphere, and strange to get accustomed to in a brief time.

Thanks for all the positive feedback about our featured columns, and your continued interest in astronomy. If you have any questions or article requests, contact us at spacescape@rocketmail.com, or follow us on Twitter @ColoSpacEScapE for updates and additional viewing opportunities.
________________
• · William J. Bechaver is the director of SPACE • Spanish Peaks Amateur Cosmos Enthusiasts, the premier Astronomical Society for Southern Colorado and Northern New Mexico.

Totality as it appeared from the main street in El Chañar.

The moment of Totality taken with my camera.

The people of El Chañar gathering behind the school to witness the total solar eclipse.

Moai on Rapa Nui, the local name for Easter Island.

TWO ECLIPSES, NO VIEWS

by William J. Bechaver

This week, as the new moon occurs, it will cause a total solar eclipse!

Unfortunately, it will not be as noted as the big American Eclipse a couple of years ago, as its path of totality will be shorter, and only visible in the southern hemisphere, for the most part.

The day of the South American total eclipse will be Tuesday 2 July. Amazingly, Chile is the same as North America’s eastern time zone, so the eclipse will reach totality at 4:39 p.m.

Unlike the famous American Eclipse of a couple of years ago, this one will have comparatively a very short path across the surface of the planet, with much of the shadow falling on the South Pacific Ocean. The entire event will last over five hours, but the path that travels over land will only touch two countries, Chile and Argentina, passing over a narrow part of South America.

Others in South and Central America will be able to see a portion of the partial eclipse, but we are just too far north to see any of the portion of the Moon pass in front of the Sun.

The next full Moon occurs two weeks later, on Tuesday 16 July. Then, the Earth will pass between the Sun and Moon to make a partial lunar eclipse.

Lunar eclipses are generally more widely viewed, being visible to greater portions of the planet at one time.

However, we in North America are also left out of this event, as it will occur during our daylight hours, when the full Moon is on the other side of the Earth.

Most of Europe, Africa, Asia, and Australia will be able to see at least part of this event, but by the time the Moon rises in North America, the partial lunar eclipse will be concluded.

So, this month, there are two major eclipse events for our planet, with neither one visible from our side, nor our hemisphere. We’ll have to wait until the next one to see it from home.

I am amazingly writing to you from Easter Island, in the South Pacific, where I will be witnessing the total solar eclipse from Chile this week! Pictures and stories will accompany me, when I am back on your side of the world!

Thanks for all the positive feedback about our featured columns, and your continued interest in astronomy. If you have any questions or article requests, contact us at spacescape@rocketmail.com, or follow us on Twitter @ColoSpacEScapE for updates and additional viewing opportunities.
________________
• · William J. Bechaver is the director of SPACE • Spanish Peaks Amateur Cosmos Enthusiasts, the premier Astronomical Society for Southern Colorado and Northern New Mexico.