Special Viewing Sessions - Eclipses, Transits, etc.

Partial Solar Eclipse - 2014 October 23 (Thursday at Sunset)

Occasionally, Cline Observatory holds viewing sessions for special events such as eclipses, transits, or other remarkable astronomical phenomena.  These sessions are presented in the same manner as our Friday public viewings, though if the situation requires, we may shift our portable telescopes to other locations on campus.

Three hundered visitors came to GTCC to observe the 2012 Venus Transit - a phenomenon that will not be seen on Earth again until 2117.  For more information about this event, see our Transit of Venus page.

Recent special sessions we have scheduled include:

  • Venus Transit   2012 June 05
  • Lunar Eclipse  2010 December 10 (cloudy)
  • Lunar Eclipse  2008 February 21
  • Lunar Eclipse  2007 March 03
  • Mercury Transit  2006 November 08 (cloudy)
  • Lunar Eclipse  2004 October 27
  • Venus Transit  2004 June 06 (cloudy)

Note: Cline Observatory DOES NOT hold special sessions for meteor showers because they are best observed without telescopes, and are usually best seen from dark locations between midnight and dawn.

As with our Friday public viewings, all Cline Observatory special viewing sessions are free and open to anyone with an interest in astronomy.

Viewing the 23 October 2014 Partial Solar Eclipse

There will be a partial solar eclipse visible from much of the United States on Thursday, 23 October 2014.  North Carolina is on the extreme eastern edge of the area of visibility, so we will only see the first stages of the eclipse just as the sun sets that day.

In a partial solar eclipse, the Moon passes between us and the Sun, appearing to block part of the solar disk.  Such eclipses are dangerous to view, because they can damage your eyesight.  If you do not own a safe solar filter, the safest way to view a partial solar eclipse is to construct a pinhole viewer (see links and instructions below).

The eclipse begins at 5:57 p.m. At that time the sun will be barely 6 degrees above the SSW horizon, so a clear western view is needed to see this phenomenon.  Sunset for Jamestown on the 23rd is 6:24.

Information about the eclipse can be found at the NASA Solar Eclipse Page:  http://eclipse.gsfc.nasa.gov/eclipse.html

At Cline Observatory, the 24-inch is never used to view the Sun. From our outside observing pad, the sightline to the setting Sun on the 23rd is partly cluttered by trees, and buildings block the final 2 degrees, so our observing opportunities will be limited.  The observatory will hold a solar viewing session that afternoon for our introductory astronomy students and attempt to catch the eclipsed sun with our solar telescopes as it drops to the horizon.  The session will last from 5:30-6:30, weather permitting.

Constructing a Pinhole Viewer to observe the Eclipse Safely:

Poke a small (mm-size) round hole in a piece of cardboard or other stiff opaque material and orient the hole toward the sun. (Don't look through it.)  Hold a white piece of paper a foot or more behind the hole - if properly aligned, you should see a small image of the eclipsed sun on the paper.

If your house has a west-facing window and a clear horizon, tape the cardboard or paper with the pinhole to the window, and let the image project to the wall on the opposite side of the room.

What not to do:

  • Don't look directly at the sun.
  • Don't point a telescope, binoculars, telephoto lens/camera at the sun without appropriate solar filters.
  • Don't try to make your own solar filters.

These resources have more information about observing the sun safely:

http://www.mreclipse.com/Totality2/TotalityCh11.html

http://www.skyandtelescope.com/observing/how-to-watch-a-partial-solar-eclipse-safely/

http://www.space.com/27447-partial-solar-eclipse-safety-tips.html

http://www.skyandtelescope.com/observing/solar-filter-safety/

Be careful!  A useful philosophy for observing the sun:  "Better safe than blind!"

 

Lunar Eclipses:  No Session on 8 October 2014.  Next Good Eclipse in Sep 2015

A total eclipse of the Moon will occur in the morning hours of Wednesday, 8 October.  A similar early morning eclipse will occur in April 2015, but in September 2015 we will see a more conveniently-timed late evening total lunar eclipse.

There has been significant hype about these events, with various persons assigning particular significance to the predicted blood-red appearance of the Moon during the eclipse, but there's noting special about this particular eclipse or its appearance.  The Moon usually takes on a reddish hue during mid-eclipse due to effects of Earth's atmosphere.  What IS notable is the fact that it is part of a series of four eclipses visible from our region during the next year and a half.

Due to the early hour of the occurrence of the eclipse, Cline Observatory will not be officially open for public viewing that night, but you don't need to visit an observatory to view an eclipse anyway.  Lunar eclipses are easily observed from any location where the Moon is visible.  No telescopes are necessary.  Just step outside and look up!  (Or in this case, look to the western horizon.

How Lunar Eclipses Occur

A total eclipse occurs when the Moon passes into the shadow of the Earth, darkening the lunar surface.  (We normally see the Moon by the sunlight it reflects.)  Such events only occur during the full Moon phase, when the Moon is opposite the Sun in the sky.  During most months, the full Moon passes just above or below Earth's shadow, and an eclipse does not occur.   But when the Sun, Earth, and Moon are aligned in the same plane in space, the full Moon passes into our shadow and we see a lunar eclipse. These precise alignments bring us the possibility of lunar eclipses roughly every six months.

Details for this Eclipse

As shown in the map below (courtesy NASA), the total lunar eclipse of 08 October 2014 will be visible in part from North Carolina, but just as the moon enters totality, its low position on the horizon and rising morning twilight will spoil the view.

2014Oct08LunarEclipseMap

A bit before 5 a.m. (all times noted are EDT) the bright full Moon will show a slight darkening at its eastern edge.  (We see the Moon move gradually west to east as it shifts along its orbit.  That's why it rises later on successive nights.)

Partial eclipse begins at 5:14, as the deep shadow starts to eat away at the orb of the Moon.  Over the next hour or so, the Moon will slowly slip into darkness, revealing constellations that were washed out by the bright Moonlight earlier in the evening.

As totality approaches (it begins at 6:24), it will become apparent that the Moon is not fading to complete invisibility - the darkened Moon will likely shine with a reddish color. The intensity of this light varies from eclipse to eclipse, and it is due to the combined glow of all the sunsets and sunrises around the Earth filtering through our atmosphere to reach the Moon.  Each eclipse is slightly different, depending on the path of the Moon through our shadow and the condition of our atmosphere. (More particles in the upper atmosphere, due for example to volcanic eruptions, will block more light from passing.) So pay attention to the Moon's color during this part of the eclipse.  Is it actually blood-red?  Or is it brick-red, basketball-orange, or dull gray?  Unfortunately, the moon will also fade into the rapidly rising morning twilight during totality, so the red-moon effect will be muted for NC observers for this eclipse.  The moon will also be relatively low (about 10 degrees) on the horizon as totality begins, so a clear sight-line is needed to view it.

During this eclipse the Moon will appear darker at the bottom (southward side - to the lower left as it is setting) and lighter at the top (northward side - to the upper right as it is setting), since it will pass through the top half of Earth's shadow, as shown in the diagram below, adapted for EDT times from NASA eclipse resources.  From our location in NC, the increasing twilight may make this difference difficult to notice - what you will see is the shadow creeping onto the Moon from upper left to lower right as the Moon moves through its orbit.

2014Oct08LunarEclipse

Much has been made of the predicted redness of the Moon during this eclipse. And some unscientific predictions of what this "blood Moon" might portend have been circulating widely during the past year.  But red lunar eclipses are normal, and there is no specific significance to the 8 October eclipse or its appearance.

Mid-eclipse occurs in bright twilight at 6:54.  Sunrise is at 7:21 and the Moon sets at 7:26, but you will have lost sight of the eclipsed Moon by then due to horizon obstructions or the bright sky.  All of the stages, from the beginning of partial eclipse, through totality, to the last moment of partial eclipse, are shown in the NASA Eclipse diagram above.

 

How to View the Eclipse  (No Telescopes Needed - This Event Can Be Viewed at Home)

Lunar eclipses can be viewed from any location where the Moon can be seen - optical aid is not required.  If you're up early on 8 October and the skies are clear, take some time to look outside and follow the progression of the Moon into Earth's shadow.  The whole eclipse, through its partial and total stages, takes about three and a half hours, but the rising sun/setting moon will cut our view in NC to about two hours at best.  Telescopes or binoculars will enhance the view, but are not necessary.  Make note of how the sky transforms during the eclipse.  As the bright Moon fades, what color do you see?  What's the latest you could see the moon during morning twilight?

Make sure you observe the eclipse on the correct night, though.  This event happens on the morning of 8 October, so to observe it you would get up early that morning.  If you look on the night of the 8th, the Moon will have long moved past Earth's shadow.

Because this eclipse occurs at such an inconvenient hour for the eastern United States, Cline Observatory will not be officially open for public viewing that night.  But a trip to an observatory is not necessary to enjoy an eclipse.  You don't even need a telescope or binoculars.  If you can see the Moon, then you can observe the eclipse, no matter what your location.

 

This is the Second of a Series of Lunar Eclipses in 2014-2015

This eclipse is the first of a series of four total lunar eclipses, called a tetrad, that will be visible from North America during 2014-2015.  Each of these will progress in a similar manner, but the appearance of the Moon - whether it might appear blood red or bright orange - may be subtly different for each, depending on the Moon's specific path through the darkest part of Earth's shadow, and the state of Earth's atmosphere during each alignment.

The dates for the lunar eclipses in this series, each given with the time of maximum eclipse, are given in the table below.  Note that most of them first occur in the early morning hours or in morning twilight, but the fourth will be visible in the evening.

Date of Eclipse
Partial Eclipse Begins
Mid-point of Eclipse
2014 April 15
1:58 a.m. EDT 
2:46 a.m. EDT
2014 October 08
5:14 a.m. EDT 6:55 a.m. EDT
2015 April 04
6:15 a.m. EDT 8:01 a.m. EDT
2015 September 27 
9:07 p.m. EDT 
10:48 p.m. EDT

Last update 10/20/2014