Here we are, less than one week until a total solar eclipse crosses the United States. For the past three years, my excitement has been building, and all of my eclipse-chaser friends have been saying, “You HAVE to go see totality!” The path of totality (the narrow region where the Sun will appear totally blocked) is relatively convenient for North Americans, but many people won’t be able to travel and witness the total phase of the eclipse.
One of the most common questions we get at the Phoebe Waterman Haas Public Observatory is about what kind of telescope to buy, whether for a gift or for personal use. In the height of the holiday shopping, we’re here to help answer that question.
I’ve done a lot of “cool” things as an educator at this Museum: performed a solar system dance with Miss America, chatted with astronauts, and given people their first awe-inspiring views through a telescope. But I have to say, my most recent experience was truly out of this world. On Monday, October 19, 2015, I participated in the second Astronomy Night at the White House. This event is designed to get youth excited about astronomy, space exploration, science, and engineering.
You may have heard about the “supermoon eclipse” that will happen this Sunday, September 27. Sounds pretty exciting! But what does it mean? Let’s start with the “supermoon” part. The Moon’s orbit around the Earth is not a perfect circle; it’s an ellipse, which means that the distance between the Moon and the Earth changes over the course of a month. When the Moon is in the part of its orbit that brings it closest to Earth, the perigee, it appears larger in our sky.
If you live in North America or western South America, you have a treat in store for you tonight or early tomorrow morning: a total lunar eclipse! If you live elsewhere in the world, or if it’s cloudy in your location – as it probably will be tonight at our location in Washington, DC – you can still see the eclipse online. Several websites will host live streams. Some of their locations will be clouded out, so we recommend that you search for “lunar eclipse live stream” and browse the results. You can also participate in a live web chat during the eclipse with NASA astronomers.
As our northern hemisphere days begin to lengthen, I like to think about the many ways people have marked the Winter Solstice throughout human history. Like Summer Solstice (the longest day), the equinoxes, and motions of the planets and Moon through the sky, Winter Solstice has long been observed, recorded, and used to construct special buildings. Some of these buildings were erected so long ago that no written record of their use is available today, but they clearly point at cultures that valued the knowledge of precisely when the longest night of the year occurs. Two ancient cultures in the northern hemisphere whose monuments I’ve visited come to mind: Celtic and Anasazi.
How do you illustrate a non-fiction book for kids based on the former ninth planet? Some people still have some pretty strong feelings about Pluto’s demotion: protest signs, student protest speeches, public demonstrations. Cries of unfairness could be heard when news of poor Pluto’s removal from the planetary ranks occurred. It is the intention of this new children’s book to set the story straight or at least attempt to share “Pluto’s side of the story." I‘ve worked in the children’s book market as a freelance illustrator for several years in addition to my full-time job with the Museum’s Early Childhood program. My latest book assignment from Abrams Books for Young Readers, Pluto's Secret: an icy World's Tale of Discovery, connected my job as an artist and an educator.
The news that “Vulcan” topped the poll results taken by the SETI (Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence) Institute in Mountain View, California as a possible name for one of the two tiny moons newly discovered to be orbiting Pluto has gotten quite a bit of press this week. In 2012, Mark Showalter of SETI, working with scientists on the New Horizons mission sending a probe to Pluto, found a tiny fifth moon orbiting the icy world.
A particularly bright fireball was observed earlier today over a wide area in Russia. Of even greater significance was the very strong sonic boom associated with the passage of the meteor through Earth’s atmosphere.