As a volunteer at the National Air and Space Museum, I’ve been talking to visitors about astronomy for 28 years. Right now is an exciting time to be volunteering here thanks to the total solar eclipse that will happen this summer. As an astronomy enthusiast and an eclipse chaser, I have some great advice to share on how best to view the 2017 eclipse.
The United States will play host to an extraordinary phenomenon known as a total solar eclipse on August 21, 2017. A solar eclipse occurs when the Moon passes between the Sun and the Earth. Eclipses have occurred throughout history, and some have fascinating stories associated with them. Take the following two tales for example.
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.
If you visit the Public Observatory during its daytime hours in May (1–3pm on Wednesday through Saturday, weather permitting), you can use the 16” telescope to observe an object which looks a lot like the Moon. Hanging in a blue sky, it shines with yellowish reflected sunlight.
On the morning of March 2, I got an excited text message from fellow astronomy educator Shelley Witte, telling me that the International Space Station (ISS) and Space Shuttle Discovery would be coming very close to transiting the Sun from our position at the National Air and Space Museum’s Public Observatory at exactly 3:08 pm.
The Moon is one of the most easily recognized celestial objects and arguably the easiest one to observe. It is simple to view the changing phases from day to day, with your naked eyes. Binoculars or a telescope will reveal countless craters, ancient lava flows, and other intriguing lunar features.
As spring quickly approaches and being outside is becoming more and more inviting, we Public Observatory staff continue to enjoy spending time outside with our portable telescopes. Every sunny day between 12:30 p.m. and 2 p.m., except for Mondays, we invite visitors near the Independence Avenue entrance to take a look at the sun through our specially equipped telescopes.