Let’s Keep People Excited About the Sky
By Nathan Taxel; California AEOE Fall 2017 Newsletter

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On Monday August 21st, 2017, the United States experienced its first coast-to-coast total solar eclipse since 1918. This 90-minute event crossed 14 states from Oregon to South Carolina and captured the attention of the entire country. People travelled to the path of totality in unprecedented numbers and across the nation people joined together to view this spectacular event. The unprecedented level of interest and enthusiasm for the eclipse was fueled by heavy media coverage in the days and weeks leading up to it and for a moment the nation was focused on science! As educators, we have an opportunity and perhaps a responsibility to capitalize on this newfound excitement about astronomy and science in general and to build upon it before the moment passes. The next total solar eclipse visible in California won’t be until 2045, but here are some exciting upcoming astronomical events that we will be able to see this season: 

November 12th- Conjunction of Venus and Jupiter

Just before dawn, look to the eastern horizon to see the planets Venus and Jupiter rise together and pass within 0°16’ of one another. They will be visible with the naked eye and close enough to view together through binoculars or a telescope.

December 13th and 14th- Geminids Meteor Shower

Visible from December 4th to the 16th, the Geminids Meteor shower is one of the brightest and most prolific showers of the year. It will peak on 12/14/17 when up 120 meteors per hour will be visible. Between midnight and 2 a.m., look to the northeastern sky and find the constellation Gemini (just to the right of Orion) where many of the meteors will originate, lean back, and enjoy the show.

January 31st 2018- Total Lunar Eclipse

Starting at 4:50am, look to the Western Sky where the moon will be about 23° above the horizon and see the red shadow begin to pass across its face. At 5:29 am the eclipse will reach totality and the moon will appear completely red. However, it will be positioned just 15° above the horizon, so you will need an unobstructed view to the west to view it.

March 31st- Blue moon

A blue moon is the second full moon in a calendar month. Typically this phenomenon only occurs every 2-3 years, but 2018 has 2, one in January and one in March and there will be no full moon during the month of February.

May 9th- Jupiter at Opposition

Jupiter will be directly opposite the sun and at the closest point to earth in its orbit and therefore appear larger and brighter than at any other time of the year. It will be visible within the constellation Libra for most of the night and reach its highest point in the sky just after midnight. It will be visible with the naked eye and with binoculars viewers should be able tomake out at least some of its larger moons. With a telescope, viewers can expect to see some detail in the planet’s distinctive cloud bands.

For more information about upcoming astronomical events check out these websites:

www.timeanddate.com

www.seasky.org

Whether you build these events into your programing or just let your participants know about them, we have a fantastic opportunity to keep people talking about astronomy and space science this year, don’t pass it up!

See the article in the California AEOE Fall 2017 newsletter here.

Find out more about California AEOE (Association for Environmental & Outdoor Education) on their website here.