StarWatch for the greater Lehigh Valley

APRIL  2014


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[Moon Phases]

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920    APRIL 6, 2014:   Bolero: Mood Music to Watch an Eclipse
I get a lot of music majors in my Moravian astronomy classes, and a few weeks ago after ending a unit on eclipses, I played for my Monday/Wednesday group, Bonnie Tyler’s “Total Eclipse of the Heart.” I also considered Carly Simon’s, “You’re So Vain,” a song where she is mocking former beau, Warren Beatty, and perhaps others. After his horse wins in Saratoga, he flies his “Learjet up to Nova Scotia to watch the total eclipse of the sun.” That was a real event back in the summer of 1972. It was the only total solar eclipse that for me was clouded out, but in Nova Scotia, it was clear. That got me to thinking about what music should be playing in the background while watching the total lunar eclipse during the morning hours of April 15, and the only melody that made any sense was Maurice Ravel’s, “Bolero.” Now look folks, I’m not stupid. If you ever saw the feature film “10,” starring Bo Derek and Dudley Moore, you know exactly what “Bolero” was used for, so I’m not advocating anyone to watch this lunar eclipse under a blanket unless it is for warmth. But the music, as everyone knows who has heard it, builds to a rousing climax, in just the same sequence as any lunar or solar eclipse. In this lunar eclipse the moon makes contact with Earth’s shadow at 1:58 a.m., EDT. One hour, eight minutes later, the eclipse reaches its crescendo as Luna is completely immersed in the Earth’s shadow. For the totality portion of the eclipse, when the moon takes on a variety of different hues, such as yellows, oranges, reds, and browns, you’d have to play Bolero’s climax over and over again. This is the best part of the show; but what would you do for the egress, when the moon is emerging from the shadow? My suggestion would be to play “Bolero” backwards. It would sound awful, and you wouldn’t want to hang around to listen to it. That’s what most people do after totality ends. They simply leave and go home.

[April 15 Total Lunar Eclipse]
The moon will pass through the shadow of the Earth during the early morning hours of April 15. Here is the sequence of events for this total lunar eclipse. The best time to view will be during the hour and 20 minutes of totality. Graphics by Gary A. Becker...

[March 31, 28 hour moon]
My Moravian College astronomy class was observing the heavens at Shooting Star Farm, north of Quakertown, PA on Monday, March 31, when one of my students, Amber Fanning, noticed the ultra thin waxing crescent moon in the west. It was only 28 hours old, 1.9 percent lit. Maria T. Cafferata (“Jersey”) handheld her Samsung Galaxy S3 phone over the eyepiece of my telescope to snap about a dozen images. This was the best of the lot, and I might say, a really great effort considering the camera and techniques which were used to obtain the picture. Notice the earthshine, light from a nearly full Earth reflected back to us from the moon.

921    APRIL 13, 2014:   April 15: Curtain Call for a Great Lunar Eclipse
The morning and day of April 15 may call for a couple of 5 hour ENERGY drinks. April 15 begins with a total lunar eclipse which occurs between the hours of two and 5:30 a.m. It may very well end with a trip to the post office to file your income tax returns. “Must all astronomical events take place at some inconvenient time?” a student once queried me. My answer was a simple “yes,” but obviously that’s not the case. They happen when they happen, but often it is “no gain without pain.” During the next year and a half, the East Coast will be privy to the opportunity of seeing two additional total lunar eclipses. On Wednesday morning, October 8, 2014 we see a lunar eclipse that becomes total during twilight. After that it is onto the evening total lunar eclipse of September 27, 2015. When you add the probability of cloudy skies occurring at the time of any sky phenomenon, at least half of all events are ruined by the weather. That makes the April 15 eclipse even more noteworthy if you have never seen the moon slip through the Earth’s shadow. The eclipse starts at 1:58 a.m., but I would advise sleeping until around 2:30 a.m., when the moon will still be bright enough to be easily found, but only about 20 minutes from being totality eclipsed by the time you’re dressed and outside. Luna will be in the SSW a little more than one third of the way above the horizon. Use binoculars to watch as the Earth’s shadow gobbles up the last vestiges of the sunlit moon. Binoculars will also enhance the colors which are often most vibrant near the shadow boundaries, but there will still be plenty to see without binoculars. Visually you will easily notice blue white Spica below and to the moon’s right, and even brighter, ruddy Mars above and right of the eclipsed moon. Go to to view images of the last total lunar eclipse on December 21, 2010.

[December 21, 2010 Total Lunar Eclipse]
Here is what the last big total lunar eclipse looked like from the Lehigh Valley. The night was mostly cloudy until about an hour before the beginning of the eclipse; then a rapid clearing occurred, the winds picked up, and the temperature dropped rapidly. Don’t get the times for the April 15 total lunar eclipse confused with the December 21, 2010 event because they are similar. The times for Tuesday morning’s eclipse can be found in the article and diagram above this picture. Photography by Gary A. Becker from Coopersburg, PA...

922    APRIL 20, 2014:   Speechless in Suffern
It is difficult to explain what it’s like to pivot on the gymnasium floor of Rockland Community College in Suffern, NY, not with a basketball ready to make that big three pointer which will win the conference title, but with hundreds of astronomy vendors surrounding you, ready to promote their products and solve your every astronomical wish. It is the ultimate show-and-tell experience of the star world; and it is not held in Hollywood, but right here on the East Coast, north of NYC. My first Northeast Astronomical Forum (NEAF) was so overwhelming that I simply wandered from booth to booth encumbered by an advanced stage of speechlessness. Now I come with a list of ideas and usually formulate some type of solution along the way. And then there is the unexpected. I walked up to an exhibit of antique telescopes. Okay, they were from the 1960s, but they were beautiful Unitron refractors, the crème de la crème of instrumentation back then and still as good as today’s refractors. Their disadvantage with current lensed instruments is that they were very bulky and difficult to transport. I examined the five-inch refractor mounted on a massive equatorial head and realized that I had “one of those mounts” sitting in my shed. A gentleman who was moving to Maryland had offered it to me, and said that if I didn’t take it, he was going to throw it away. It’s been in “storage” ever since. I began a conversation with the owner, and before I could tell him that I possessed one of these behemoths, he confessed that there were only 25 of these mounts ever built and only three that were still known to be in existence. We obviously struck up an intense dialogue which will continue into the future. Sometimes it is the unexpected that make these shows so exciting; however, if someone in the community is ready to give me 100 grand, no lie, I’ll build Moravian College the best small astronomical observatory in the world.

923    APRIL 27, 2014:   Meteor Surprise, May 24?
Early on May 24, we may be treated to a new meteor shower that could provide some spectacular views. Meteors result from cometary dross that passes near to the Earth. When these grain-sized particles slam into the atmosphere at many miles per second, they cause a cylinder of air to glow, creating the meteor phenomenon that we see in the sky. Meteors that are related to a particular comet will appear to trail back to a vanishing point called the radiant. It is a similar occurrence to standing on a long stretch of railroad tracks and looking into the distance to where the tracks converge. The cometary culprit of this new meteor shower is 209P/LINEAR which will be making an unusually close passage to the Earth in May. The comet itself will be too small and faint to be seen without a telescope, but its debris is predicted to impact the Earth’s atmosphere on the morning of May 24 between the hours of 1:40 and 5:50 a.m. EDT. Peak rates are predicted for just after 3:00 a.m. EDT with numbers varying between 20-140 events per hour from a rural locale. Those numbers can be halved from a suburban setting, and halved again if observing from a medium-sized city. The most interesting aspect of this shower is the way the meteors will appear as they plummet into our atmosphere. They are predicted to be bright and very slow moving with durations lasting several seconds or even longer. They will also be radiating from an area of the sky about 10 degrees below and to the left of the North Star in the constellation of Camelopardalis the Giraffe. Clear May nights are still very chilly, so plan on using a sleeping bag and lounge chair combination. A hat and a pillow will also add comfort. Face north and position your eyes about halfway between the North Star and the point directly overhead. Any slow moving meteor diverging from low in the north will be a remnant of 209P/LINEAR. Clear skies along with much success...

[Camelopardalids Radiant]
"X" marks the spot from where Camelopardalid meteors will be radiating on the morning of May 24. Meteor rates will vary between 20 to 140 events from a rural locale according to current predictions with maximum rates occurring around 3:15 a.m. Graphics by Gary A. Becker using Software Bisque's The Sky...

[April Star Map]

[April Moon Phase Calendar]