StarWatch for the greater Lehigh Valley

MAY  2003


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[Moon Phases]


349    MAY 4, 2003:   Total Lunar Eclipse on Tap
May is the busiest month for astronomical events during 2003, and the total lunar eclipse on the evening of the 15th into the morning of the 16th certainly ranks as one of the top three spectacles of the year. A total lunar eclipse occurs when the full moon passes completely into the earth's shadow which is called the umbra. On its way in the moon must first pass through earth's penumbra, a secondary shadow, where an observer on the moon would witness the earth partially eclipsing the sun. As the moon approaches the umbra, its leading edge begins to appear dusky. During the partial portions of the eclipse, the moon passes into earth's main shadow. Through telescopes it is often possible to watch the umbra steadily sweeping across craters, obscuring them one by one, until the moon is totally eclipsed. However, the umbra is not completely black. A small amount of sunlight is bent into the shadow. Since the shorter wavelengths, the blues and greens, are more effectively scattered by the earth's atmosphere, more of the longer wavelengths, the oranges and reds, make it to the moon's surface. Depending on global weather conditions, the amount of volcanic dust in the air, and how deeply the moon penetrates into the umbra determines the colors that we see. Currently, the air is clean. The eclipse will also be a shallow one which means that the moon will remain near the boundary of earth's shadow at all times. This would indicate a bright and colorful event. The partial eclipse starts at 10:11 p.m. on Thursday the 15th. Totality begins at 11:23 p.m., mid-eclipse 11:45 p.m., and totality ends at 12:07 a.m. on the 16th. The end of the partial eclipse occurs at 1:20 a.m. My astronomy students are planning a public view in the main parking lot at Dieruff H.S. Read ahead on the net.
[May 15-16 Lunar Eclipse]

350a  MAY 11-15, 2003:   View the Lunar Eclipse at Dieruff
The public is invited to participate in the total lunar eclipse observations to be hosted by my Allen and Dieruff high school astronomy students in the upper main parking lot at Dieruff High School this coming Thursday evening into Friday morning. The public is encouraged to bring along their own telescopes and binoculars to this event so that more individuals can enjoy magnified images of what promises to be a very colorful eclipse. Check after 7 p.m. on Thursday for a lunar eclipse go/no go message on the front page. Directions to Dieruff High School can be found at Telescopes will be set up between 9 p.m. and 10 p.m. If you're bringing along a scope, please come early enough, so that you will be able to obtain parking near your telescope in the main parking lot next to the observing area along N. Irving St. Observations will commence, weather permitting, at 10 p.m. and continue through 1 a.m. Dress for winter conditions. Make sure your head, hands, and feet remain warm. Layer your clothing rather than wearing one heavy jacket. If the sky is radiantly clear, the temperature will certainly dip into the 40's and perhaps even lower. This eclipse promises to be colorful because the moon never really gets too deeply immersed into the main shadow of the earth. Expect to see whites, yellows, oranges, and reds during totality, when the moon is completely immersed in the shadow of the earth. Some people think that all eclipses are dangerous. Lunar eclipse viewing is perfectly safe. If you can look at the moon with the unaided eye, through binoculars and telescopes, you can watch the moon pass into the shadow of the earth without any fear. Be there, or be square.

350b  MAY 16-17, 2003:   Clouds Eclipse Total Lunar Eclipse
Bad weather has eclipsed yet another sky event, this time the total lunar eclipse, Thursday into Friday morning. My Allen and Dieruff students were primed with eclipse information that they wanted to share with the public, but alas the clouds obscured their opportunity. Every aspect of the event was carefully planned like barricading the upper parking lot at Dieruff HS, and rediscovering how to turn off the parking lot lights to provide a darker view. Thanks should be given to Bob Sperling, Carolyn Molusky Wayne Butz, and Stephen Budihas of the ASD. Then there was the publicity surrounding the eclipse. Rosa Salter and Fran Kittek of the Morning Call provided a delightful article and beautiful eclipse photo and Jackie Ferres, Angel Rodriguez, and Javier Palmera of WFMZ 69 News were planning live coverage of the eclipse in English and in Spanish. Two of my students, Abdiel Cancel (LED) and Jennifer Torres (Allen), were going to be giving eclipse commentary in Spanish. Mark Balanda of Easton had worked on a special video hookup so that participants could view the eclipse on a TV monitor. Matt and Marcella Gustantino of Orefield were bringing two telescopes and a vast amount of experience dealing with the public in these types of events. John J. Kiefer of Quakertown wanted to help out with his new telescope. All in all there were 13 scopes that were going to be available, including two each with 10-inch and 8-inch mirrors. And then there were my students willing to brave it to 2 a.m., Sarabeth Brockley, Emily Plessl, Sylvia Toth, Chris Fernandes, Stephen Hopkins, and Michael Stump from Dieruff. Michael Roberts, Jarryd Homick, Tonya Barrett, Shannon Ruhe, and Monica Ward represented Allen. Thanks to everyone. The evening, if clear, would have been memorable.
[May 15-16 Eclipse Participants]
The Dieruff Contingency of student volunteers stands ready to help the public view the total lunar eclipse of May 15-16 2003. Unfortunately the weather had other plans and observations fell through due to overcast skies. From left to right are Emily Plessl, Sarabeth Brockley, Abdiel Cancel, Chris Fernandes, and Gary A. Becker. G. A. Becker digital photo...

351    MAY 18, 2003:   Farmers' Almanac, Stand Down
Ed Hanna, I believe that my students and I have found a partial solution to long-range forecasting. Pick a great sky event, such as the transit of Mercury across the sun or a colorful total lunar eclipse, and at the very least, you can say that the day or the night will be cloudy. Based upon this theory and decades of pursuing astronomical adventures, I am predicting an incredibly wet and humid summer, especially during August and September. Throughout most of August, the earth will be approaching Mars, while Mars is approaching the sun. This combination of motions will swing Mars closer to the earth than it has been during the last 73,000 years, according to the Planetary Society, a California-based group of scientists and private citizens lobbying for the robotic and human exploration of space. M-Day, the date of closest approach, occurs on August 27, 2003. It seems that really big events beg for really horrendous weather. The AccuBecker forecast calls for rainsqualls, gale force winds, and possible tornadic activity as hurricane Erika churns off the Jersey shore during the early evening hours of the 27th. My forecast for November 8, 2003, the next time the Lehigh Valley experiences a total lunar eclipse, calls for intermittent rain as a weak disturbance pushes eastward across Virginia and the Delmar peninsula. Partial clearing will occur after the eclipse ends. Finally, for the early morning transit of Venus across the sun's face on June 8, 2004, an event that has not occurred anywhere since 1882, I predict morning thunder as a warm front makes its way northward into New York State. Partly sunny conditions will prevail during the early afternoon, but this will give way to evening thunder. Farmers' Almanac, stand down. AccuBecker has arrived.

352    MAY 25, 2003:   What's Your Sign?
The preppy looking guy with the gold earring sat next to the slender, longhaired brunette at the bar and casually asked, "What's your sign?" The girl smiled demurely, tipping her head ever so slightly as she leaned over to whisper a single word into his ear, "Exit." What's your sign is probably one of the lamest pick up lines in the book of bad dating techniques, yet 90 percent of Americans believe that astrology, how the changing positions of the sun, moon, and planets influence human destiny, plays some importance in their lives. Nancy Reagan planned meetings for her husband based upon favorable astrological portents, and it is no secret that Hitler used astrology in his war strategy. It made perfect sense to believe in astrology thousands of years ago when celestial objects were deified and worshiped. It was natural to want to understand the whims of these gods, and to know their precise locations in the sky. In fact, there is a great deal of good astronomy in understanding how these bodies move in space and where they can be found. But interpreting the nature of human fortune from inanimate objects is a major flaw. Many years ago, out of curiosity, I calculated my own natal horoscope. Surprisingly, it said among other things that I was a good communicator and enjoyed working with people. Obviously, these are traits that go well with my profession as an educator. I also calculated the horoscope of Saddam Hussein, and it revealed him to be a benevolent and caring individual who was loved by many. Saddam's inner circle of confidants may have agreed with that supposition, but I know that the Kurds and the Kuwaitis had very different opinions. More in next week's columnů By the way, I'm a Gemini. What's your sign?

May Star Map

May Moon Phase Calendar