StarWatch for the greater Lehigh Valley



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1368    November 6, 2022:   Election Day Total Lunar Eclipse
The third in an 18-month spree of lunar eclipses will be visible on Tuesday morning, November 8, and it promises to be a colorful spectacle for eastern Mid-Atlantic observers if the weather cooperates. This is because totality occurs in a brightening dawn sky and ends close to the time of sunrise when the moon will be near the northwestern horizon. Through binoculars and with the unaided eye, views of a reddened moon will have the backdrop of a bluing sky, an interesting foreshadowing of the Republican (red) and Democratic (blue) national contests in competition for votes that day. Regardless of the election outcomes, you will have a winning seat to bear witness to an unusual astronomical event with just one warning. Onlookers will need a good northwestern horizon, free of obstructions. Here is how the total lunar eclipse will unfold. * The eclipse begins unassumingly at 3:02 a.m., EST, when the moon enters the penumbra (Latin for light shade), the lesser of Earth's two shadows. With the proper filters, an observer on the moon moving into Earth's penumbral shadow would observe our planet beginning to cover the sun. From our vantage point on Earth, sunlight begins to be diminished on the lunar surface, but because the moon is so bright against a black sky, the eye has difficulty in distinguishing this diminution until perhaps 20 to 30 minutes into this stage of the eclipse. Eventually, the portion of the moon deepest into the penumbra begins to look dusky, a sure sign that something is happening. * At 4:09 a.m. the leading limb of the moon begins to enter the umbra (Latin for shade), the official beginning of the partial phases of the lunar eclipse. An astronaut on the moon at this location would behold the majesty of a total solar eclipse with a lopsided corona (sun's outer atmosphere) surrounding the Earth. Here on Earth between 4:09 a.m. and 5:16 a.m. the partially eclipsed moon moves ever deeper into the umbra until the eclipse becomes total at 5:16 a.m. At the onset of totality, the colorations on the moon's surface should vary from near white, on the portion of Luna that has just entered totality, through yellow, orange, and reddish brown where the moon is deepest into the Earth's umbra. Binoculars will help accent these colors with greater saturation because they collect much more light than the human eye. * This is where the eclipse may become really interesting. For the Lehigh Valley and specifically Bethlehem, PA, moonset happens around 6:09 a.m. and sunrise, nearly a half hour later at 6:37 a.m. Astronomical twilight, when the sun is 18 degrees below the horizon, begins at 5:04 a.m., while nautical twilight, when the sun is only 12 degrees below the horizon, occurs at 5:36 a.m. Within this interval the heavens should become visibly blue, and its saturation should increase through moonset if the sky is clear and unpolluted. The moon will be moving deeper into the umbra, obtaining more of a reddish hue during this interval. My guess is that somewhere between 5:30 a.m. and moonset, 6:09 a.m. will be the optimal time to capture the patriotic colors of a red moon against a blue sky, a good reminder to vote later on Tuesday! Ad Astra!

1369    November 13, 2022:   Patriotic Moon
First check out the total lunar eclipse pictures taken from Moravian's Sky Deck atop Collier, below. The third in an 18-month series of lunar eclipses culminated on Election Day Tuesday, November 8. The dawn eclipse cooperated beautifully to produce photographically our patriotic colors of red, white, and blue. My teaching assistant, Julia Shively, and four of my current astronomy students, Walter Fries, Soukaina Rezqui, Amal Shokr, and Tom Maloney, joined me on Collier's Sky Deck for an early morning lunar eclipse gathering that left everyone with a sleep-deprived Tuesday. It is the price that often must be paid for being a real-time participant in an early morning astronomical event. * Every sky experience has the potential of being affected by inclement weather conditions. However, to realize that last year's November 17/18 near total lunar eclipse, and this year's May 15/16, and November 8 total lunar eclipses were seen under mostly favorable skies was almost miraculous, considering that these months tout more mostly cloudy to overcast nights than mostly clear to clear evenings. Unfortunately for us, Pennsylvania is part of the cloud belt that extends northward through New York and into New England. * Visually, this eclipse seemed to be less colorful than the previous two lunar eclipses. Our urban observation location certainly may have played a part in that; however, there was also less color through binoculars, and particularly through the telescopes on the Sky Deck. The most vivid views were seen in Walter Fries' Moravian telescope, a 9.25-inch Celestron Edge that had excellent optics. Through the eyepiece, the moon's color was a greyish rust. Not to be outdone was the University's 4.8-inch apochromatic Orion refractor which revealed an ultra-crisp, grey shadow with just a tint of rust. * What I found particularly interesting was the distinct demarcation of the Earth's primary shadow, the umbra racing across the lunar surface. Amal Shokr's two images of the partial phases demonstrate a good approximation of a visual eyepiece's view of the ingress of the moon into Earth's primary shadow, the umbra. * When it came to imaging the eclipse, the traditional colors of yellow, orange, and red dominated the exposures. However, in Amal Shokr's spectacular near second contact photo (beginning of totality), a distinct bluish region across the lunar surface became visible. Bluish colorations on the lunar surface are not unheard of when totality begins. Her iPhone sensor may have exaggerated these hues, but hopefully it did not create them. Could these blues have been enhanced by scattering from a high veil of icy cirrus clouds that became visible at dawn? I had predicted the possibility of a patriotic-looking eclipse as the morning sky brightened into blue, but her image was unexpected. * What I thought would happen photographically was similar to what Soukaina Rezqui captured, a reddened moon against a bluing sky. I happily netted similar images as the sky brightened in dawn's early blossoming. * That brings me to my final observation, a brilliant daybreak with vibrant blues, reds, yellows, greys, and white confined to a relatively narrow region of the east, southeastern sky. This probably had more to do with the wispy, cirrus clouds that veiled the heavens, blocking some of the skyward-bound light of dawn and creating a more subdued lighting above them. * One final noteā€¦ As my students and I watched the eclipsed moon being carried towards the northwestern horizon, one of my former international students (2020), senior Ariel Lin, was observing the eclipsed moon rise from the campus of Peking University in Beijing. In China it was Tuesday evening. Astronomy is not only the beautiful science, but it is a great unifying force as well. That is because we all witness the same universe. The next total lunar eclipse that will regale the East Coast occurs on the night and morning of March 13/14, 2025. "Be there or be square." Ad Astra!

[Total Lunar Eclipse of November 8]
It is interesting to see how two different sensors recorded the partial phases of the November 8 eclipse. Amal Shokr's photos (top) were recorded with an iPhone connected to an adaptor that was attached to the eyepiece of a Schmidt-Cassegrainian reflector. The bottom four images were recorded by Gary A. Becker using a 4-inch refractor at prime focus. Visually, through the eyepiece the partial phases of the eclipse appeared more like Amal's images than mine. Amal Shokr, top two photos; Gary A. Becker, bottom four images...

[Total Lunar Eclipse of November 8]
Talk about patriotic on election day, Amal Shokr's totality image is a real winner. Just put "VOTE" across the lunar disk and you've got yourself an astronomically produced incentive to visit the poles and cast your ballot. This is exactly how Amal's iPhone recorded the moon. There was no manipulation of the image. Amal Shokr photography...

[Total Lunar Eclipse of November 8]
Even from an urban setting, stars were recorded along with the low-altitude, totally eclipsed moon. Gary A. Becker, image...

[Total Lunar Eclipse of November 8]
As night gave way to dawn, the sky began to become blue in the area of the totally eclipsed moon. Soukaina Rezqui used a tripod-mounted, 70-200mm zoom lens at 200mm, F/2.8 to record this stunning image. Note the stars in her photo. Soukaina Rezqui image...

[Total Lunar Eclipse of November 8]
Similar to Soukaina's image, the light of dawn and the bluing sky were recorded through Gary A. Becker's 4-inch, F/7, Tele-Vue refractor. Gary A. Becker photo...

1370    November 20, 2022:   Grateful Thanks to Adam and Mike
Throughout some very stressful days during my teaching career in the Allentown School District Planetarium, when the superintendent wanted to shutter the facility, the support that I received from teachers, students, and the public was overwhelming. I will forever remain thankful to those individuals. The compromise which kept the facility open was my agreement to raise the funds to keep the Planetarium operational. That amounted to approximately $10,000 per year. * In the beginning, I had no idea how that was going to be accomplished, but within a week through public support, I was able to present a check in the amount of $8,000 to District officials at a Thursday evening Board Meeting. If I would have had a crystal ball to look ahead 17 years to my retirement from public education, I would have seen mostly smooth sailing as a result of hard work on my part, charitable public support, and the generous help of two Dieruff High School students, Adam R. Jones and Michael Stump. * Adam came on the scene as a high school sophomore eager to refurbish his grandfather's telescope. As our friendship grew, it became evident that he possessed mechanical and computer skills far beyond anything I had ever encountered in a student. When bright Comet Hyakutake blazed across the Northern Hemispheric skies in March of 1996, Adam suggested that we pool our images and create a photo packet of two Hyakutake pictures for public distribution to raise funds for the ASD Planetarium. Adam designed the entire package which contained our two best images and a map that showed the location of the comet on each of the two photos. The Planetarium partnered with Dan's Camera City to print the images and to help to market the packets. Serendipitously, one year later in the spring of 1997, the brightest comet seen for the longest period of time in human history became visible. Hale-Bopp was seen by billions of people, even in large urban centers. Adam went to work designing another photo packet with a beautiful map. Together, Hyakutake and Hale-Bopp netted the Planetarium about $35,000 of income insuring its successful operation for years into the future. * Adam, while working for Internet Tidal Wave in Bethlehem, obtained for me and He also initially designed my websites as well as steering The Morning Call newspaper to my doorstep which led to the creation of this column, StarWatch. The MC published StarWatch for 11 years on their weather page * Not to be outdone was Michael Stump's 10-year contribution to the ASD Planetarium. He came to me on the first day that he was a freshman at Dieruff High School and asked how he could help to support the facility. During the next four years, Mike learned the operation of the facility and helped with day-to-day programming during study halls and with evening programs that were given to outside groups to raise funds. I would present the lessons while Michael operated the computer as the audio engineer. He was continuously producing a whole array of sound effects that synced with my programs. In the Planet Quiz Show, teams of Fourth Graders vied to answer questions about the solar system. They were transported into a starry arena of cheers, laughter, and scores of other audio effects as members of the Frank Sinatra Senior Citizen Center in Hoboken, New Jersey listened in as an audience while the contest proceeded. Mike did such a superb job of hitting his cues that it was impossible for the kids not to think that the seniors weren't actually eavesdropping on the action. Mike continued to volunteer during break times while he attended Villanova University where he completed a BS in astronomy. Afterwards, he finished a Master's degree in education at Kutztown University. * Grateful thanks to both Adam and Mike for their generous support which helped me to keep the stars shining for students in the Allentown School District, and a Happy Thanksgiving to all! Ad Astra!

1371    November 27, 2022:   The Life of One Brenham Pallasite
I recently bought a meteorite at a rock and mineral show in Lebanon, PA and that got me to examining and updating my small collection of space rocks. I got into collecting as a young adult and particularly after visiting Arizona's Meteor Crater, which was made by a large meteorite that had impacted the Winslow area about 50,000 years ago. Yes, they got the name wrong. It should have been called Meteorite Crater. * What intrigues me about meteorites is their age. They are as old as the solar system itself, about 4.5 billion years. Nothing on Earth is that ancient because our planet continuously recycles its crust in a process called plate tectonics. * Meteorites come from the asteroid belt, located mainly between Mars and Jupiter, that formed in the chaotic earliest days of our sun's history. Primarily, Jupiter's strong gravitational field did not allow a planet to accrete from the dust, planetesimals, and protoplanets orbiting the sun in that region of space. Instead of being built up to form a planet, they were ground down through collisions with each other to form the meteorites that hit Earth. * Meteorites come in three basic "flavors," stones that have compositions similar but not exactly like Earth's crust and mantle, irons which are composed mainly of varying amounts of iron and nickel, and stony irons which have a combination of both ingredients, metals and mantle materials. I have always instructed my students that if they are at a rock and mineral show, they should seek out the table containing the grungiest material, and that should be the dealer selling meteorites. They are not overly pretty except for the rarest grouping of stony-irons, some of which are called pallasites. They contain beautiful green and yellow olivine crystals embedded within their metal matrix. * As a large, molten protoplanet cooled, its mineral content became differentiated. In other words, the lighter (less dense) materials worked their way to the surface, while the denser atoms and compounds sank toward the center of the object. Our planet is a wonderful example of this differentiation process with its light silicate crust, denser silicate mantle, and its two iron-nickel cores, the outer being liquid and the inner being solid. Astrogeologists think that pallasites, with their iron and silicate crystals, formed in an extremely narrow layer at the core-mantle boundary of the protoplanets, and then were released through numerous collisions with each other. Eventually, some of these pallasites made it to the planet Earth as meteorites, both big and small. One fell to Earth at some unknown, but relatively recent time in the past and in 1882, twenty masses totaling 2000 pounds were discovered in Kiowa County, Brenham, Kansas. Other significant discoveries of Brenham meteorites occurred in 1949 and 2005. * I purchased a beautiful 34.7-gram polished slice with yellow olivine crystals on October 24, 2010 for $159 and set it on a plastic stand where it has resided for the past dozen years in my display cabinet. A picture of my Brenham meteorite can be seen here. When I went to examine it several days ago, it literally disintegrated in my hand as I picked it up. My Brenham was in space for 4.5 billion years, perhaps on Earth for a millennium, and in my collection for only a dozen Earth revolutions. I felt really depressed, not from my monetary loss, but for this space rock that had survived intact for so long in the harsh environment of outer space. Eventually, this Brenham meteorite was set on a collision course with our planet, then it made it to the ground after a fiery passage through Earth's atmosphere, only to succumb so quickly in my quiescent home study. Dust to dust, I guess. Ad Astra!

Brenham Pallasite]
My Brenham Pallasite in better days as it was advertised by the seller on eBay in 2010. Image by Mike Miller, Kingman, AZ...

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[November Moon Phase Calendar]