In the Sky This Week – August 22, 2017

5:30 AM Aug. 23, 2017 -East

Eastern predawn sky, Aug. 23, 2017. Credit: Stellarium / Bob Trembley.

Sirius, the "Dog Star," accompanies Venus low in the eastern predawn sky.

10:00 PM Aug. 23, 2017 - Southwest

Southwestern sky after sunset, Aug. 23, 2017. Credit: Stellarium / Bob Trembley.

Jupiter sets shortly after dusk and will vanish from view entirely in a early September. Saturn is high in the southern sky, and with the planet's northern hemisphere tilted towards us at about 26°, Saturn is just a spectacular observing target.

Conjunction of the Moon and Jupiter - 9:00 PM Aug 24 & 25, 2017 - West

Conjunction of the Moon and Jupiter, 9:00 PM Aug. 24 & 25, 2017. Credit: Stellarium / Bob Trembley.

The Moon, fresh from the eclipse, will be in conjunction with Jupiter in the west at dusk on August 24th and 25th.

10:00 PM Aug. 28, 2017 Southwest

Southwestern sky after sunset, Aug. 28, 2017. Credit: Stellarium / Bob Trembley.

The Moon will be a waxing crescent in the west at dusk, growing larger each evening until it is at first quarter on August 28th; the later part of this week will be excellent nights for star parties.

The Sky Overhead - Aug. 23, 2017 11:00 PM

The sky overhead after sunset, Aug. 23, 2017. Credit: Stellarium / Bob Trembley.

The Sky Overhead - Aug. 23, 2017 5:30 AM

The sky overhead before sunrise, Aug. 23, 2017. Credit: Stellarium / Bob Trembley.

The Solar System - Aug. 22, 2017

The Solar System - Aug. 22, 2017. Credit: NASA Eyes on the Solar System / Bob Trembley.

Sirius compared to the Sun

Sirius compared to the Sun. Credit: Universe Sandbox ² / Bob Trembley.

Sirius, the brightest star in Earth's sky, is a binary star system about 8.6 light years away. Sirius A is a bright and hot main sequence star, with a faint white dwarf companion: Sirius B. Sirius A is class A0 star about twice the mass of the Sun, 25 times as luminous as the Sun, and with a much higher surface temperature than the Sun.

I am STILL coming down from the eclipse; my wife and I set up at Chesterfield Michigan's Brandenburg park -
we set up our telescopes with a couple tents next to them, where my wife laid out my meteorites. The view of the bay was just beautiful.

I gave two presentations about the Sun in the clubhouse nearby, and my daughter and son-in-law helped with our telescopes - which had a 50 foot line the entire eclipse! As soon as my wife was set up she was set upon by hordes of people, and stayed that way continuously; she didn't get to see the eclipse until about 2:30 PM - when the eclipse was at maximum for us. About 80% of the Sun was covered at maximum for us; several people in line for the 'scopes mentioned that it appeared dimmer.

We got scores of "Oh WOWs" from people looking through our telescopes; there were some great sunspot groups too - they showed up really well in my 8 inch Dobsonian telescope. It was a party atmosphere, and from what I've been hearing, it was like that around the country: an event that unified the country for a day. We're happy to have been a part of it!

A picture of my telescope made the Macomb Daily newspaper and website: 🙂

The Voice News posted this series of pictures:

My wife posted this set of pics:

Black Holes Going Down the Drain

Ever wonder what happens to a black hole at the end of its life, if such a thing can be said for a black hole? Does it sit there unchanging, or perhaps have a different end state? Physicist Steven Hawking put forth the idea that the fate of a black hole is essentially the same as that of a drop of water on a countertop: in both cases over time they just evaporate away.

Water evaporates because the molecules near to the surface are warmer than the other molecules on average. These warmer molecules also have higher energy and thus are able to leave the drop and escape into the air. Similarly, a black hole would also need to have matter (or equivalently light) escape.

The conundrum facing physicists is that black holes are famous for not allowing any matter or light that enters its surface to be freed back into space. This is why they are called “black,” afterall. Does this mean the story is over, and black holes cannot evaporate?

A team of researchers recently started investigating this problem using a bathtub of swirling water (to simulate the spinning black hole), and little pieces of paper confetti thrown into the water. They are finding that a ray of light bouncing off of the swirling tide pool of water (or equivalently off of the swirling tide pool of matter) can gain additional energy along the way. This process of shoplifting energy from the black hole is called "superradiance."

In this situation it is the swirling nature of the black hole that assists with the superradiance process. Over a very very long period of time, these little bits of light stolen in miniscule amounts from the black hole add up to equal the total mass of the black hole.
Superradiance processes such as this one eventually empty the black hole entirely of its contents, until the black hole just disappears from the universe.

In this way, what appears to be a grammar school science fair project is turning into some of the best evidence yet that it is possible for energy and matter to leave a black hole. And it is all made possible by the properties of matter "going down the drain."

The Great KENTUCKY Eclipse of August 21, 2017: Just a few Tidbits for Now

The weather in Hopkinsville, Kentucky for yesterday’s eclipse was perfect.  I will have a full post for The Catholic Astronomer regarding Vatican-Observatory-related Hopkinsville eclipse stuff, but not today; it will take time to write that all up and to assemble all the pictures.  In the meantime, here are a few tidbits to tide things over until the full post is written.

Kentucky’s governor Matt Bevin was in the area, and was tweeting during the eclipse…

…and thanks to that tweeting I have this nice photo of totality:

The photo Bevin tweeted captures something of what we saw during totality (I say “something” because a photo does not do justice to the real thing).  The sun’s corona struck me as having a “three-pointed” shape, which does appear in this photo.  However, that shape seemed both larger and more striking in person than in this photo, probably because the human eye is better with slight variations in brightness than is a camera, and thus can trace the fainter parts of the corona out further from the sun.  Also, the actual sky was not this black; it was lighter, and had color.  The star to the left of the eclipsed sun is Regulus.  None of us in the “V.O. observing group” saw Regulus.

There was more to see in the Hopkinsville sky than “just” the eclipse.  The night sky was spectacular, too—at our location in Christian County west of Hopkinsville the Milky Way was easily visible.  I met Nick Such at a talk given by Br. Guy Consolmagno (V.O. Director and chief blogger for The Catholic Astronomer, of course) at Sts. Peter & Paul church in Hopkinsville on the evening prior to the eclipse.  Nick was camping out a few miles to the south of our location.  He sent me this photo of the Christian County Milky Way—

The photo was taken by Anthony Robertson, while Nick used a flashlight to paint out the cross shape during the exposure.

The New York Times Magazine published a print-only special section for August 6, 2017.  This headline was pretty cool—

Science writer and editor George Musser’s article focused on how rare are total eclipses like those seen on Earth, even in the universe as a whole.  According to Musser, a total eclipse of the sun is a cosmically rare event.  It sure seemed cosmically rare as we stood under it in Hopkinsville, like seeing an incredible musical performance that brings you to your feet because it is so well done—but this was on a scale that exceeds a musical performance in the same way that the sky exceeds a music hall.


From Eclipse Hangover to Eclipse Bliss! Enjoying The Saint Joseph Parish Eclipse Party.

I must admit that I was feeling a little "eclipse hangover" this morning. After interviews, questions, and more questions, my morning walk was dominated by two thoughts: I hope these clouds break and I really wouldn't mind if nobody asked me about eclipses today!

In the end, God provided both beautiful weather and a rejuvenated spirit as many of my parishioners came out for our solar eclipse party! Below are some of the pics I took of our event.

My favorite pictures are of the shadows on the sidewalk. I love how one of the effects of a solar eclipse is seeing the event projected on the ground through the shadows of leaves. I'll let one of our more scientific types explain the science behind it.

In the best homemade viewing device category, I would have to say we had a tie between a shoe box turned into an eclipse projector and someone who watched the event through seven holes on her Ritz Cracker. In other words, we let go of the serious stuff and just had fun.

This has been a wild month. In the end, it ended up being what it was supposed to be for the parishioners of my parish: Fun! Enjoy the pics and I pray you enjoyed the eclipse!!



















Here is a great video of totality! We were not fortunate enough to be in totality, but these images are breathtaking for those who were!

Unexpected eclipses

"Aunt Chel," called my youngest niece as she bounded through the front door of my dad's house, "it looks funny outside."

About midway to the peak of the eclipse. Note the lens flare to the right of the sun. (I did not look through the camera to take this!)

I got up and went to check. I agreed, something was off. The sky was dimmer than it should be and an odd color, not the desert blue I expected late on a Sunday afternoon, but tinged green. Thunderstorm incoming? No, not a cloud in the sky. And I'm in the desert. Right. Fire? This is more of a worry, there is only one road out from my dad's small farm. We don't smell smoke, but still, I'm uneasy. And then there are the trees....something is just not right.

We go back inside to check if there is anything on the Cal Fire site about nearby fires. My dad and sister-in-law have worried looks on their faces as I describe the sky, will we need to evacuate? As I'm opening up my laptop , my stepmother mentions in passing that she'd heard something about an eclipse coming next month. Next month? "Or perhaps today?" I wonder aloud. I hadn't heard anything, but I live on the other side of the continent, and I'd been on retreat for the last week, staying in a hermitage in a spot even more remote than my dad's farm, and before that, spinning around in the end of semester chaos.

You can see the "bite" the moon has taken out from the sun in the lens flare!

I type "eclipse" into the search box. We are indeed in the middle of an annular eclipse of the sun, the moon's shadow will sweep over California, but not reach the East Coast. 80% of the sun's disc will be obscured by the sun at the peak. This is not an insignificant loss of light, enough for my 9 year old niece to have noticed immediately when she went outside.

I breathe a sigh of relief, and take my niece and nephew out to show them how to observe the eclipse by making pinhole cameras with sheets of paper, and by looking at the crescent shadows on the ground (the leaves on the trees serve as ad hoc pinholes, or you can make your own grid with your fingers).

Fast forward five years.  I know there is an eclipse tomorrow. The reports on the radio, TV spots, news reports are hard to ignore. I am prepared. I have glasses to watch with, and a pair of binoculars with the appropriate filters on them.I have a good sense of what the sky will look like; outside Philadelphia, where I live the sun will be just under 80% obscured.

The crescent shaped images of the sun are visible in the grid made by my niece's hands.

But I wonder if being so prepared will change the experience. Will it be as viscerally disturbing, or just a fun science-in-the-neighborhood day, much like the Wallops' rocket launches we gather at the school field to watch? What do I miss when I am not sitting uneasily on the edge of uncertainty?

The mathematics and science that let us predict eclipses, not only their time and track, but also the phenomena we ought to observe, take my breath away, but I confess I don't long for a universe that I can completely predict. It reminds me of a line from one of Alice Walker's poems (Before you knew you owned it): “Live frugally on surprise.” Surprise is part of the delight of doing science, the interesting questions for me come when molecules surprise me, in their structures or or in their behavior.

Similarly, my heart and soul are not captured by an utterly predictable God, a clockwork deity. I long to be surprised by mercy, ambushed by God, caught in a whirl of life and love beyond my comprehension, just as I was caught by surprise by that eclipse.

The Great KENTUCKY Eclipse of August 21, 2017: Will the Weather Hold?

For the past week you have been seeing lots of posts about tomorrow’s eclipse and about Hopkinsville, Kentucky, the town at the point of greatest eclipse (or, to be precise, near that point):

Br. Guy is indeed in Hopkinsville!

Br. Guy is indeed in Hopkinsville!

Hopkinsville is also the place that Vatican Observatory Director Br. Guy Consolmagno is visiting for the eclipse. Of course, not everyone can make it to south-western Kentucky to see this eclipse. If you are unable to make it into the path of totality, you might be able to see totality “virtually”, because Hopkinsville has a live camera mounted up high to give a continuous view of the area. Check it out below:

Of course, there will not be much to see of this eclipse if the weather is not good. As can be seen from the Monday-Saturday posts, the forecast for the eclipse has gone this way and that. And what does the forecast look like now, less than 24 hours out from the eclipse?  That depends on the source.

The Weather Channel forecast does not inspire confidence.  Here is their general forecast for tomorrow:

Here is their hour-by-hour forecast for tomorrow:

But the National Weather Service's "Point Forecast" for the area is a little more encouraging:

And the Hopkinsville "Clear Sky Clock" (the CSC of Atilla Danko being well-known in astronomy circles) is saying all is well!

And the Canadian Meteorological Center, upon which the CSC is based, is painting a beautiful picture of the sky around Hopkinsville come totality.

Forecasts, shmorecasts. Tomorrow, "The Good Lord willin' an' the creek don't rise", we will see the eclipse in Hopkinsville, Kentucky.


The Great KENTUCKY Eclipse of August 21, 2017: Reading the Signs

Two days from the eclipse and I am in Hopkinsville. Anyone passing through, even if they did not know that there was an eclipse here, would know that a Big Event is taking place. The signs are everywhere. Some of those signs are the busy-ness of landowners along Kentucky State Highway 91 into town. The path traced by the moon’s shadow will move toward the South-East into Hopkinsville, roughly following KY-91. While driving KY-91 into town earlier today, my wife and I saw lots of farms preparing for the influx of people—some setting up to welcome visitors (“Eclipse parking $50” near the point of greatest eclipse), some seeking to keep visitors from tromping all over their crops (“POSTED: No Trespassing. Private Property.”)

According to the interactive map of Xavier M. Jubier, this is the very point of maximum eclipse. When the moon’s shadow hits this field on Monday, the sun, moon, and Earth will be in as perfect alignment as they will attain during this eclipse.

According to the interactive map of Xavier M. Jubier, this is the very point of greatest eclipse. When the moon’s shadow hits this field on Monday, the sun, moon, and Earth will be in as perfect alignment as they will attain during this eclipse.

Another clear sign of a Big Event are all the streets that are closed off, and the many tents and vendors set up, right in central Hopkinsville.

There are also a lot of actual signs pertaining to the eclipse:

Hopkinsville Community College (part of the same Kentucky Community & Technical College System that my college is part of—go us!) is counting down the days. But note the chain. Ticketed guests only now—one of the few times I have ever seen a community college without its doors wide open to everyone. But, no doubt HCC is like the farmers: worried about being overrun with eclipse watchers.

Hopkinsville Community College (part of the same Kentucky Community & Technical College System that my college is part of—go us!) is counting down the days. But note the chain. Ticketed guests only now—one of the few times I have ever seen a community college without its doors wide open to everyone. But, no doubt HCC is like the farmers: worried about being overrun with eclipse watchers.

Along KY-91, following the path the moon’s shadow will take into town. Hopkinsville was also along a dark path two centuries ago—the Trail of Tears.

Along KY-91, following the path the moon’s shadow will take into town. Hopkinsville was also along a dark path two centuries ago—the Trail of Tears.

Church signs: often darkened less by the eclipse than by sun-son puns.

Church signs: often darkened less by the eclipse than by sun-son puns.

These signs are at and near Sts. Peter & Paul Catholic Church. There’s a name there all readers of this blog should recognize (left). And churches are not the only ones putting puns on signs—but you might have to know who Bonnie Tyler is get the pun (right).

These signs are at and near Sts. Peter & Paul Catholic Church. There’s a name there all readers of this blog should recognize (left). And churches are not the only ones putting puns on signs—but you might have to know who Bonnie Tyler is get the pun (right).

The big question is, what will the weather be? So far the signs in that regard are rather mixed.

The Great KENTUCKY Eclipse of August 21, 2017: Hopkinsville as the Perfect Point

The Catholic Astronomer’s Blogger-in-Chief, Br. Guy Consolmagno, Director of the Vatican Observatory, is in Hopkinsville, Kentucky for the big 2017 eclipse.  That, and the fact that I am from Kentucky, is why I am calling this the great KENTUCKY eclipse (check out Monday’s eclipse post, and Wednesday’s, too).  So what is the big deal about Hopkinsville? An eclipse occurs when the moon’s shadow sweeps across the surface of the Earth.  The general path of the shadow in this eclipse is as shown by the arrow in the figure below. But, “it’s complicated,” because the Earth is rotating while the shadow is moving, and because the Earth is a sphere.  Points on Earth’s surface are moving from West to East, as is the shadow, but the axis of Earth’s rotation is not quite perpendicular to the direction of motion of the shadow, and furthermore, the Earth is a sphere.  The result is much more complex than just a round shadow moving … Continue reading

Nature’s Beauty on Stage

Eclipses fascinate and inspire us. On Monday our daily routines will be interrupted by the passage of the moon directly in front of the sun that we call a solar eclipse. We will have no choice but to want to look up to take in the splendor of this relatively rare event in nature that will happen regardless of the work deadlines which time your next class starts on campus. A word of caution: please do NOT look at the eclipse directly. One will need ‘eclipse’ glasses to protect from harmful high frequency light from the sun’s outer layers that can destroy our retinas. Eclipses make for splendid excuses for doing science experiments. The stories are too many to recount here, so let’s narrow the discussion to famous experiments in the area of chemistry alone. For example, 1868 scientist Pierre Janssen viewed an eclipse through a prism. The prism broke up the light into a rainbow of colors called a … Continue reading

Across the Universe: Ice dreams

This is a slightly edited version of a column that first ran in The Tablet in August 2014 ESA’s Rosetta spacecraft arrived at comet 67P/Churyumov–Gerasimenko on August 6, 2014. Launched more than ten years earlier, upon arrival it took up an orbit around the sun that parallels the comet’s path, to keep the comet in its cameras from a distance of only a few tens of kilometers. The next two months saw intense preparation for the final stage of the mission: in mid November, 2014, a lander was sent to the comet’s dark surface with instruments to measure its composition in close up detail. (The original plan was for it to drill about 20 cm into the comet itself, to pierce the dusty crust and reach the icy material beneath. Alas, it landed into a shadowed region and was not able to get enough power to do its job or communicate with the orbiter… its fate is described here, on … Continue reading

The Great KENTUCKY Eclipse of August 21, 2017: Measuring the Moon’s Distance

With the eclipse coming on Monday, and with Vatican Observatory Director and boss blogger for The Catholic Astronomer Br. Guy being in Hopkinsville, Kentucky for the eclipse, you can bet you will see a lot of eclipse posts from The Catholic Astronomer’s Kentucky blogger!  (Click here for Monday’s post.) Here’s something you probably don’t think of when you think of eclipses: measuring the distance to the moon.  But you can use an eclipse to measure the distance to the moon.  You just need observers in two different places. Imagine one observer located in Louisville, where the maximum coverage during the eclipse will look like the image at below left, and a second observer located on the edge of the zone of totality, where the moon just covers the sun.  One such place in Kentucky is Morgantown.  Why is the position of the moon against the sun shifted slightly between the two locations?  Because of the difference in viewing position between … Continue reading

Rediscovering The Vibrant Contrast Of Creation In A Monochrome Society (Part Two)

Do you see yourself as a liturgy? Do you see yourself as a sacred text? Do you see yourself as a cosmos of wonder and awe? Though I would not blame any of you for wondering what trendy, self-help guru I have been reading to get such flowery questions from, the source of these ideas is the seventh century spiritual master Maximus the Confessor. Last week, we explored Maximus’ vision of the Church as a community of vibrant contrast, seeing a necessary diversity in the Church in contrast to a monochromatic view of the Church that is narrow in spectrum, focusing only upon its structural elements. This week, we will explore how this vision of a vibrant contrast extends not only to the Church, but how we view ourselves as people. We will discover a vision of the person that is not reduced to a monochromatic understanding of flesh and bone, but a textured spirituality of depth, mystery, and beauty. Key to this exploration … Continue reading