A Kentucky Perspective on the 2017 Great American Eclipse
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I am pleased to have a guest blogger this week: Timothy Dowling, who is giving us his perspective on the August 21, 2017 eclipse as seen from Hopkinsville, Kentucky.  He is a professor at the University of Louisville in the Department of Physics and Astronomy. His area of research is planetary atmospheric dynamics.  He and his students analyze Voyager, Galileo, Cassini and Hubble Space Telescope data of the gas giants. Dowling is the lead author of the EPIC atmospheric model, which is used by NASA and researchers around the world to model the weather on Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus and Neptune.  He has appeared in science documentaries about planetary weather on the National Geographic, Discovery and History Channels.  He is married to Prof. Beth Bradley of the UofL Mathematics Department.  They have two daughters, and are parishioners of St. Michael Catholic Church in Louisville.  Prof. Dowling and Vatican Observatory Director Br. Guy Consolmagno have a poster presentation at the American Astronomical … Continue reading

Experiencing God In Totality: Reflections On How The Solar Eclipse Stirred Religious Experience.
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The other day, I called a good friend of mine with some “priest business.” The call had nothing to do with astronomy or the eclipse, but the first words out of Brian’s mouth were, “James! I was in totality!!” The statement surprised me on two levels. One, I didn’t know he was going on a road trip, and, two, he really isn’t into astronomy. It turns out that Brian had a “happy accident,” to quote Bob Ross, having planned a trip to Lincoln, Nebraska earlier this year to visit some of his classmates from seminary. When he began to get things ready to leave on his trip, it dawned on him that the dates of his visit coincided with the solar eclipse. When I asked Brian what he thought of the eclipse, I was equally surprised at his response, telling me that it was, for him, a religious experience. Now, some of you may wonder why it would be out … Continue reading

The Great KENTUCKY Eclipse of August 21, 2017: Under Cerulean Skies
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Hopkinsville, Kentucky billed itself as Eclipseville—it was the closest town of any size to the “point of greatest eclipse”.  And on Monday, August 21 it was Eclipseville indeed. In the later afternoon of Sunday, August 20, I was putting together my last post prior to eclipse day, and wondering whether the weather would be OK, because the forecasts were mixed.  I got the post up on The Catholic Astronomer, and then my wife Tina and I went for a walk around central Hopkinsville to get some exercise in advance of Br. Guy’s talk at Sts. Peter & Paul church there.  (If you are visiting The Catholic Astronomer for the first time, Br. Guy Consolmagno is Director of the Vatican Observatory, and The Catholic Astronomer’s Blogger-in-Chief.) The program at Sts. Peter & Paul began with introductory remarks by Fr. Richard Meredith, who expounded upon the words of Psalm 19: The heavens declare the glory of God; the firmament proclaims the works of … Continue reading

In the Sky This Week – August 22, 2017
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Sirius, the “Dog Star,” accompanies Venus low in the eastern predawn sky. 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. The Moon, fresh from the eclipse, will be in conjunction with Jupiter in the west at dusk on August 24th and 25th. 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. 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 … Continue reading

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

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

Unexpected eclipses
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“Aunt Chel,” called my youngest niece as she bounded through the front door of my dad’s house, “it looks funny outside.” 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 … Continue reading

The Great KENTUCKY Eclipse of August 21, 2017: Will the Weather Hold?
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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): Click here for Monday’s post on the eclipse. Click here for Wednesday’s. Click here for Friday’s. Click here for Saturday’s. 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 … Continue reading

The Great KENTUCKY Eclipse of August 21, 2017: Reading the Signs
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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.”) 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 … Continue reading

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

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