Nov. 6—Lunar eclipse alert Nov. 8: Be sure to get up before 5 a.m. on Wednesday to watch the last part of totality and the end of the lunar eclipse because it will be over at sunrise. Our part of the planet is catching the moonset/sunrise part of the extended event that begins after midnight which will become Nov. 8. The geometry between the moon, sun, and Earth creates the haunting beauty of eclipses. The different angles of the tilt of Earth and the moon are the reason why eclipses do not happen every month. You may opt to get up at 2 a.m. to watch from beginning to end.
Earth's shadow is cast out into space always, and when the moon enters that shadow (about 2 a.m.) the eclipse begins. Because Luna's plane of orbit is 5 degrees different from Earth's, we don't have eclipses every month. The mystery of eclipses occurs because of the exact differences between the dimensions of the Earth, moon and sun, as well as the distances we are from one another, as well as those angles of planes. Bob Berman's book Secrets of the Night Sky is filled with humorous and informative details about astronomical phenomena and worth reading if you can find a copy.
As November begins, we can anticipate the annual Leonid meteor shower later in the month, seemingly to emerge from Leo the Lion. Meteor watching is an event that requires patience, dark sites away from light pollution and clear skies. Good friends and family are also important. The more eyes watching for the streak of light flashing across the sky the better the odds are of bagging them for your count. The peak for the Leonids is Nov. 17, but strays will likely be glimpsed between the 14th and 22nd.
The debris from Comet 55P Temple-Tuttle is responsible for the event as this periodic comet passes through our orbital path in our solar system and orbits the sun every 33 years. Although the swish of the dust-sized particles makes us think the meteors are large, they are extremely small. After meteor showers there are probably bits of that dust on your roof; they certainly fall across the planet leaving microscopic particles to help bulk up our home planet.
Many people think astronomy is a field for old people but the current issue of Astronomy magazine has vignettes of 25 "rising stars" in the field and I can assure you that local high schools also have many students who are interested in learning more about this ancient science. There are new discoveries being made almost daily related to astrophysics and space research, including from our own UTRGV. It is a great time to be alive.
As full dark sets in, hooray for ending Daylight Saving Time this week, as the fall constellations parade across the sky to lend sparkle to the night. While the lunar eclipse is at full eclipse, Orion, Taurus, Aries, Andromeda, and Mars will be accompanying the moon. WOW. I sure do hope the sky is clear.
Mars now stands due south around 3 a.m.; by the end of the month, it will be there by midnight as it emerges from the eastern horizon about 4 minutes earlier each successive evening. Don't you find the math astounding that is involved in astronomy? How I wish I had been taught the beauty of math as a teen instead of the — to me at that time- incomprehensible formulas and theorems with no connection to the night sky. I encourage math and science teachers to share the excitement of the night sky to involve real-life meaning to their subject areas. I would be happy to help.
Until next week, KLU.