Tag Archives: astronomy

Lunar Eclipse = Front-Yard Astronomy (Photos)

One of the nice things about a lunar eclipse is how accessible it is. You don’t need binoculars or a telescope (though it helps). You don’t need protective gear. You can see it from a city street with lights on. You don’t need to be in exactly the right spot to see it, since the viewing area is measured in multiple continents rather than a narrow track. And since it lasts longer than a solar eclipse, if the clouds roll in moments before totality (which they did), you can wait a few minutes and you might still be able to see something!

The last time a lunar eclipse was visible in our area, I woke up at ridiculous-o’clock in the morning and went out to watch, first across the street, then trying to find a clear view in the west before sunrise and moonset drowned everything out.

This time I just walked out into the front yard.

Lunar eclipse mosaic
Four stages of the eclipse. I’m not sure what the star next to the moon is. As Sam points out, the star is Spica. The phone line bisecting the second view looked interesting, so I went with that rather than an unobstructed shot. In retrospect, I should have tried to frame it to look like the Death Star trench.

My son is almost 3 1/2 now, just old enough to appreciate this sort of thing, so I spent the last few days talking it up. We went out to look at the full moon early in the evening. We read a kids’ book on stargazing that he likes. I showed him pictures of what to expect, and diagrams showing how an eclipse happens. He’s been wanting to play with a tent ever since I mentioned the phrase “camping stuff” a few days ago, so we found the tent in the garage and set it up in the front yard. He had as much fun playing in the tent as he did watching the earth’s shadow move across the moon.

Katie stayed inside most of the time and came out a few times to check on progress.

At one point, an airplane flew across the sky leaving a sharp, bright contrail just next to Mars.

Moon Mars Power Lines and Contrail

We were all out just before totality around midnight…when a cloud started forming right in front of the moon. Mars, not too far away in the sky, was perfectly clear, but the moon got blurrier, and blurrier, until the razor-sharp sliver of a few minutes before was a blob of white. It reminded me of the time we saw about that much of an eclipse in San Simeon on the way up to (coincidentally) WonderCon when it was in San Francisco.

Fortunately the cloud started breaking up again after a few minutes, and all we had to do was hold up our hands to block the streetlight across the street and we had a clear view of the fully eclipsed moon. (We could see it without blocking the light, but it was a lot clearer without the competition.)

I should probably mention that while the pictures here look red, it looked brown to the naked eye. Maybe it was because the streetlight kept our eyes from adapting to the dark. Maybe the camera is more sensitive to red light. Katie remarked that without the sunlight shining on it, it really does look like what it is: a big ball of rock.

Eclipse Lineup

After a few minutes we went back inside. Neither of us wanted to stay up until two to watch the same thing in reverse…or manage an increasingly tired and distracted three-year-old while doing so.

Missed Transit

I had no luck viewing the Transit of Venus. I didn’t have time to find and meet up with any sort of viewing party that might have a telescope or other equipment, and I’m kicking myself for not having tracked down a set of eclipse glasses of my own, so I was left with a handheld pinhole “camera” made out of a cardboard gum package. The clearest image I could get with that was about 1/4″, too small to see the tiny speck moving across the sun. (Though I could see the cloud bank the sun was setting into about the point that I gave up and went inside.)

Oh, well. I can’t be too upset, since I got to see a great solar eclipse two weeks ago. And there are plenty of places to watch online and find pictures.


Photo from Astronomy Picture of the Day.

Photos: Solar Eclipse from Los Angeles (May 2012)

I had several plans for viewing today’s solar eclipse, depending on the weather. As the hour approached and clouds loomed in the west, I decided that my best bet would be to get above the cloud cover, and drove up into the hills to Del Cerro Park at the top of the Palos Verdes peninsula.

I’m glad I did, because a lot of other people had the same idea.

Individuals, couples, families, groups of friends, groups from schools — and everyone had a different way to see the eclipse: pinhole cameras, binoculars projecting on cardboard, welding helmets, “eclipse glasses” and more. There were also people who were just out for a day at the park, and wanted to know what was going on.

If J had been a few years older it would have been a family event for us too, but at a year and a half, I don’t think I would have been able to explain anything beyond “don’t look at the sun.” A partial eclipse is easy to miss if you’re not paying attention.

Eclipse Watchers

I’d cobbled together a pinhole camera the day before from two Amazon boxes, a sheet of paper, a sheet of aluminum foil, and lots and lots of packing tape. I actually started with just one box and I decided the image wasn’t big enough, so I grafted on a second. Even then it was only about 3/8″ across, but when testing it I could see the edges of clouds drifting across the sun, so I figured it would work. It did. Continue reading

Links: Plugs, Top Websites, Leverage, Hackers & Doomsdays

Fake Science diagrams the Types of Plugs. I’m going to have to hang on to this one for the “shameless” variety.

Nmap has a nice visualization of the Internet’s top websites: Icons of the Web

Leverage has put up a set of short video clips from their Comic-Con presentation. Let’s go steal a Comic-Con. (Interestingly enough, they picked some of the same bits I did for my own write-up of the event.)

Hilarious. People working on viruses are actually sending their crash reports to Microsoft — including the malicious code!

The Bad Astronomer presents: Top 5 Ways the Universe Could Wipe Out Humankind. He goes into these threats (some likely, some unlikely, and some certain — but not for millions of years) in a lot more detail in his book, Death from the Skies!, which is a fascinating read.

Real Zodiac Facts

There’s a meme going around Twitter called #ZodiacFacts, mostly random astrological statements. I figured I’d post some actual, y’know, facts about the Zodiac.

  • The Zodiac is the set of constellations through which the sun, moon and planets appear to move when seen from Earth. #
  • In a dark sky, away from light pollution, you can sometimes see Zodiacal light after the sun has set. #
  • Due to cycles in Earth's orbit, the present-day constellations of the zodiac no longer line up with those used by astrology. #
  • In a REALLY dark sky, you can see the Gegenshein: sunlight reflecting off of interplanetary dust. #