SJAA Ephemeris July 2003 | SJAA Home | Contents | Previous | Next


Something in the way

Dave North


Because the Ephemeris has to go to print, we write this stuff fairly early in the month before you see it.

Sometimes that means the news is a little out of sync, and this is one of those times.

A few days after writing the June column we moved into the Moon's light, blocking the sun.

Maybe you saw it.

We went to Shoreline and set up near a parking lot at the entrance of the park — complex analysis suggested this might have the clearest view and cleanest horizons easily available.

Well, no. In fact, from there it looked like we had to peer through the heaviest layer of sludge in the south bay.

Oh well.

To add insult to injury, on the way there we realized another possibly excellent site was a few blocks away: the upper floor of the parking lot at Valley Fair (now called Westfield, which seems to be some monster company that's gobbling up big shopping centers. Sort of the Clear Channel of consumer cathedrals).

Probably wasn't too bad as spots go, since we spotted the Moon a bit earlier than most other published observers.

Somebody around here (I forget, sorry) did whomp us by something like fifteen minutes!

And there was plenty of company. Several people set up telescopes, most of them far too long-focus to be particularly useful.

As usual, binoculars were best.

Here's a hint when attending a lunar eclipse: take your binos. Here's another: take your tripod.

I think the reason I got such an early spotting was the tripod. Steady counts. Also, it let me aim in the area of finger-in-the-air guessing as to where the Moon would appear, and stay right there.

Yes, I guessed right. So there.

At first I thought it wasn't a complete eclipse or was already partly over or something, since the lower left part was considerably brighter than the rest of the disk.

But as darkness improved the contrast, it was obvious this was totality — but they must have been having some remarkable weather on the other side of the earth to cause that much brightness.

Colors changed subtly as it rose, probably because of the changing atmospheric effects.

Observationally, the other remarkable thing was how sharp the terminator was when totality ended.

As usual, it wasn't sharp enough to throw crisp shadows and allow detailed observation of the terminator, but it was much closer to that ideal than usual.

Again, I think there must have been some pretty clear weather on the other side of the world.

I mentioned that a lot of people set up telescopes at our "out-of-the-way" spot.

That doesn't tell half the story.

The entire roadway was crowded with cars, the parking lot was full, and it was "standing room only" along the path.

In other words, there was a surprising degree of interest in this odd and inconveniently early eclipse.

Could be more folks are getting interested in this astronomy stuff.

Of course, the rest of the month was clouds, clouds, clouds. Then the Moon came up again and it was clouds, clouds in the way plus wind and crappy seeing. Argh. This has not been the best lunar observation month. I see nothing!

Speaking of eclipses, next month the Moon will eclipse Mars ... but we won't see it. Head south to Central America, northern South America, or vacation in the Caribbean if you want to see it.

Speaking of Mars, we're a couple of months away from the most promising opposition of your life.

Contrary to popular assumptions, Mars is my favorite target. It's also the hardest of the planets to observe "at profit" — a very challenging game to play.

Start looking about now, even when it's low on the horizon. Try to spot the poles and any other detail you can get.

Get used to its size, and the difficulty of making out detail. Most of the time it won't present itself clearly, and you'll need every ounce of skill, patience and experience you can muster.

Time to put in your Mars eyes.


Previous | Contents | Next