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Partial Solar Eclipse Ready for a Closeup on October 23, 2014

October 20th, 2014

The Moon receives sunlight, and because of that it casts a shadow. Most of the time the Moon’s shadow falls on absolutely nothing (that’s why it’s called “space”) and no one gives it a second thought.

Occasionally (about twice a year) the Moon’s shadow falls across the Earth’s surface. If you happen to be somewhere on the path of the Moon’s shadow as it travels over our planet you see what is known as a Solar Eclipse. These events only seem rare to you because while eclipses happen more often than you think, the world is a big place, mostly covered by oceans, and the Moon’s shadow is fairly small. Solar Eclipses over populated areas, especially for your own home town, are rare.

On the afternoon of Thursday, October 23rd, starting at about 3:05 PM for viewers along the Wasatch Front, we will be treated to a Partial Solar Eclipse. It’s called a “partial” eclipse because instead of seeing the whole of the Sun blotted out by the Moon we’ll only see a portion of the Sun obscured by the Moon. Here in Salt Lake City, we’ll see roughly half of the Sun blocked by Moon.

Think of this as a rehearsal for the Total Solar Eclipse that will occur on Monday, August 21, 2017. That one is going to be a beauty – the path of totality will slash coast-to-coast (the Moon’s shadow moves at ~1,400 miles per hour!) across the United States from Oregon to South Carolina.

Here are two short video animations relating to Thursday’s eclipse.

The first is an animation showing what people along the Wasatch Front can expect to see (with cooperative weather).

The second animation shows what the eclipse would look like from the perspective of a person standing on the Moon while looking at Earth. The Moon’s shadow is the gray circle, and you can see the center of the shadow just clipping Earth’s North Pole, giving you a better understanding of why we on Earth only get a “partial” eclipse to watch.

Clark Planetarium’s Planet Fun Science Store has solar eclipses glasses ($1.95 each), so that you can safely view the eclipse. Pick yours up today, and plan to join our staff for a viewing party from 3:00pm – 5:30pm on Thursday at the Gateway Mall’s Olympic Fountain Plaza and at Wheeler Farm (6351 So. 900 E., Salt Lake City, UT 84121).

North America won’t see another solar eclipse until August 2017, so don’t miss your chance to see this natural, astronomical wonder!


“Night Vision” October 23 and 25: Mars Rovers

October 13th, 2014

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A mosaic image taken by Spirit’s navigation camera shows the Mars Exploration Rover sitting on its landing platform only hours after touching down on Gusev Crater. The image has been reprocessed to imove the view. See more Spirit images in the Mars Exploration Rover Image Gallery. *Image Credit*: NASA
NASA Identifier: SPD-SLRSY-643

The twin rovers Spirit and Opportunity arrived on the surface of Mars in January 2004. One of the requirements of mission success was that each rover continue to function for at least 90 Martian days. While Spirit ceased functioning in 2010, Opportunity is still exploring Mars more than a decade later. It has recently set an off-Earth driving record and is currently exploring an area on the rim of Endeavor crater, far from where it landed. The rocks in this location are very different from those at the landing site. For the scientists, it is like brand new mission.

On the other side of the planet from Opportunity, the Curiosity rover has completed more than one Martian year (about two Earth years) exploring Gale Crater, a location of great geologic interest to planetary scientists. Early in the mission it found evidence that Gale Crater hosted a habitable environment early in Mars’ history.

After a long drive from a flat and safe landing site, it has finally begun its ascent of MountSharp where it will conduct a detailed examination of many distinct rock layers. Each of these layers will provide clues about conditions on Mars at different times in its history.

Find out more about what these robotic missions have told us about the Red Planet in Night Vision, October 23 and 25.

Side note: Don’t forget to keep an eye out for more information from NASA about the close encounter between Mars and Comet Siding Spring on October 19th! And don’t forget to watch the Partial Solar Eclipse on October 23rd before you come over for Night Vision!


Lunar Eclipse Brings Blood Moon to Utah

October 6th, 2014

The Moon and Uranus during the 4:30 a.m. Total Lunar Eclipse on October 8th, 2014.

The Moon and Uranus during the 4:30 a.m. Total Lunar Eclipse on October 8th, 2014.

Early to bed, early to rise… guarantees you’ll be sleepy but happy and have something awesome to talk about on October 8th: a Blood Moon.

The next time you’re outdoor on a sunny day, take a look at your shadow.  That’s you getting in the way of sunlight.  Earth casts a shadow, much larger than yours, that extends hundreds of thousands of miles into space.

During the early morning hours of Wednesday, October 8th Earth’s shadow will fall on the Moon and create a Total Lunar Eclipse.

If this isn’t your first rodeo, and you’ve already seen the Moon turn blood red as it passes through Earth’s shadow, then you may think that getting up early on a school day is just too big a hassle. But if you do, you’ll miss out on something even more rare and lovely a sight.

Between 4:30 a.m. and 5:00 a.m., when the Moon is fully eclipsed, take a look at it through a pair of binoculars. Then look just to left at the little greenish dot: that’s the planet Uranus. And here’s the thing. Uranus’s opposition (directly opposite the Sun) with Earth occurs just 13 hours prior to the Lunar Eclipse (something you won’t see in daylight), making the Earth-Uranus distance a mere 1.76 billion miles. That’s about as close to Earth as Uranus ever gets.

When you’re checking out the Moon and Uranus, consider this: If Earth was the size of a cherry held between your teeth, the Moon would be a pea between your fingers at arm’s length, and Uranus would be a baseball sitting 2.7 miles away.

So grab your binoculars, set your alarm clock, and catch a peek at the Blood Moon and Uranus on Wednesday so you’ll have something cool to talk about all day long.