The countdown has officially begun for the great North American solar eclipse, set to occur on Monday, April 8, 2024. This natural phenomenon will occur when the Moon passes directly between Earth and the Sun, blocking the Sun’s bright face and revealing its wispy outer atmosphere, the solar corona. This total solar eclipse will darken parts of Eastern Canada, sweep from Texas to Maine, and cross Mexico. Nearly everyone in North America will get a chance to witness a partial solar eclipse, while those within the narrow path of the Moon’s dark shadow will experience the real excitement for a few fleeting minutes.
The annular solar eclipse, occurring on Saturday, October 14, 2023, will be visible within a roughly 125-mile-wide path from Oregon to Texas and on into Mexico, Central America, and northern South America. Most North Americans outside the path will experience a partial solar eclipse.
From beginning to end, a solar eclipse lasts up to about 3 hours. The Moon slowly covers the Sun, then uncovers it, during the beginning and ending partial phases. The real excitement comes in the middle, but only for those within the narrow path of the Moon’s dark shadow, and only for a few fleeting minutes.
It is important to note that during partial and annular solar eclipses, the Sun remains dangerously bright at all times and must never be looked at directly except through special-purpose “eclipse glasses” or handheld viewers that meet the requirements of the ISO 12312-2 international standard. During totality, however, you can safely view the eclipsed Sun without eye protection.
According to Rick Fienberg, Project Manager of the American Astronomical Society (AAS) Solar Eclipse Task Force and Senior Contributing Editor of Sky & Telescope, “if you can get yourself into the path of the Moon’s shadow for a total solar eclipse, it’s definitely worth the effort. A 99% partial solar eclipse doesn’t get you 99% of the experience of a total solar eclipse — the last 1% is literally the difference between night and day.”
The AAS Solar Eclipse Task Force, partnering with the outreach team for NASA’s PUNCH mission, is holding a planning workshop in June 2023 for everyone involved or wanting to become involved in preparing their community for the upcoming North American solar eclipses, whether on or off the eclipse path(s). Attendees will include amateur and professional astronomers; formal and informal educators; local, state, and national government officials; representatives from the tourism and hospitality industries; professionals in health, safety, transportation, and emergency management; local, state, and national park rangers; and artists, filmmakers, science writers, and event planners.
We get solar eclipses because, by an amazing cosmic coincidence, the Sun and Moon appear almost exactly the same size in our sky. Our planet is closest to the Sun (perihelion) in early January and farthest (aphelion) in early July, and the Sun appears about 3% wider in January than in July. The eclipse geometry is fascinating, and it is worth learning more about how these natural phenomena occur.
In conclusion, the countdown has officially begun for the great North American solar eclipse. Whether you are within the narrow path of the Moon’s dark shadow or experiencing a partial solar eclipse, it is important to view the eclipsed Sun safely. Don’t miss out on this once-in-a-generation opportunity to witness the magnificent solar corona and other noteworthy phenomena.
For more information about the October 2023 annular eclipse, see “Solar and Lunar Eclipses in 2023” on Sky & Telescope’s website. A thorough preview of the April 2024 total solar eclipse appears in the April 2023 issue of Sky & Telescope magazine, now on newsstands.
You can get local circumstances of upcoming solar (and lunar) eclipses for cities worldwide on TimeandDate.com’s Eclipses page.
NASA’s Vigilance: Tracking Menacing Asteroids in Our Cosmic Neighborhood
“NASA’s vigilant gaze scans the skies, capturing detailed views of menacing asteroids like 2008 OS7, ensuring Earth’s safety from cosmic threats.”
In the vast expanse of space, NASA’s unwavering watch over the skies has once again highlighted the importance of tracking potentially hazardous asteroids. Recently, the space agency turned its gaze towards asteroid 2008 OS7, a formidable rock ranging from 650 to 1,640 feet (200 to 500 meters) in diameter. Despite its imposing size, this celestial visitor came within a relatively close distance of 1.8 million miles (2.9 million kilometers) from Earth in early February.
Thankfully, meticulous observations by NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory confirmed that this asteroid’s trajectory posed no imminent threat to our planet. While the proximity of 2008 OS7 may seem disconcerting, it was reassuring to learn that the calculated distance was a safe 7.5 times the span between Earth and the moon.
Utilizing sophisticated technology such as the Goldstone Solar System Radar in the California desert, NASA scientists captured detailed images of the asteroid, shedding light on its size, rotation, shape, and surface features. These radio telescopes, with their massive arrays of dishes, play a crucial role in enhancing our understanding of near-Earth objects and assessing potential risks they might pose.
Despite the vast number of asteroids scattered throughout our solar system, the current cosmic landscape is relatively calm compared to the tumultuous era of its formation billions of years ago. Dr. Sally Dodson-Robinson, a planetary scientist at the University of Delaware, emphasized this shift, highlighting the violent collisions and formations that shaped the solar system in its early stages.
In essence, NASA’s continuous surveillance of the heavens serves as a beacon of preparedness and scientific advancement, ensuring that we remain vigilant against potential cosmic threats. As we navigate the mysteries of our universe, these efforts underscore the importance of monitoring and understanding the dynamics of celestial bodies to safeguard our planet and advance our knowledge of the cosmos.
Source: NASA/JPL and Mashable
The Enigmatic Zodiacal Light: A Celestial Phenomenon Around the March Equinox
Witness the ethereal glow of the zodiacal light around the March equinox, a celestial spectacle connecting us to the mysteries of the cosmos.
As the March equinox approaches, a mystical glow known as the zodiacal light graces the evening sky, captivating skywatchers with its ethereal presence. This luminous cone, visible just after twilight fades, enchants those in the Northern Hemisphere from late February to early March. Glimpsing this elusive spectacle requires a keen eye and a dark sky, offering a unique connection to the cosmos.
The zodiacal light, often mistaken for lingering twilight or distant city lights, holds a fascinating origin story. It arises from sunlight reflecting off dust grains orbiting the sun in the inner solar system. Initially thought to be remnants from our solar system’s formation, recent theories suggest a Martian origin. These dust grains, ranging from millimeter-sized to micron-sized, form a delicate pathway mirroring the sun and moon’s journey across the ecliptic, the plane of our solar system.
For stargazers in the Southern Hemisphere, the zodiacal light presents itself as a hazy pyramid in the east before dawn, offering a celestial dance of light and shadow. Capturing this celestial ballet on camera can be a rewarding experience, showcasing the beauty of our interconnected universe.
The best times to witness this cosmic display vary with the seasons. Spring heralds the zodiacal light in the evening, while autumn reveals its splendor before dawn. The optimal viewing window extends from late August to early November in the Northern Hemisphere and from late February to early May in the Southern Hemisphere, aligning with the equinoxes.
To behold this enigmatic light, one must seek out a dark sky location, free from the glare of city lights. The zodiacal light’s milky radiance surpasses that of the summer Milky Way, offering a serene and awe-inspiring sight. Whether observed after dusk in spring or before dawn in autumn, this celestial phenomenon promises a glimpse into the vastness of our solar system.
As we marvel at the zodiacal light’s gentle glow, we are reminded of the interconnectedness of Earth and the cosmos. So, next time you find yourself under a starlit sky around the equinox, remember to cast your gaze towards the heavens and witness the celestial dance of the zodiacal light.
The Close Encounter of Asteroid 2008 OS7: Understanding Near Earth Objects and Potentially Hazardous Asteroids
Asteroid 2008 OS7, a cosmic visitor, will pass Earth safely, sparking curiosity about our cosmic neighborhood.
On the afternoon of February 2, 2024, a cosmic visitor will make its closest approach to Earth. Named 2008 OS7, this asteroid will dash past our planet at a staggering speed of about 18.2 km/s, or roughly 40,700 mph. To put this into perspective, this velocity far surpasses that of a speeding bullet, which typically ranges between 600 and 2,000 mph.
Asteroids, remnants from the early formation of our solar system, mostly inhabit the Asteroid Belt, positioned between Mars and Jupiter. While most are relatively small, some, like the colossal Ceres measuring about 600 miles across, are truly massive. Occasionally, due to gravitational forces from Jupiter or collisions, these space rocks find themselves hurtling into the inner solar system, leading to encounters with Earth.
2008 OS7 falls into the category of Near Earth Objects (NEOs) and is also labeled a Potentially Hazardous Asteroid (PHA) due to its size and close proximity to Earth. NEOs are defined as celestial objects within 30 million miles of Earth, encompassing a staggering 31,000 items within our solar system. PHAs, a more critical subset, are those that approach within 4.6 million miles and boast a diameter exceeding 460 feet. Currently, NASA keeps tabs on around 2,350 PHAs.
Read Newsweek’s story.: https://www.newsweek.com/nasa-asteroid-empire-state-building-size-flyby-1865684
Martin Barstow, a professor of astrophysics and space science at the University of Leicester, explained the PHA classification to Newsweek, underlining the potential regional damage such an object could cause if it were to collide with Earth. Despite this classification, 2008 OS7 poses no threat to our planet, as it will not come anywhere near colliding with us.
Minjae Kim, a research fellow at the University of Warwick, emphasized in a statement to Newsweek that although 2008 OS7 has been labeled as a PHA, it won’t enter Earth’s atmosphere. Kim also pointed out the multitude of asteroids in our solar system, with approximately 2,350 classified as PHAs, and highlighted the next significant approach to Earth by a PHA, which will be the 99942 Apophis on April 14, 2029.
For sky enthusiasts hoping to catch a glimpse of this celestial passerby, 2008 OS7 will be disappointingly difficult to spot. Kim noted that the asteroid’s orbit around the sun takes approximately 962 days, and its estimated diameter ranges from 0.221 to 0.494 kilometers, placing it in the category of a small to moderately-sized asteroid, akin to the size of a football field. Unfortunately, due to their faintness, asteroids are generally challenging to detect using current observational techniques, making them virtually impossible to see with the naked eye.
As we prepare for this celestial event, it serves as a reminder of the intricate dance of celestial bodies around our planet and the ongoing work to monitor and understand the potential impact of near-Earth objects. While 2008 OS7 will shoot past our planet without incident, it underscores the importance of continued vigilance and exploration of our cosmic neighborhood.
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