The sky is falling!

by DaniGirl on February 20, 2008 · 6 comments

in Memes, My inner geek

No, not really, but there are two really cool reasons to look up into the night sky tonight.

Way back in the day, blog used to cater more to my inner geek. I wrote about why we should explore space, and ranted about the evolution versus creationism debate. I don’t remember when I last wrote on the subject, but when I saw this meme at About Miche, I couldn’t resist:

JustSayHi - Science Quiz

(I would’ve done better if there were more astronomy questions! Theoretical astronomy and cosmology – stuff like chaos theory and string theory and the origins of the universe – have long been a fascination of mine.)

So, back to the free show in the sky tonight. First, there will be a gorgeous total lunar eclipse tonight, and for a nice change it is both at a reasonable hour AND at least here in Ottawa, the skies should be clear. The eclipse will be visible from most of North America, as well as South America and Western Europe, and the next lunar eclipse visible in Canada won’t be until December 2010.

A lunar eclipse occurs when the moon passes into the earth’s shadow — that is, the earth comes between the sun and the moon (as opposed to a solar eclipse, when the moon passes between the sun and the earth.) The moon won’t disappear completely, but will become a deep red or orange colour. You can see the earth’s shadow take the first ‘bite’ out of the moon starting at 8:43 pm EST, and totality begins at 10:01 pm and will last until 10:51 pm. For more info on lunar eclipses, see this excellent primer.

As if that weren’t cool enough, you will also be able to see the American military spy satellite USA 193 as it passes over Ottawa starting at 6:06 pm EST tonight. (You can get information about tracking the satellite in your hometown’s sky starting here.) This is the satellite that’s been in the news lately for its decaying orbit – either the US military will shoot it down in the next couple of days, or it will crash to earth some time in March.

You should be able to see the satellite with the naked eye. It will be about as bright and the same size as the brightest stars, and will take about five minutes to move across the sky. It will rise in the southwest and rise more or less overhead across the southeast sky before disappearing to the northeast. This website has a star chart with the path marked across it.

Cool stuff!


{ 6 comments… read them below or add one }

1 alison February 20, 2008 at 12:13 pm

I’m so glad you posted this, Dani! I heard about the eclipse and the chance to see the rings of Saturn (with a telescope) on the radio this a.m. and I was so excited! I was planning on googling for more info, and now you’ve saved me the effort. Leah has a telescope that we watched the last lunar eclipse through, and I’d love for us to do it again. Long live the geeks!

2 alison February 20, 2008 at 12:20 pm

Me again. If you have a telescope, Saturn and its rings will be visible when the moon is eclipsed, it will be very bright once the moon is dimmed. From a Baltimore news site (I imagine Saturn will still be in the same place for Ottawa viewers):

You can catch the entire spectacle anywhere the moon is visible, but a number of local amateur astronomy groups and observatories are planning public events. They will offer opportunities to see the eclipse, plus a bonus look at Saturn and its rings, through a telescope.

“Saturn will be hovering just a few degrees from the moon, making it unusually easy to spot,” Heyn said. “Viewed from Earth, the tilt of the rings varies. … While their tilt is currently only one-third their maximum, they remain an exciting sight.”

Saturn will be the “star” just below the moon, to the left. The true star above the moon is Regulus in the constellation Leo.

Captcha: over overcall – perhaps my two geeky comments are over overkill?

3 Not So Little Sister February 20, 2008 at 1:19 pm

I got a C too. I guess not terrible… 🙂

4 Suz February 20, 2008 at 9:36 pm

We tried to see the eclipse tonight but it was obscured by clouds.

I’m afraid to take the test.

I think that I’d fail.

5 lugina February 20, 2008 at 10:36 pm

UGH! We’re in Oklahoma. My 8th grader was actually interested in something he learned about in science class and the sky is covered with clouds.

6 Jenny F. Scientist February 21, 2008 at 9:42 am

thanks! I actually didn’t know… looked cool but it never got completely darkened here.

I got a B (oh, the shame!).

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