And so it begins….

We will never know how many people visit Tennessee (or really anywhere else in totality). The eclipse is turning us all into mini hostels. Visiting new friends south of town, they talked about inviting folks to their house, even though they’ll have to drive to totality. My kids are inviting friends. I think we’ll be seriously bunking at least ten extra people, maybe more. This will be repeated over and over by a substantial number of households in Nashville The hotels will be only the beginning.

This is a slow motion tsunami, a wave of people that will join us to stand under the shadow of the Moon. A mass movement. But difficult to communicate to those who do not share the vision. A fair number still view this as a science thing, something only of interest to the amateur astronomy community. Not true! While the astronomy community has had this posted on their refrigerators for a decade or more, we’re going to be inviting everyone…and we do mean everyone! That’s why Fred Espenak has a “Road Atlas for the Total Solar Eclipse of 2017.” If you are not from Tennessee, you might want one of these!

If you can drive to the path, you should do so. You will not forget the sight, and what a gift to give kids. Two things in science are interesting to young kids: dinosaurs and space. I don’t have live dinosaurs, but I can show off space. And this year, I can show you a total eclipse of the Sun!

Venus at eclipse

Each year we make a list of what objects are visible in the evening sky throughout the year for our star parties. Working on the list for 2017, noted when Venus drops out of the evening sky. Rarely do we note much in the predawn sky, knowing most folks like to sleep in, but sometimes it’s fun to know what rises before the Sun.

On Eclipse Day, Venus will lead the Sun – and Moon- into the sky, only to be lost in the glare of the summer sun. Somehow, I think we’ll not be sleeping much the night before anyway, so I’ll plan to greet the dawn and Venus. She will be back, visible before totality as the sky slowly darkens..a challenge to see who can spot Venus first!

Following Venus is Mars, with Mercury on the other side of the Sun and Jupiter rising in the east. The only planet missing from the eclipse sky is Saturn.

shelby park view
Shelby Bottom Park view, Stellarium

The Greek names allow for some alliteration… Aphrodite leading Ares and Artemis, who will shadow her twin brother Apollo. Hermes following behind and Zeus off in the distance.

We know all these worlds – and our star – so much differently than the Greeks. But standing and watching the same way they did, the dance is still just as beautiful.

Winter comets

No one is claiming “comet of the century,” but this winter and spring will feature a couple of bright comets.  A nice warm-up act for the eclipse!

First up is 45P/Honda-Mrkos-Pajdusakova.  See Seiichi Yoshida’s excellent comet website for rough finder charts and light curves, then make sure it is added to your favorite desktop/phone app. Probably not naked eye, but it’ll be good in binoculars. We’ll see how it ramps up next month.

Next Comet 2P/Encke makes one of it’s better apparitions. We’ll be looking for that in February and March.

But wait, there’s more: 41P/Tuttle-Giacobini-Kresak may reach 5th magnitude in April. In the northern sky starting in March, it will be circumpolar, making a very tempting target for photography.

Come May, it’s C/2015 V2 ( Johnson )! This comet will peak about the first of July.

There are always comets, but so much of the time even the brightest are far below even binoculars or telescopes in the city. So we’ll have fun sharpening our observing skills before we watch the grand show in August!