This month the moon and earth take center stage with each
casting their shadows on the other in two separate spectacular
This month the moon and earth take center stage with each casting their shadows on the other in two separate spectacular eclipses. It makes for exciting viewing if you are located in the right place at the right time. The events are a total eclipse of the moon on the 15th, and two weeks later an annular eclipse of the sun on the 31st.

In California, we are fortunate to be in a good position to witness the first event, the total eclipse of the moon. When darkness approaches on this night the eclipse will already be under way and will be in a partial eclipse phase when you see the moon rise. The eclipse will be over when the moon leaves the penumbra by 11:15 p.m.

What has happened is the earth has come between the bright sun and our closest neighbor, the moon, and has cast its shadow on the moon’s surface. You can try to duplicate this eclipse with a flashlight, basketball, baseball, and a dark room.

Set up your flashlight (the sun) at one end of the room, the basketball (the earth) on a table in the middle of the room and turn out the lights. With the flashlight on and pointed directly at the basketball, pick up the baseball and move it back and forth behind the earth’s shadow. By doing so, notice the different colors the baseball takes on. The baseball starts out white and when it first enters the shadow (penumbra) it turns a pale yellow until it is directly behind the basketball (umbra) when it turns almost a dark penny copper orange.

The last total eclipse in North America occurred in January 2000. Luckily we won’t have to wait as long for the next one, which comes just six months from now on Nov. 9. So don’t miss this one, it’s easy to watch. You won’t need any scopes, charts, nor have to go way out of town to enjoy this eclipse. There won’t be any charge for this show at all. Yes, it’s free. Just walk to your n backyard at sunset on the evening of the 15th and have a good time. If you are into it, get your camera out. Try using 400 film set at second at f/8 for the partial phases, boosting the exposure to 3 seconds at f/4 during totality. This kind of event always makes you a great photographer. Just get out there and snap away.

Our other event, the Solar Eclipse, will occur on May 31. This happens when the moon passes directly between the earth and sun blocking out its brilliance. Unfortunately, unless you are visiting Iceland or somewhere in that vicinity on that day, you are not going to be able to see this one.

This eclipse is somewhat unusual. It is called an Annular Eclipse. Since the moon is farther away from the earth and slightly smaller to the eye at the time of the eclipse, it will not completely cover the sun. It leaves a ring of light around the moon, called the Ring of Fire. The light is still bright enough that one can not look directly at the event as you could with a total eclipse.

Using the proper filter would be the smart thing to do here or permanent damage will occur to the retina. If you can’t make it to Iceland, just look on the Internet afterward and you should be able to see all kinds of great photos of the eclipse.

Jupiter remains one of the best telescopic views of the evening due to its placement high in the sky this month. Anytime an object is straight up in the sky there is less atmosphere to contend with, and therefore a more crisp and sharper view is obtained.

Saturn is still putting on a good show for us this month, not setting until 11:30 p.m. By the end of May, Saturn will be dipping below the horizon 90 minutes after the sun sets. Get your final looks in now while you can because it will pass behind the sun in June and be lost in the glare.

As always, Venus is the brightest planet in our skies, and can be seen this month an hour before sunrise. On May 26 see if you can pick out Mercury just 2 degrees south of Venus. A pair of binoculars will be needed to catch Mercury though.

– Constellation of the month.

Last month you learned how to find the North Pole or the North Star by using the two pointer stars in the constellation Ursa Major (Big Dipper). This star (Polaris), that seems to never move, belongs to a separate constellation called Ursa Minor or the Little Dipper. It is not as large and bright as the Big Dipper, only having two stars with any brightness at all, the North Star being one of them. Locating this smaller dipper is fairly difficult. It might be best to take out your star charts and compare it to the real thing in the sky.

It just amazes me how they came up with a bear of any kind in either dipper. Good imagination, I guess. I have yet to see a bear with such a long tail as these two have. There must be some reason why people associate bears, usually Polar bears, with these constellations. When Europeans landed in North America, they found that some of the Indian tribes also call Ursa Major a bear.

The nights are still a little chilly under the stars. So if you can bear it, bundle up and get out there this weekend with your family and see what you can find. Who knows, maybe the Little Dipper? Clear skies.

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A staff member wrote, edited or posted this article, which may include information provided by one or more third parties.


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