Tuesday, May 6, 2014


April 15, 2014...

The forecast was not good.  We were having a total lunar eclipse and there were clouds everywhere!  In fact, 200 miles in all directions from Cincinnati, there were clouds clouds and more clouds.  Columbus - cloudy.  Louisville and Lexington - cloudy.  Indianapolis - cloudy.  Pittsburgh - cloudy.  Nashville - cloudy.

I was about to give up when I expanded my search and tried St. Louis - clear.  Clear? Really!

So I threw my telescope, camera, lawn chair and warm clothes into the car and headed West.  Since the eclipse was happening from 2-5:30am I didn't want to drive too far (I had to work later that day).  I settled on Effingham, Illinois, a 250 mile drive, as the closest place that I could maybe see the eclipse.  The chase was on!

I wanted a few hours of sleep so I got a hotel room and had a nap.  I woke up with the hope that I would not have to drive any further west but it was still cloudy.  I went back inside, frustrated, and slept another 30 minutes.  Then I packed up everything, fully expecting to have to drive more, and went outside.  Much to my surprise and utter joy, there was the Moon already in eclipse!  The clouds had lifted just in time and when I saw the eclipse I just gasped.  I've seen a lot of eclipses but the first sight of one always takes my breath away.

I set up the telescope in the nearby Cracker Barrel parking lot and began taking pictures.  The Moon's color shifted every few minutes.  It started gray, then got rosier, and finally turned a ruby red when in totality.  It was breathtaking!

I stayed out until the eclipse was almost over, but it was so cold and windy for an April 15.  I went back into my hotel room and got a few more hours of sleep, woke up, ate breakfast, and made it back to Cincinnati in time to go to work.

I'm always happy to complete a successful eclipse chase.  But hopefully I won't have to drive anywhere to see the next one on October 8, 2014.  Here's some pics:

Monday, April 14, 2014


Just a reminder that there will be a total lunar eclipse early Tuesday morning April 15.  Here's the plan with the times given as Eastern Daylight Time:

The eclipse begins at 2 AM when the curved shadow of the Earth appears on the full Moon
Totality (when the Moon is completely in the shadow of the Earth and it turns an eerie shade) is from 3-4:30 AM
The eclipse ends at 5:30 AM when the full moon returns to normal.

The weather forecast is looking bad for the Cincinnati area but you can watch live with the Star Gazers at:


Or get a feed from the Griffith Observatory in Los Angeles, California at:


Set your alarms and "Keep Looking Up!"

Monday, March 17, 2014


Mars by Etienne Trouvelot 1877
Naked eye astronomers – get ready. In April the Red Planet returns to prime time and the Moon shows us a darker side.

In 2003 Mars was closer to us that it had been for over 60,000 years. For our public viewing we opened at dusk and lines formed at the two telescopes - out the door and down the block. The final person viewed Mars at 4:30 AM. 

Every 26 months Mars reaches its closest point to the Earth and the Martian-loving public whips into a frenzy to take a closer look through our telescopes.  We lovingly call this Marsapalooza

Check with your local observatory, planetarium, science center, or astronomy club to see what events they have scheduled.  At the beginning of the April Mars will appear bright and orange in the eastern sky a little after sunset.  In the middle of the month, Mars is technically closest to us, but you’ll continue to see it every night until the end of the year.  Each day, the Earth will pull a little farther away from it until the next closest approach in May 2016.

Tax Day Lunar Eclipse

Total Lunar Eclipse
During a Total Lunar Eclipse the Sun, Earth, and Moon are in perfect alignment.  The full moon orbits into the shadow of the Earth and turns the lunar surface an eerie shade of orange.  The will occur again on April 15.

You will have to get up early or stay up late to watch this eclipse.  The show begins at about 2 AM Eastern Daylight Time (EDT) when you will start to see the rounded shadow of the Earth appear on the disc of the full moon.  Then over the course of an hour, the shadow will cover more and more of the Moon’s surface until the moment when the Moon will be completely in the shadow of the Earth.  This is called totality and it will occur on April 15 from 3:06-4:25 AM EDT. 

During totality the Moon will not disappear but instead turn a different shade.  Astronomers cannot predict what color it will be – pale gray, bright orange, or blood red.  Only the shadow knows!  Some sunlight will still reach the surface of the Moon.  It bends through the Earth’s atmosphere and still dimly gives the Moon some unique mood lighting.  Whatever the color, when you see the total lunar eclipse you are actually seeing all of the sunsets and sunrises of Earth projected onto the Moon. 

After totality ends, you can watch the Earth’s shadow slowly wipe away from the Moon.  The full moon will appear to be its normal bright self again at around 5:30 AM.

Friday, March 7, 2014

Ursa Major - The Big Bear

The ancient Greeks and some Native American groups both called these stars a big bear. The Big Dipper is only the rear end and tail of the bear. But have you ever seen a bear with a tail like that? It looks more like a raccoon or an angry cat to me. Well, imagine you're sitting around the campfire thousands of years ago and an old shaman begins to tell you the tale of the Big Bear...

"Once upon a time, a long long time ago there was a young hunter. It had been a cold and dark winter and the village was on the brink of starvation. So they sent their best hunter out in search of food. He collected his bow and arrows and hiked off down the path. He hiked and hiked and hiked and hiked until he came to a dangerous section of the path along the ridge of a mountain - cliffs on each side. As he looked ahead there was a humongous momma bear laying in his path taking a nap (insert snoring noises please). The hunter couldn't go around the bear, over the bear, or under the bear. And he couldn't turn back home foodless as he was. What to do?

The hunter decided that action needed to be taken. Since desperate times call for desperate measures he snuck up on that momma bear and grabbed her by her short, stubby tail and began swinging him around over his head (he was a strong guy!). And as the bear was twirling around and around a funny thing began to happen. The bear's tail started stretching and stretching until finally the hunter let go - whoosh! The bear flew up, up, up so high that she stuck - splat! - into the sky where she slowly turned into the stars we see today. And that is how the Big Bear got her long tail."

People loved this story so much that they wanted to hear more - a sequel. Stay tuned for Part II, the Bear Strikes Back!

Wednesday, February 5, 2014


One Greek legend refers to the constellation Auriga as Erichthonius, the son of Vulcan and Minerva. Erich (for short), was born deformed and could not walk well. To remedy his situation, Erich invented the four-horse chariot to get him around the kingdom. He was so respected for his invention that he became the fourth king of Athens. Also Erich had a soft spot for crippled or injured animals, his favorite being a little she-goat (Capella). In the sky we are supposed to see Erich holding little Capella and two other goats as they race around the heavens.

Capella is one of the brightest stars in the sky and easy way to find Auriga. When low in the sky it twinkles red, white, and blue. The Arabs called it, "The Driver," "The Singer," and "The Guardian of the Pleiades." It was, "The Heart of Brahma" in India. And in South America this star was one of the favorites among shepherds who called it "Colca." Astronomers have figured out that Capella is actually a four-star system with two big yellow suns and two little red ones. 

Look for Auriga almost straight overhead in the February evenings.  Its stars form a squished-pentagon shape. Capella will be your guide and you can use it to find  "the kids" on the next clear night.

Thursday, January 9, 2014

GEMINI TWINS - Greek Version

Have you found the stars Pollux and Castor yet? The ancient Greek myth about these twin brothers might motivate you to discover the twins.

Pollux and Castor shared the same mother, but one was mortal (Castor) and the other was the son of Zeus (Pollux) - talk about confusing genealogy!  They grew up and developed the greatest bond of friendship - one as a master pugilist the other master horseman. 

Twins Day
One evening the brothers attended the double wedding of their twin, male cousins who were marrying, you guessed it, twin girls! So many twins.  Before the ceremony began, Pollux and Castor accidentally went into the wrong tent – where the twin girls were readying themselves. Well, their eight eyes met and the twins fell helplessly in love with the twin brides-to-be. The foursome were about to make a quick and romantic getaway from the wedding when the two grooms discovered their plans and stopped them. A terrible fight ensued in which Castor was killed. In Pollux’s rage, he killed the two cousins in revenge. Question: why pick a fight with an immortal anyway?

That's Gemini on the cover
Pollux was so saddened that he wished he were dead (no need for a wife now, I guess). He pleaded with the gods to kill him so that he could be with his brother forever in the afterlife. The gods were so moved by Pollux’s feelings that they granted his request and immortalized the twins together in the sky to be a sign of fraternal love.  You can find them high in the east after sunset - two bright, twin stars.

Friday, December 20, 2013


Taurus the Bull is easy to identify even in light polluted skies. Orion's belt stars make good pointers. Connect the three dots and continue the line of sight up and to the right and you will arrive at a small "V" shape of stars. That is Taurus' face. The brightest star in the "V" is the Bull's Eye, a red giant called Aldebaran. Aldebaran means "the follower," but what is it following? If you continue the line from Orion's belt through the "V" you will see. The Seven Sisters (or Pleiades) is just to the west. As the night goes on Aldebaran follows the Sisters through the sky.
Inside the "V" are a lot of stars. This is called the Hyades star cluster (in Greek mythology five of these were the half-sisters to the Pleiades) ((wait a second... seven plus five... that's a lot of kids for the god Atlas to raise!). The Hyades are the closest open cluster to Earth at only 150 light years distant. You can observe dozens to hundreds of these stars with a good pair of binoculars. Aldebaran is not a Hyade, though. It is much closer to the Earth and just appears in the same neighborhood.
Off the top of the "V", the horns of the bull radiate out to the stars Elnath and Zeta Tauri. Next to Zeta Tauri is one of the most interesting objects in space. Named M1 or the Crab Nebula, this is the remnant of one of the brightest stellar explosions ever witnessed by humans. M1 is the leftover of a supernova explosion that erupted in 1054 AD. The blast was so bright that it was visible during the daytime along with the Sun. Since then we've had two other bright supernovas (1572 and 1604). I think we're due. And maybe, fingers crossed, we'll see Betelgeuse go "KABLOOEY!"