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Look skyward during Global Astronomy Month Phillip Brents | Fri, Apr 11 2014 05:25 PM

Global Astronomy Month, organized each April by Astronomers Without Borders, is the world’s largest celebration of astronomy. The goal is to bring enthusiasts together worldwide to celebrate the night sky and its many wonders.
Astronomers Without Borders’ motto is One People, One Sky.

GAM programs around the world will include star parties, including virtual telescopic views streamed online, educational outreach, artistic media and photo contests.

April seems an appropriate month this year to celebrate the natural wonders of our universe. A total lunar eclipse will be visible throughout the Americas during the late night hours of Monday, April 14, and the early morning hours of Tuesday, April 15.

Coinciding with that spectacle is another one: the closest passage of the planet Mars to the Earth in more than six years. The two planets will be closest to one another on the night following the total lunar eclipse.

For those with binoculars or telescopes, the asteroids Vesta and Ceres also will be at their brightest next week as each reaches opposition — a point directly behind the Earth as measured from the Sun. Both dwarf planets will be located in the constellation Virgo, about 12 degrees northeast of flaming Mars.

If that isn’t enough, the Lyrid meteor shower will also peak on the morning of April 22.


The only light that reaches the moon’s surface during a total lunar eclipse is that which passes through the Earth’s atmosphere — a ring of reddish sunrises and sunsets that encircle the globe as seen from the moon’s surface. This explains the yellowish or even deep red color of the moon during a total lunar eclipse.

South County residents, providing there are clear skies that night, will see a corner of the moon start to darken beginning at 10:58 p.m. on Monday night. This begins the partial phase of the eclipse.

The moon will be totally eclipsed from 12:07 a.m. until 1:25 a.m. on Tuesday morning, with the mid-point of the eclipse at 12:46 a.m.

The moon will leave the Earth’s darker umbral shadow at 2:33 a.m., ending the partial phase of the eclipse.

The duration of totality will be 78 minutes.

Since the moon will be passing just south of the center of the Earth’s umbral shadow, the northern half of the moon should be darker than the southern part during the eclipse.

The entire event actually lasts nearly six hours. The moon enters the Earth’s fainter penumbral shadow at 9:54 p.m. on Monday night and exits it at 3:38 a.m. Tuesday. Skywatchers should see the full moon look perceptibly less bright during the penumbral phase.

The night sky should be spectacular with fiery Mars 9.5 degrees northwest of the totally eclipsed moon and the bright blue-white star Spica just two degrees to the west of the ruddy lunar orb.

Don’t pass up the opportunity to view the Red Planet. Telescopic views of Mars — some 57 million miles away — should reveal the northern ice cap and some dark albedo markings. Try viewing at 100-200x under a steady sky.
If you have a chance to get to the mountains, the views will be even better.

Next week’s total lunar eclipse is the first of four for viewers in North America over the next two years. A similar total lunar eclipse will be visible from San Diego County on Oct. 8, followed by a partial lunar eclipse on April 4, 2015, and another total lunar eclipse on Sept. 27, 2015.

For more information on Global Astronomy Month, visit www.astronomerswithoutborders.org.

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