Hey, Sky Fans! Happy Friday. If your week has been as long as mine, thank you for taking some time out of it to stop by. I raise my tea to you.
Let me bust out the italics here. The moment you’ve been waiting for: This post is the third in a set of three posts about the big solar eclipse that’ll cross the United States on August 21, 2017.
If you’re on your way to the zone of totality, which sounds much more evil and haunted than it probably will be, how are your plans coming together? I hope you’re all set.
As totality sets in, the skies will go dark and the stars will come out. These aren’t the same stars you’ll see when you go back outside later that night. These are the stars that are up during the day this time of year, but washed out by the Sun’s glare. The Moon will block much of the the Sun’s light before our atmosphere has a chance to scatter it.
The total eclipse is sort of a multi-sensory, all-encompassing thing. Maybe you might want to look around a little while it’s happening, or maybe not. I have no idea what I’d look at. Here are 5 things you’ll be able to see during the totality if you look around. Other than the Sun and Moon, like really.
- Mars! The fourth rock from the Sun has been hiding in the Sun’s glare since it vanished from the night skies months ago. Here’s your chance to see it, to the west of the Sun.
- Mercury! The speediest, innermost, most cratered planet of them all is never farther than 28° from the Sun from our point of view. That’s about the width of three fists held out at arm’s length (I won’t ask where you’re getting your third fist). This means it’s always pretty close to the horizon and either sets or gets lost in sunny morning skies very quickly. During the eclipse, though, it’ll be high in the sky to the east of the Sun.
- Regulus! The Little King is the brightest star in Leo, which is usually thought of a springtime constellation. It’s late summer now, and the Sun is in Leo nowadays. Regulus will be the bright star right alongside the Sun-Moon duo.
- The ecliptic! Well, no, you can’t see the actual ecliptic, which we see as the path the Sun takes across the sky, but is the plane of the solar system. What you’ll be able two see is a clear and direct line running from Jupiter, rising far to the east, over to Mercury, then westward to the Sun, Mars and over to Venus. If you look just at those objects, you’re looking past the Moon and then off into the solar system to see our family right before your eyes. Then, imagine the view of all of that from high above the Earth! Wow.
- The Winter Circle! Okay, this is six things, and those six things loop around tons of other things, but I’m okay counting it as one if you are. The bright lights of winter will be off toward the west. You’ll need a big, wide patch of sky to see them all because Orion’s Rigel will be just above the horizon, but you might be able to just pick them out. Just follow the line of the ecliptic westward from the Sun through Mars and over to Venus. A little lower, you’ll see Procyon (in Canis Minor), Sirius (Canis Major), Rigel (Orion), Aldebaran (Taurus), Capella (Auriga), Castor (Gemini), and Pollux (also in Gemini) before you get back to Venus. You’ll also be able to see the bright stars of Orion’s belt within the circle, and use it as a guide as well.
I couldn’t get the whole thing in, but here’s part of what I’m describing here, which is Stellarium’s view of Carbondale, Illinois during totality. You can use Venus, Pollux, and Procyon to find the rest of the Winter Circle.
Enjoy the show, and clear skies, everyone! Have a great weekend!