Mobile astronomy apps such as SkySafari 6 are an ideal tool to preview celestial events. The total lunar eclipse on the morning of Jan. 31, 2018 features an enlarged supermoon. It’s also a Blue Moon, the second full moon in January — a combination that hasn’t occurred in many years. In the eastern US and Canada, the moon will set mid-eclipse. But skywatchers in the west will be able to watch the entire eclipse, as shown here near the end of the eclipse at 6:15 a.m. PST in San Francisco, CA. By telling you where in the sky it will occur, your astronomy app can help you plan to observe or photograph any eclipse.
In 2018, the world will experience three partial solar eclipses and two total lunar eclipses — but whether you can see them depends on where you live. The first event is a total lunar eclipse that happens on the morning of Jan. 31. This eclipse will be special! The moon will be both “super” and “blue,” and if skies are clear, skywatchers in North America will be able to see all or part of the eclipse.
In this edition of Mobile Astronomy, we’ll highlight the rare “Blue Blood Supermoon” total lunar eclipse and tell you how to use your favorite astronomy app to preview it. We’ll also help you use your app to explore how lunar eclipses work. [Super Blue Blood Moon 2018: When, Where and How to See It]
A Blue Blood Supermoon eclipse
On Jan. 31, 2018, skywatchers across much of the world will receive a postholiday gift: the total lunar eclipse of a full supermoon that is also a Blue Moon! Unlike last summer’s Great American Total Solar Eclipse, lunar eclipses are completely safe to look at because the sun is below the horizon. Any sunlight that reaches the eclipsed moon has to pass over the Earth’s horizon, panting the moon with reddish light — hence the nickname “blood moon” for eclipsed moons.
Due to the moon’s elliptical orbit, its distance from Earth varies by about 12 percent, bringing it closer (perigee) and farther (apogee) during every 27.3 day circuit of Earth. The moon runs through its phases on a separate cycle of 29.5 days. From time to time, the two cycles synchronize for a few months, allowing the moon to be full while near perigee, causing it to be up to 30 percent brighter and 7 percent larger than average. The three full moons in December 2017 and January 2018 are all supermoons.
This total lunar eclipse occurs only 1.2 days after perigee (the moon’s closest approach to Earth), so the moon’s diameter will appear about 7 percent larger than average, making it a “supermoon.” The full moon will also be a Blue Moon — the second full moon to occur within the calendar month. Eclipsed supermoons aren’t all that rare, but the total eclipse of a Blue Moon hasn’t occurred since March 31, 1866. That’s 152 years! Don’t let the nickname mislead you, though — the moon won’t look blue at all.
The entire eclipse will be visible from northwestern North America, across the Pacific Ocean, and as far as eastern Siberia and Asia. Most of North America will see a portion of the eclipse before the moon sets and morning twilight arrives, while Eastern Europe and Central Asia will see the eclipse already in progress when the moon rises. During totality, when the moon is fully in shadow, the moon’s northern limb will pass just south of the center of the Earth’s shadow, darkening the moon’s northern half more than its southern half.
To find out whether the eclipse will be visible where you live and to preview what it will look like, use an astronomy app such as SkySafari 6, Star Walk 2 or Stellarium Mobile.. Open the app, and then search for and center the moon — don’t worry if it’s below the horizon for now. Next, set the app’s date to Jan. 31, 2018, and the app’s time to about 1 a.m. in your local time zone. For locations in North America, the app will show the moon high in the night sky. Zoom in on the display until the moon shows as a good-sized disk.
The free Solar System Scope app features a 3D model of the solar system that you can manipulate to better understand the motions of the moon and planets. You can select a specific date and time, or allow time to flow forwards and watch things move. Here, the Jan. 31, 2018 total lunar eclipse is modeled. The software is available in both browser and mobile versions, and includes a sky chart mode for night-time skywatchers.
Credit: Solar System Scope
By running time forward, or by stepping hour by hour, you can watch the moon become eclipsed and then lighten again as it leaves the Earth’s shadow. The moon’s edge will start to darken at 6:48 a.m. EST (1148 GMT). Maximum eclipse occurs at 8:30 a.m. EST (1330 GMT), and the eclipse ends at 10:11 a.m. EST (1511 GMT). For skywatchers in the eastern United States, the moon will set before maximum eclipse, but you can see the entire eclipse by removing the horizon and turning off daylight using the app’s settings.
If you plan to view the actual eclipse, or photograph it, use your app to note the direction and how high above the horizon the moon will be during the event. That way, you can scout out a viewing spot where the moon will be visible throughout the eclipse duration.
Understanding how lunar eclipses work is easy if your app allows you to display the invisible circles representing the full and partial shadows that Earth casts into space. In the SkySafari 6 app, the setting is located under Settings > Solar System > Orbits, Paths & Shadows. Enable the Earth & Moon Shadow Circles, and exit Settings. The smallest circle is the zone, or umbra, where the sun is completely blocked by the Earth. The larger circle is the penumbra, the region where some of the sun is still shining on objects passing through it.
Sunlight shining on the solid globe of Earth casts a circular shadow, or umbra, into space. The shadow is always opposite the sun and near the ecliptic (yellow line), which defines the plane of Earth’s orbit around the sun. The moon’s orbit (gray line) is tilted 5 degrees away from the ecliptic. Whenever full moons occur close to the point in space where the moon’s orbit and ecliptic intersect, a lunar eclipse can occur. While the moon is passing through the smaller white circle, only sunlight that has been reddened as it refracts over the Earth’s horizon reaches it — painting it a blood red color. The larger circle, or penumbra, represents the region where some direct sunlight still reaches the moon.
Credit: SkySafari App
Even though the moon is relatively small compared with the size of Earth’s shadow, the moon usually misses it. That shadow always lies near the ecliptic, which defines the plane of Earth’s orbit around the sun. The moon’s orbit is tilted about 5 degrees from the ecliptic. Lunar eclipses can occur only if the moon is full while it is near the point in space where the moon’s orbit crosses the ecliptic.
If you flow time forward, you can watch how, during this lunar eclipse, the moon’s orbit carries it eastward through the penumbra and umbra, and out the opposite side. During partial lunar eclipses, the moon never fully enters the umbra. [How to Photograph a Total Lunar Eclipse (A Moon Photo Guide)]
2018’s second total lunar eclipse
A second total lunar eclipse occurs on July 27. This one is only 0.6 days after apogee (the moon’s farthest distance from Earth), so the moon’s apparent diameter will be near its minimum. The moon will cross just north of the center of Earth’s umbral shadow, setting up conditions for a very dark eclipsed moon. At greatest eclipse, the moon will be among the stars of Capricorn, sitting 6 degrees north of Mars, which will be close to maximum brightness. The eclipsed moon will also be positioned within 10 degrees of three deep sky objects, Messiers 75, 72, and 73. They should be visible in binoculars during maximum eclipse.
Using Astronomy apps to preview lunar eclipses allow you to discover additional interesting aspects of the events. The total lunar eclipse of July 27, 2018 coincides with the opposition of Mars. The blood moon and the very bright Red Planet will make a wonderful sight and photo opportunity for observers where the eclipse is visible. When fully immersed in the Earth’s shadow, the darkened full moon will also allow fainter deep sky objects to appear, such as the nearby Messier objects shown here. For skywatchers in Madagascar, the maximum eclipsed moon will be high in the sky, close to the Zenith (green cross).
Credit: SkySafari App
If you’re observing from North America, you will not see any of this eclipse, but you can preview it on your app anytime and then watch the event livestreamed over the internet. The entire eclipse will be visible from Africa, the Middle East, India and western Australia. Observers in eastern Australia and Southeast Asia will see a portion of the eclipse before the moon sets and morning twilight arrives, while for Europe and eastern South America, the eclipse will be already in progress when the moon rises. The partial eclipse begins at 1824 GMT, the greatest eclipse is at 2022 GMT and the partial eclipse ends at 2219 GMT. To use your app, either hide the ground and turn off daylight, or change your app’s location settings to somewhere the eclipse is visible. It’s fun!
You can safely preview solar eclipses with mobile apps, too. This year’s two partial solar eclipses occur on Feb. 15, July 13, and August 11. The first two are best visible from Antarctica, and the third one peaks over the North Pole, so using your app will be much less trouble!
In future editions of Mobile Astronomy, we’ll preview more 2018 highlights, including opportunities to see Mercury, the dance of Jupiter’s moons and some possible naked-eye comets at year’s end. We’ll also cover how to measure stars’ distances, and some whimsical asterisms — star groupings that are not constellations. Until then, keep looking up!
Editor’s note: Chris Vaughan is an astronomy public outreach and education specialist at AstroGeo, a member of the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada, and an operator of the historic 74″ (1.88-meter) David Dunlap Observatory telescope. You can reach him via email, and follow him on Twitter @astrogeoguy, as well as on Facebook and Tumblr.
This article was provided by Simulation Curriculum, the leader in space science curriculum solutions and the makers of the SkySafari app for Android and iOS. Follow SkySafari on Twitter @SkySafariAstro. Follow us @Spacedotcom, Facebook and Google+. Original article on Space.com.
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Mars Meteorite Will Return to the Red Planet with NASA Rover
Rohit Bhartia of NASA’s Mars 2020 mission holds a slice of a meteorite scientists have determined came from Mars. This slice will likely be used here on Earth for testing a laser instrument for NASA’s Mars 2020 rover; a separate slice will go to Mars on the rover.
A chunk of rock that was once part of Mars, but landed on Earth as a meteorite, will return to the Red Planet aboard a NASA rover set to launch in 2020.
The meteorite, known as Sayh al Uhaymir 008 (SaU008) was found in Oman in 1999, but geologists determined that it likely originated on Mars, according to a statement from NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory. Scientists think collisions between Mars and other large bodies in the solar system’s early days sent chunks of the Red Planet into space, where they might wander for eons before falling onto Earth’s surface.
Now, NASA scientists are using the meteorite to calibrate an instrument that will fly on the Mars 2020 rover, which is scheduled to drop down on the Red Planet’s surface and collect rock samples that could one day be returned to Earth. One of the rover’s main goals is to evaluate the potential habitability of ancient and present-day Mars. [How NASA’s Mars 2020 Rover Will Work (Infographic)]
The meteorite is being used to calibrate an instrument called the SHERLOC (Scanning Habitable Environments with Raman and Luminescence for Organics and Chemicals), which will use techniques often used in forensic science to identify chemicals in the Martian rock samples, in features as thin as a human hair.
A close-up of a meteorite that likely came from Mars.
The researchers will study the meteorite on Earth, where they are able to make sure their instruments are producing a correct analysis of the rock, and understand what features of the rock are perceptible to their instruments. When the rover settles onto Mars, researchers can once again use the rock to make sure their instruments are working as they should be, before pointing them at features of the Martian surface.
“We’re studying things on such a fine scale that slight misalignments, caused by changes in temperature or even the rover settling into sand, can require us to correct our aim,” said Luther Beegle, principal investigator for SHERLOC, in the statement. “By studying how the instrument sees a fixed target, we can understand how it will see a piece of the Martian surface.”
There are only about 200 confirmed Martian meteorites that have been found on Earth, according to the statement. The SaU008 meteorite comes from London’s Natural History Museum, which lends out hundreds of meteorites (most of them not from Mars) every year for scientific studies. The SHERLOC team needed a Martian meteorite that was robust enough to endure the journey to Mars without flaking or crumbling. (Launch from Earth and entry into the Martian atmosphere are both very strenuous events for everything on board.) The rock also “needed to possess certain chemical features to test SHERLOC’s sensitivity. These had to be reasonably easy to detect repeatedly for the calibration target to be useful,” according to the statement.
A slice of a Martian meteorite undergoes oxygen cleaning to remove organics. This slice will remain on Earth to be used for testing and calibrating instruments.
Usually, instruments like SHERLOC are calibrated with a variety of materials including rock, metal and glass. And Mars meteorites have been used for instrument calibration in the past. In fact, another instrument aboard the Mars 2020 rover, called SuperCam, will be adding a Mars meteorite to NASA’s calibration target, according to the statement. And while this would be the first Mars meteorite to return to the surface of the Red Planet, NASA’s Mars Global Surveyor, which orbits the Red Planet, carries a chunk of a Martian meteorite.
SHERLOC will carry other materials from Earth in addition to Su008, including materials that could be used to make a spacesuit for use on Mars. Observations of how the material withstands the radiation, atmosphere and temperature variations on Mars will provide valuable information for possible crewed trips to the Red Planet.
“The SHERLOC instrument is a valuable opportunity to prepare for human spaceflight as well as to perform fundamental scientific investigations of the Martian surface,” Marc Fries, a SHERLOC co-investigator and curator of extraterrestrial materials at Johnson Space Center, said in the statement. “It gives us a convenient way to test material that will keep future astronauts safe when they get to Mars.”
Kepler Space Telescope Discovers 95 More Alien Planets
Planets around other stars are the rule rather than the exception, and there are likely hundreds of billions of exoplanets in the Milky Way alone. NASA’s Kepler space telescope has found more than 2,400 alien worlds, including a new haul of 95 planets announced on Feb. 15, 2018.
The exoplanet discoveries by NASA’s Kepler space telescope keep rolling in.
Astronomers poring through data gathered during Kepler’s current extended mission, known as K2, have spotted 95 more alien planets, a new study reports.
That brings the K2 tally to 292, and the total haul over Kepler’s entire operational life to nearly 2,440 — about two-thirds of all the alien worlds ever discovered. And more than 2,000 additional Kepler candidates await confirmation by follow-up observations or analysis. [7 Greatest Exoplanet Discoveries by NASA’s Kepler (So Far)]
Kepler launched in March 2009, on a mission to help scientists determine just how common rocky, potentially habitable worlds such as Earth are throughout the Milky Way. For four years, the spacecraft stared continuously at about 150,000 stars, looking for tiny dips in their brightness caused by the passage of planets across their faces.
This work was highly productive, as noted above. But in May 2013, the second of Kepler’s four orientation-maintaining “reaction wheels” failed, and the spacecraft lost its superprecise pointing ability, bringing the original mission to a close.
But mission managers figured out a way to stabilize Kepler using sunlight pressure, and the spacecraft soon embarked on its K2 mission, which involves exoplanet hunting on a more limited basis, as well as observing comets and asteroids in our own solar system, supernovas and a range of other objects and phenomena.
For the new study, researchers analyzed K2 data going all the way back to 2014, zeroing in on 275 “candidate” signals.
“We found that some of the signals were caused by multiple star systems or noise from the spacecraft,” study lead author Andrew Mayo, a Ph.D. student at the Technical University of Denmark’s National Space Institute, said in a statement. “But we also detected planets that range from sub-Earth-sized to the size of Jupiter and larger.”
Indeed, 149 of the signals turned out to be caused by bona fide exoplanets, 95 of which are new discoveries. And one of the new ones is a record setter.
“We validated a planet on a 10-day orbit around a star called HD 212657, which is now the brightest star found by either the Kepler or K2 missions to host a validated planet,” Mayo said. “Planets around bright stars are important because astronomers can learn a lot about them from ground-based observatories.”
The new study was published today (Feb. 15) in The Astronomical Journal.
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