Lunar Eclipse!

Lunar Eclipse event at Quail Hollow Ranch County Park

The big event for the month of February is that there will be a total eclipse of the moon on the night of February 20. It will be a fabulous sight for locals and a prime time event at that!

A total eclipse like this takes place only when the moon is full. It begins around 5:45 p.m. and will totally cover the moon by 7:00 p.m. By 9:00 p.m. things will be pretty much back to normal.

This is the third total lunar eclipse in less than a year but the next one won’t take place until December 20, 2010. So bundle up the kiddies and hit Quail Hollow Ranch County Park for a moon shadow show with the Santa Cruz Astronomy Club on Wednesday February 20, 5:00 to 9:30 p.m.

And while the moon’s blotted out, it might be a good time to go constellation hunting. Constellations, by the way, are the invention of human imagination, not of nature. In olden days, dividing the sky into recognizable groupings created signposts for sailors, desert travelers, farmers and shepherds who wanted a nightly clock, and also to make the night less forbidding.

One of the most alluring configurations at this time of year is Orion. Two of the brightest stars in the evening sky lay at opposite corners of this hunky guy: bright red Betelgeuse at the northeastern corner (his left shoulder) and even brighter Rigel at the southwest (his right toe). Then there’s his belt with a sword hanging down. If you look closely, one of the objects in Orion’s sword isn’t a star at all. It’s a nebula – a cloud of gas and dust that’s like a giant fluorescent bulb. Hot, young stars inside the nebula pump energy into this cloud of gas, causing it to glow.

Planet viewing for the month is mostly centered on Mars and Saturn. Mars has completed its retrograding – an illusory backward movement that occurs every two years. Although Mars is finished going backwards, it will continue to provide excellent viewing during the early part of February. After February, viewing will be difficult and Saturn will take center stage in the nightly planet line up. Star light, star bright; first star I see tonight … will probably be a planet. Doggone it. I never get my wish. Nevertheless, I keep looking up as I hope you will do!

By Professor Starma
Edited by Doreen Devorah