Village Features

Tale of two eclipses

Posted on July 31 2017 at 10:16:42


Amateur astronomer Brian Watkiss peers into the Village night sky.

An eclipse is a rare and special event and the most magical celestial sight to see, and the good news is that we have two of them this month – hooray! The bad news is that neither is particularly easy to see or very spectacular – boo!

However, nothing daunted, let’s see what we can see. First we have an eclipse of the Moon on the 7th. This is when the Moon passes through the shadow that the Earth creates in space.

If it passes through the centre of the shadow we see a total lunar eclipse, but on this occasion it only passes through the fuzzy edge of the shadow, known as the penumbra.

Not only that but the penumbra doesn’t completely cover the Moon and it happens right at moonrise. So, sometime around eight thirty, find yourself a spot with an uninterrupted view of the southeastern horizon and get comfy.

At about eight forty-five, the Moon should start to appear and we should see all of it after five minutes or so.

As it rises, it will slide out of this strange shadow and brighten. Slightly! Of course, it brightens as it climbs higher anyway and that may mask the effect of the eclipse but you don’t know until you get out there and have a look.

On the 21st, we get the “Great American Eclipse”, so called because the shadow of the Moon travels right across the centre of the USA. We get to see a tiny portion of this in Alvechurch but it happens at sunset.

This time you will need a good view of the northwestern horizon. Look to see where the Sun sets on the previous day.

As you must not look directly at the Sun, you will need solar eclipse specs or something to project an image of it on to a sheet of paper.

I know you can often look at the sunset with no ill effects, but you can’t guarantee this and you can’t take chances with your eyesight.

You can use a small telescope to safely project the Sun on to paper, or binoculars, in which case you get two images for the price of one.

It starts at 8.45pm when the Moon will nibble away at the bottom of the Sun and the size of the nibble reaches a maximum at three minutes past eight.

The Sun then starts to disappear and it’s all over by quarter past. Not much, I know, but it is the last bit of solar eclipse we see for about four years, so have a go.

Once the Sun has gone, you may get a last glimpse of Jupiter before it sets and then over in the south we can see the beautiful planet Saturn.

On the 2nd and the 3rd, a crescent Moon is close by, making a spectacular sight, and again on the 28th and 29th.

The 12th sees the peak of the Perseid meteor shower although the Moon is rather bright at this time. It will still be worth looking out for though, especially if you’re enjoying a holiday somewhere with good, dark skies.

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