What can lunar eclipses do for science?

As part of the build-up to the July 27th/28th total lunar eclipse, Sky & Telescope have published an interview I did with Noah Petro, Project Scientist for NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter mission.

Longest lunar eclipse until 2123

We are entering an eclipse season…

The moon’s orbit around the earth is slightly tilted. This means that – for most new moons and full moons – the earth, moon and sun are not aligned, and there is no eclipse.

About every six months, however, the moon’s tilted orbit lines up with the earth’s orbit around the sun. This period lasts for 34 days or so, which means we always have two or three eclipses during this time. In this current eclipse season we have two solar eclipses – which happen at new moon – and one lunar eclipse – which happens at full moon.

The solar eclipses take place near the beginning and end of the season, when the earth, moon and sun are still not perfectly aligned. This means they are small, partial eclipses that are only visible from near the poles. They occur on July 13th and August 11th (maps below, from timeanddate.com).

Partial solar eclipse, July 13th 2018
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Partial solar eclipse, August 11th 2018
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The lunar eclipse, on the other hand, takes place bang in the middle of the season, when the moon, earth and sun are aligned precisely. This gives us a big, total eclipse. In fact, if we throw in the fact that it’s a micromoon (where the moon is slightly further away than usual), and the earth is at aphelion (its furthest point from the sun, which means its shadow is larger), it will be the longest total lunar eclipse for the next 105 years…

The lunar eclipse takes place on the night of July 27th/28th, and will be visible across Europe, Africa, Asia, Australia and parts of South America (map below). We’ll once again be providing live coverage on timeanddate.com, with live images from Santorini (Greece), Johannesburg (South Africa) and Perth (Australia) – weather and gremlins permitting, of course ^_^

We are tremendously grateful to Matt Woods and the team at Perth Observatory, and Jerome Jooste and his colleagues at the Old Republic Observatory in Johannesburg.

Total lunar eclipse, July 27th/28th 2018
Click here for full details


Did you know (1)…?
During the total phase of the eclipse, the moon will turn a reddish colour as light is filtered and bent through the earth’s atmosphere.

Did you know (2)…?
On the night of July 27th, the moon will appear to be next-door to Mars in the night sky (image below, from EarthSky).

Image: EarthSky

Did you know (3)…?
On the same day, Mars will be at opposition, which is near its closest approach to the earth. In other words, the red planet will be shining brightly next-door to a red moon. So get reddy for a spectacular sight. (Sorry, I mean, get ready.)

Image: timeanddate.com


 

Helping people become better language-learners

My University of Shiga Prefecture (USP) colleague Dr Maki Taniguchi and I have been awarded a scientific research grant by the Japanese government. The grant (kakenhi number 18K00874) is worth 1.56 million yen over three years.

The goal of our research is to help people become better language-learners through personal goal-setting. Our “toolkit” is CEFR-J, the Japanese version of the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages, which takes the complex process of learning a language and breaks it down into a series of manageable steps. We are working with university students and high schools to investigate how the CEFR framework can help individuals take responsibility and ownership of their language education, and boost lifelong learning.

Maki will be presenting a summary of our initial findings at this year’s conference of the International Society for Language Studies, which is being held at Wilfrid Laurier University in Canada from June 28th to 30th.

Maki and I are enormously grateful to seven of our fabulous USP colleagues who helped us carry out a survey of first-year students at the end of last semester: Carl Boland, Armando Duarte, Walter Klinger, Yuichi Nishizawa, Hatsumi Seki, Ashley Stevens and Aya Yoshida (now at Kyoto University). Thank you!


Image credit: Andy Jamieson/Wikimedia Commons

Red moon over Perth on timeanddate.com

The highlight of our live coverage of yesterday’s total lunar eclipse on timeanddate.com were the jaw-droppingly beautiful images from the Perth Observatory: a huge, huge thank you to Matt Woods, Roger Groom, Ken Stranger, Francesca Flynn and the rest of the brilliant team in Western Australia.

Below is the segment of our live coverage that covered the time of maximum eclipse.

Thank you also to Ed Krupp and his wonderful team at the Griffith Observatory in Los Angeles, who provided us with stunning images from a northern hemisphere perspective.

Also, many thanks to Susumu Takahashi at the Dynic Astropark near Kyoto. Sadly, the weather was not kind to us here in Japan, but Takahashi-san did manage to capture this photo through the clouds near the time of maximum eclipse:

The next total lunar eclipse will be around six months from now on July 27th/28th.


 

Countdown to the January 31st total lunar eclipse

On January 31st 2018 – for the first time time since September 2015 – the moon, earth and sun will become aligned and produce a total lunar eclipse. Across Asia and Australia the event will be visible after sunset; in North America, on the other side of the international date line, it will be visible before sunrise.

Once again, I’ll be part of timeanddate.com’s live coverage of the event. I’ll be at the Dynic Astropark, about 50 km north-east of Kyoto. We’re also hoping to have live feeds from the Griffith Observatory in Los Angeles, and the Perth Observatory in Western Australia.


UPDATE (January 29th): here at our location in Japan, the weather forecast for January 31st is not good…


What is the saros cycle and how does it foretell eclipses?

My latest article for Sky & Telescope begins 2,500 years ago in ancient Babylon, and ends with next week’s total lunar eclipse.

Sky and Telescope, 24 January 2018

Coming soon to a sky near you: a teachable moment

There are 100 days to go until the next eclipse… On January 31st 2018 a total lunar eclipse will produce a red full moon for people in parts of Asia, Australia and the Pacific, and North America.

Total lunar eclipse (Juan Carlos Casado)Image: Juan Carlos Casado

Why does the moon turn red? The earth – a rocky planet about 13,000 km across – moves between the sun and the moon. This blocks the sun’s rays from reaching the moon directly.

But the earth has an atmosphere – a layer of air about 100 km thick. The atmosphere bends some of the sun’s rays around the earth (this is called refraction; it’s why a straw looks bent when you see it in a glass of water). The atmosphere also filters out the blue colour from the sun’s rays (this is called scattering; it’s why the sky looks blue).

So the sun’s rays that eventually reach the moon – after having travelled around the earth, through the atmosphere – are red. This is what gives the moon its awe-inspiring change of colour.


If you miss the red moon in January – because of weather, geography or some other reason – you might get another chance six months later. On July 27th/28th 2018 there will be a total lunar eclipse across Africa, Europe, Asia and Australia. And six months after that – on January 20th/21st 2019 – there will be another total lunar eclipse across North America, South America, Europe and parts of Africa.


Thank you to the brilliant Science Learning Hub for the pages on refraction and scattering.


 

The Great American Eclipse on timeanddate.com

It has been a tremendous privilege to work with the incredible team at timeanddate.com on a five-and-a-half hour live broadcast of the Great American Eclipse.

One of the highlights was the screams of schoolchildren when darkness fell upon Western Kentucky University in Bowling Green:


There are more of our Great American Eclipse interviews and videos on the timeanddate.com YouTube channel.

Thank you to everyone who made our broadcast possible, including:

  • Theo Wellington, Jordan Basham and Dr Richard Gelderman at Western Kentucky University
  • Joel Donadel and Noémi Brousmiche at the European Space Agency in Kourou, French Guiana
  • Erwan Prigent and everyone at the PULSAR Kourou Astronomy Club
  • Professor Gordon Orians, University of Washington
  • Monica Young, Sky & Telescope
  • Julie Fooshee, Science Festival Alliance, MIT Museum
  • Dr Jaya Satagopan
  • Martin Stack, Mid Michigan Community College
  • Marcia Witt
  • Dr Donald Bruns
  • Dawn Davis, Fort Sumter National Monument (South Carolina)
  • Jimmie Lucht, Albany Visitors Association (Oregon)
  • Charissa Sedor, Carnegie Science Center’s Buhl Planetarium (Pennsylvania)
  • Hadley Andersen, Bishop Museum (Hawaii)
  • Rocío Guadalupe Salazar Bastarrachea (Mérida, Mexico)
  • Famri Rusdin (Palu, Indonesia)

“Eclipsim”, and other eclipse stories


Image: Cali Soper

An enormous thank you to everyone who took part in our Science + Stories creative-writing competition, organised in partnership with the North Platte Bulletin and A to Z Books.

Throughout history – across all cultures and societies – people have reacted eclipses by creating stories, from hungry cosmic dogs to combative giant birds. We challenged children in west central Nebraska to write their own version of an eclipse myth, and we were completely dazzled by the originality and creativity of the entries we received.

Congratulations to our five winners, who each receive a copy of the National Geographic Space Encyclopedia:

  • Rebecca Kneipp (3rd grade)
  • Mason Kroon (4th grade)
  • Amanda Phillips (5th grade)
  • Cali Soper (13)
  • Joanna Smith (14)

Cali Soper turned her story into a stunning video, which we broadcast during our live coverage of the eclipse on timeanddate.com:


Thank you to George Lauby and the brilliant team at the North Platte Bulletin, plus the wonderful folks at A to Z Books, for making this competition possible.

Creating new connections across Asia


Image: IMDb, Fantastic Mr. Fox

Last year we launched a total eclipse collaboration between students at Tadulako University (Indonesia) and Western Kentucky University (USA); we also set up an annular and partial eclipse collaboration involving Kobe Shinwa Women’s University (Japan) and the University of Mahajanga (Madagascar). Both these projects included remote teambuilding activities where we did online read-throughs of the science-fiction movie “Europa Report”.

This month we are excited to be meeting old friends and creating new connections! We are bringing together students from Tadulako University, Kobe Shinwa Women’s University and Amagasaki-Kita High School (Japan) for two online read-throughs of the stop-motion animation “Fantastic Mr. Fox”.

Students at Tadulako University preparing for this month’s read-through.

The goals of the project – which involve students from Indonesia, Japan, China and Vietnam – are for students to make new connections, practise English communication skills, and have fun!

As Mr. Fox himself says, in one of cinema’s most inspiring monologues:

I think it may very well be all the beautiful differences among us that just might give us the tiniest glimmer of a chance of saving my nephew and letting me make it up to you for getting us into this crazy whatever-it-is. I don’t know. It’s just a thought. Thank you for listening. Cheers, everyone.

 

We are extremely grateful to everyone who has made this collaboration possible, including Elisa Sesa, Darmawati Darwis, Marsetyo Marsetyo and Mohammad Zulfikar at Tadulako University; Ritsuko Anzai at Amagasaki-Kita High School; and Keisuke Tabata at Kobe Shinwa Women’s University.

Thank you also to Wes Anderson, who has given generously given us a copy of the original script for “Fantastic Mr. Fox”.