Sky Watch

The Moon Gets to Be a Star

By Blaine P. Friedlander Jr.
Special to The Washington Post
Thursday, October 30, 2003; Page B08

"It's only a paper moon sailing over a cardboard sea . . ."

Before you dance a Saturday night away, step outside on Nov. 8 and see the moon turn shades of dark red and light orange. It's a total lunar eclipse -- with totality lasting 25 minutes -- that is safe to watch and visible from Washington.

"In this eclipse, the moon grazes the inner edge of Earth's shadow," says Fred Espenak of the NASA Goddard Space Flight Center and an expert on eclipses. "The moon barely gets inside the shadow, and the moon's face will span the range of brightness."

The partial eclipse phase begins at 6:32 p.m. when the moon begins entering the Earth's shadow. The totality phase starts at 8:06 p.m. and ends at about 8:31 p.m. The final partial phase ends at 10:04 p.m., according to Espenak. During totality the moon's upper face will turn dark red, contrasted with a lighter tone on the moon's lower part. This dual-tone disk happens because the moon's upper edge is deep within the shadow while the lower part is near the shadow's brighter edge.

For detailed eclipse information, Espenak maintains a Web site: sunearth.gsfc.nasa.gov/eclipse/eclipse.html.

Overnight Delights

After years of Leonid meteor prosperity, the feast of shooting stars will give way to normal meteor rates this year. The International Meteor Organization says the Leonid shower will peak at 9:30 p.m. on Nov. 17, with a rate of about 100 meteors an hour. The last quarter moon, however, provides just enough light to wash out most of the Leonid meteors. The best time to see them will be in the wee morning hours of Nov. 18.

Mars diminishes in brightness, becoming a zero-magnitude object. It is bright enough to see from the city and it is high in the south-southeast at nightfall. Venus can be seen in the southwestern sky at dusk. This negative-third-magnitude object follows the sun into the western horizon an hour or so after sunset.

Jupiter rises after midnight in the east and it goes from a negative-first-magnitude object at the start of November to a negative-second-magnitude object by month's end. Find it at dawn, high in the southeast loitering in the constellation Leo. Saturn rises in the east about 9 p.m. now and a few hours earlier toward month's end.

Down-to-Earth Events

Nov. 1 -- Learn how to choose and use telescopes and other sky-gazing instruments at the National Air and Space Museum's Astronomy Fair. 10 a.m.-3 p.m. Call 202-357-2700 or visit www.nasm.si.edu.

Nov. 1 -- Linhui Sui of the NASA Goddard Space Flight Center will talk about the Reuven Ramaty High Energy Solar Spectroscopic Imager. This satellite explores the physics of particle acceleration and energy release in solar flares. 3 p.m. at the National Capital Astronomers meeting at the Montgomery County Bethesda-Chevy Chase Regional Center, 4805 Edgemoor Lane. Visit www.capitalastronomers.org.

Nov. 5 -- As the two Voyager spacecraft speed toward interstellar space, scientists from the Voyager team discuss the project's milestones in "Voyager at 90 A.U. (Astronomical Units)." 8 p.m. at Einstein Planetarium, National Air and Space Museum. Free tickets available at the museum's box office, at Tickets.com, or 800-529-2440 (service charge). Call 202-357-2700 or visit www.nasm.si.edu.

Nov. 8 -- To celebrate the Hubble Space Telescope's 10th anniversary, astrophysicist Mario Livio provides "Hubble's Top Ten Discoveries." The Smithsonian Associates host this all-day seminar. 10 a.m.-4:30 p.m. at Baird Auditorium, National Museum of American History. Members $75, general admission $120. Call 202-357-3030 or visit www.residentassociates.org.

Nov. 8 -- See the total lunar eclipse and other cosmic wonders with astronomers from the Howard Astronomical League at the Alpha Ridge Park, Howard County. 7-11 p.m. Dress warmly. Call 410-531-3899 or visit www.howardastro.org.

Nov. 8 -- Enjoy the lunar eclipse and other cosmic objects with astronomer Sean O'Brien at Sky Meadows State Park, near Paris, Va. Dusk to 11 p.m. Parking $4. Call 540-592-3556 or visit www.dcr.state.va.us/parks/skymeado.htm.

Nov. 9 -- Astronomer Steve Robinson talks about variable stars and how non-professional astronomers can contribute original research to the subject, at the regular meeting of the Northern Virginia Astronomy Club, Enterprise Hall, Room 80, George Mason University. 7 p.m. Visit www.novac.com.

Nov. 15 -- Learn about astrolabes, the ancient computing device that showed the positions of the sun and the stars, at the Montgomery College Planetarium in Takoma Park. Parking available in the faculty lot. 7 p.m. Call 301-650-1463 or visit www.montgomerycollege.edu/departments/planet.

Nov. 15 -- The National Capital Astronomers and the National Park Service present the last "Exploring the Sky" program for the season, at Rock Creek Park, in the field south of Military and Glover roads NW near the Nature Center. 7 p.m. Call 202-895-6070 or visit www.capitalastronomers.org.

Nov. 20 -- Astronomer Lisa Mazzuca discusses the Hubble Space Telescope's recent scientific discoveries at the University of Maryland's observatory on Metzerott Road, College Park. 8 p.m. Call 301-405-6555 or visit www.astro.umd.edu/openhouse.

Nov. 29 -- Historian David DeVorkin examines "New Light on the Christmas Star," at Einstein Planetarium, National Air and Space Museum. 5:30 p.m. Call 202-357-2700 or visit www.nasm.si.edu.

© 2003 The Washington Post Company