October brings lunar and solar eclipse, visible comet


By Joan Mieritz

Special to The PREVIEW

The San Juan Stargazers will not have its regular meeting on Thursday, Sept. 25, at the Visitor Center. Instead, it will have a super anniversary dinner and star party on Saturday, Sept. 27, exclusively for club members and guests.

Besides delicious food, they will spend time using the 20-inch telescope to view amazing deep-sky objects including a galaxy marathon. There will be many “out-of-this-world” activities for celebrating as only astronomers can do.

There is still time to join the club and get in on this extraordinary evening. Call the club number, 335-8286, to leave a message and you will be contacted.

On Friday, Sept. 19, the club will have its last Chimney Rock Night Sky Program of 2014. The hope is the monsoons will be over so the telescopes can be brought out.

Local people are especially encouraged to come since tourism is dropping off. There will be an educational talk so you are prepared before viewing the amazing dark sky with telescopes in the upper parking lot at Chimney Rock National Monument. Cost is $10 for adults and $5 for children.

Now for a preview of the astronomical events of October: In the early morning hours of Wednesday, Oct. 8, there will be a lunar eclipse. It occurs when Earth passes between the sun and the moon in such a way that the moon moves into Earth’s shadow. It begins at 4:25 a.m., lasts until 5:25 a.m. and will be at maximum at 4:55 a.m. It will be visible in the southwest and does not require a telescope or protective glasses. It is quite amazing because the red coloring caused by refracted light of the Earth’s atmosphere gives it the name “blood moon.” One might wonder what the ancient people thought of such a sight.

On Sunday, Oct. 19, comet Siding Spring, named after the Australian observatory that discovered it, will pass very close to Mars and be visible here. San Juan Stargazers will have several telescopes set up in Yamaguchi Park for a public star party. You are encouraged to start arriving around 6:30 p.m. with viewing being best around 8 p.m.

There will be opportunities to learn about comets and then view Siding Spring as it passes close to Mars. There is no charge, but people will be able to contribute to the group’s scholarship fund.

On Thursday, Oct. 23, there will be a solar eclipse, when the moon is directly in line between Earth and the sun. This alignment is uncommon and is well worth experiencing. The sky can get so dark that planets and stars ordinarily seen only at night can become visible during the day. It can be dangerous to look at the sun during an eclipse.

The Stargazers will be providing protective glasses on a first-come basis and will also have two solar telescopes with protective filters. Telescopes will be set up at Yamaguchi Park starting at 3 p.m., with viewing beginning at 4:30 p.m. The maximum will be at 4:37 p.m. and the eclipse will end by 4:44 p.m. Again, there is no charge, but contributions to the scholarship fund will be accepted.

The San Juan Stargazers are part of the Astronomical League, which includes clubs from all over the U.S. Their website is www.SanJuanStargazers.com. You can email them at sjstargazers@gmail.com and the club phone number is 335-8286.

Activities are open to the public and to anyone interested in learning more about this wondrous universe.