Pique young interest in astronomy with Sunday night’s lunar eclipse


Pique young interest in astronomy with Sunday night’s lunar eclipse

Sunday is an interesting night in The Last Green Valley National Heritage Corridor. You will have a chance to witness a spectacular astrological event and it’s a great way for the whole family – especially children — to get interested in the night sky and space.

A total, full-moon lunar eclipse, a spectacular event that occurs when Earth’s shadow completely covers the moon, blocking the sun’s light, happens Sunday night.

We are fortunate to have a person very knowledgeable and dedicated to introducing kids of all ages to the wonders of astronomy and the night sky in The Last Green Valley. Norwich resident Geoff McLean is a member of the Thames Amateur Astronomical Society, conducts astronomy programs for Girl Scouts and Boy Scouts, is a volunteer ranger for The Last Green Valley and is a NASA Solar System ambassador. I got in touch with him about the lunar eclipse to get more details, and he provided me with the following information.

– The eclipse begins in our region at 9:36 p.m. with the full eclipse from 11:41 p.m. to 12:43 a.m. Monday. It completely ends at 2:48 a.m. Looking at the moon during an eclipse is safe. The moon is so dark (think the color of freshly laid asphalt) that it absorbs most of the light it receives.

– Spotting scopes, binoculars or even small telescopes can help you enjoy close-up views of the moon during the eclipse.

– It will probably be very cold, so be sure to dress warmly with several layers, mittens, hats and scarves. Astronomers know they need a lot of patience and appreciate being comfortable, so bundle up before going out.

McLean gave me a little science lesson about light refraction, too. Be prepared for the moon to turn almost blood red as it enters Earth’s shadow. How red will depend upon the particulate matter in Earth’s atmosphere – i.e. pollution, ash from volcanoes, etc. Why red? It’s all about our atmosphere.

Our sky is blue because the atmosphere scatters the blue end of light’s visible spectrum the most and the red end of the spectrum the least. With Earth in between the sun and the moon, it will be the reds and yellows of the light spectrum that make it directly to the lunar surface.

McLean also suggests you take some time to check out the rest of the sky during the eclipse. The stars will be more visible in the dimmer light of the full eclipse. In The Last Green Valley, look straight up. If you see something that looks like a light gray cloud stretching across the sky – that’s the Milky Way – our home galaxy.

As I write this column, the forecast for Sunday night’s weather does not look ideal for viewing the sky, but lunar gazing can be accomplished in partly cloudy skies. I checked with Mclean to see when the next lunar eclipse will occur and he informed me it will happen again almost a year from now on Jan. 10, 2020. If it’s bad weather Sundaynight, mark your calendar for next year. Should the clouds clear, consider this other tidbit: Sunday the moon is also considered a Super Moon because it will be particularly large in the sky.

I’m suggesting this lunar eclipse as a fun family event because astronomy and outer space offer so many engaging opportunities to get children excited about science and the environment. Most people living between Boston and Washington D.C. cannot see a fraction of the stars we see many nights here in The Last Green Valley, including the Milky Way. McLean also referenced very helpful websites for getting kids into astronomy. I looked at a few of them and suggest Nasa Space Place as a great place to start with your kids: https://spaceplace.nasa.gov/.

You may also want to look at the NASA website section specifically for educators: https://www.nasa.gov/audience/forstudents

You can follow the links on the left of the homepage and click on the “For Students” link for activities and projects for different age groups of children.

McLean suggests checking out http://astronomyforum.net/ for any astronomy questions and answers. Experienced and knowledgeable folks help with questions of any type relating to astronomy — telescopes, Big Bang theory, exo-planets, whatever.

Many folks like to take pictures of the moon and certainly the lunar eclipse offers a great opportunity. McLean reminds us that anyone with a camera can take pictures of the moon, but the more sophisticated the camera the better. He suggests using a tripod or steadying a camera on something solid, so you don’t get blurring. If your camera has the RAW format, use it. Cameras that use compression (and most do) will tend to wipe out the finer details such as crater ridges on the edge of the moon. An excellent website for photographing the moon can be found at http://www.mreclipse.com/LEphoto/LEphoto.html.

I hope the weather is clear enough Sunday for viewing the amazing lunar eclipse. I also hope you use the opportunity to introduce kids to the wonders of the night sky. The resources sited above can be used anytime of year to get kids looking up into the night sky and to learn about the wonders of the universe. And, keep an eye out for TLGV night sky programs. McLean runs several a year for us.

We live in a beautiful place called The Last Green Valley National Heritage Corridor. I hope you join me and others, like Geoff McLean, as we care for it, enjoy it and pass it on.

Bill Reid is chief ranger of The Last Green Valley National Heritage Corridor and has lived in the region for more than 35 years. He can be reached at bill@tlgv.org.


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