Bakersfield Night Sky — June 3, 2017
by Nick Strobel
Recently, at many gatherings where people know what I do or find out that I teach astronomy at Bakersfield College, the subject of the conversation quickly gets around to the August 2017 total solar eclipse. That was the case as well at the Bakersfield College Sterling Silver Dinner a couple of weeks back. It’s a sign that the education and public outreach campaign for this astronomical event has done a very good job. I have been looking forward to it for about 40 years since I first read about it in the World Book Encyclopedia in my boyhood home.
If you have ever been to a total solar eclipse or one where enough of the sun was covered to clearly notice a drop in the light level (say over 95% covered), you know it is a truly awesome thing to experience. That’s “awesome” in the true sense of the word—awe-inspiring, soul-stirring. If you have never been to a total solar eclipse, then a word of warning: be very careful because you can get addicted to eclipses and become one of those people who chase eclipses all over the globe. It is an excellent excuse to travel all over but it can get a bit expensive going to some remote places to witness at most a few minutes of totality.
I’ve exhibited great resistance to the lure of eclipse chasing, keeping myself to just two total solar eclipses in the past ten or so years: one in China in 2009 and another in Australia in 2012. Fortunately for us this eclipse won’t be expensive to travel to. Finding cheap lodging will be difficult, though, as hotels exercise their right under capitalism’s supply-and-demand.
The August 2017 eclipse is the first total solar eclipse visible only in the United States since 1776, yes 1776. It will also be the first since 1918 that crosses the United States from Pacific to Atlantic and the first since 1979 that is visible anywhere in the lower 48 states. Approximately 391 million people in the U.S. will be able to see the August 2017 eclipse (partial or total).
For us in Bakersfield, a maximum of 67% of the sun will be covered at 10:20 a.m. Take proper precautions to view the sun safely as the moon slides across its surface. See the “Observe the Sun Safely” link on the William M Thomas Planetarium’s website at bakersfieldcollege.edu/planetarium . For those lucky enough to see the sun while it is totally eclipsed (and only while it is totally eclipsed), no special protection is needed as the faint light from the sun’s corona is too faint to do any harm.
The path of totality begins near Lincoln City, Oregon (west of Salem) with totality at 10:16 a.m. Pacific Time. The 68-mile wide strip of totality goes through twelve states: Oregon, Idaho, Wyoming, Nebraska, Kansas, Missouri, Illinois, Kentucky, Tennessee, North Carolina, Georgia, and South Carolina. Totality ends in Charleston, South Carolina at 2:15 p.m. Eastern Time. Totality for this eclipse will be short: at best 2 minutes 41.6 seconds long.
Two websites to explore about the eclipse that include detailed maps are the NASA 2017 eclipse site at eclipse2017.nasa.gov and the eclipse2017.org site created by Dan McGlaun. The interactive map at the NASA site that gives precise start/end times and eclipse magnitudes is more accurate than the interactive map pointed to at the eclipse2017.org site which has a totality strip width several miles wider than the NASA site. Accuracy counts since you will either see a total eclipse or you won’t.
Within the 68-mile strip, the longest time of totality is along the center line. Of course, you won’t see anything if it’s cloudy, so eclipse chasers should stay out west and avoid states east of Nebraska. The Eclipsophile website by Jay Anderson and Jennifer West is the go-to site for finding where it is likely to be clear. Sites with good chances of clear skies during the eclipse time include: eastern Oregon, southeastern Idaho, and Wyoming. A contingent from the Kern Astronomical Society will be going to a small town north of Idaho Falls, ID. I’m going to Casper, WY.
Tonight is the free public star party hosted by the Kern Astronomical Society at Panorama Park from sunset to about 10 p.m., weather permitting. Come take a look through their telescopes at the waxing gibbous moon and bright Jupiter just below the moon (see the attached star chart below). The KAS telescopes are powerful enough to see the bands and the Great Red Spot on Jupiter as well as the four Galilean moons. Tonight, all of the Galilean moons will be to the east of Jupiter in this order: Callisto, Ganymede, Io, and Europa. Another nice target will be the globular cluster, M13, in Hercules. Near the end of the star party Saturn will begin rising above the mountains. Better views of Saturn will be possible at the public star parties later in the summer. The moon will be full on the night of June 8.
Want to see more of the stars at night and save energy? Shield your lights so that the light only goes down toward the ground. See www.darksky.org for how.
Director of the William M Thomas Planetarium at Bakersfield College
Author of the award-winning website www.astronomynotes.com