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Thursday, February 21, 2008

The Fabulous O'Brien Horsehead Nebula

This may sound strange, but Orion is my favorite constellation. I know a lot of people love it, but my reasons are odd...it was the first constellation my baby brother (who is now twenty-seven...) learned to identify.

See, my little sister and I were Girl Scouts, and we sold cookies every winter. Once we sold them, we had to go back and deliver them all. When you consider that I usually sold over three hundred boxes by myself, that's a lot of time spent in a car.

Since cookies were always sold in January or February and delivered in February or March, Orion was always up. And my little brother, who has always had an excellent memory and was very smart, learned to recognize it pretty fast. He would lean out the car window and yell, "Look Mommy, it's O'Brien! Look! Look!" If a four year old can recognize Orion's Belt, anyone can learn.

All that to explain why I love everything about Orion. But in the past few years, my husband I have been going to the Fernbank Observatory for public viewing nights. Since then, we've seen some really great views of the Orion Nebula and other bits of Orion through the thirty-six inch scope.

But this is really spectacular. See the bright star on the left? That's part of the Belt. I wish I could see it with my little telescope!

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Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Total Lunar Eclipse!

I'm really, really looking forward to the total eclipse tonight. I'm hoping the skies are nice and clear, though the forecast has me a bit worried. Ah well...

If it's been a while since you've studied astronomy, here's a primer. The moon doesn't actually shine; it reflects sunlight. Sometimes, the Earth will pass between the full moon and the sun. With the Earth between them, the sunlight is blocked; the moon is in the Earth's shadow. As the shadow moves over the moon, it takes a bite out. Once the moon is fully inside the Earth's shadow, the whole moon becomes visible again and the color changes. (That's all because of our atmosphere, by the way.) In the prettiest eclipses, the moon will turn a gorgeous blood red. As the moon moves out of the shadow, the whole process reverses. You can get more in-depth info at Mr. Eclipse, the NASA site for tonight's eclipse that I linked to above, or do a search on "Lunar Eclipse."

If you've never seen it, make plans right now to see at least part of tonight's eclipse! NASA has a Javascript app that will give you all the info you need.

And speaking of the eclipse, did you know that our moon and the Earth are in a perfect relationship, both in size and in relative positions, to have lunar eclipses as well as total solar eclipses? It's true. God's cool like that.