Archive | Astronomy RSS feed for this section


21 Aug

No one can truly prepare a solar eclipse novice to the extraordinary moment of totality. You can say it gets cooler. You can tell them about the moon’s shadow rushing toward you. You can say it is spectacular. 

Watching the eclipse with welder’s goggles.

Each of the events come in sequence.   Watching the solar bands as they flicker in the ground. Explaining the ring of Fire that surrounds the shadow. And finally you can tell them about the absolute spectacular moments that encompass totality. You can tell them. But they cannot understand until they have actually experienced the moment. And then they know. 

Watching the shadow come over the Grand Tetons.

That moment when the moon’s shadow reaches the sun and it goes black. And a sparkle of light flashes out one last time: the diamond ring. There are no words,  Except, “Oh My God!”  

 Then comes the displays of light. The Bailey’s beads. The solar flares. The prominences that jump into the sky. You can now see them without the bright light of the sun blinding your eyes. And time seems to flicker by. Two minutes seem take just seconds to pass. 

Ring of Fire!

Each eclipse has its own special corona. The white light that shoots out in all directions from the sun. This one seemed Star shaped. 

I was blessed to see this eclipse in Jackson Hole, Wyoming, with the Grand Tetons in the horizon. 500 of us were fortunate to be at the Jackson Hole Golf Club. A most glorious spot to see the magnificent sky show. 

I am so blessed to have seen five eclipses. I am already looking forward to 2020 in Chile and 2024 in Texas! 

I truly believe that everyone should see at least one eclipse. But I know if you do, you will want to see another and another. You will join our band of umbraphiles who wish to once again stand in totality and stand in the glory of the moon’s shadow. 

Preparing For My Fifth Eclipse

15 Aug

Watching the eclipse on a ship in the Mediterranean Sea 2006.

Today I had a manicure in black and silver in honor of the total eclipse of the sun that will occur on Monday, August 21. Later I ordered five eclipse t-shirts designed by a friend!  I am getting excited!  Just five more days to the eclipse!

I remember when I went on my first Eclipse trip in 1998 to see the eclipse on a cruise ship in the Caribbean. Little did I know then that seeing an eclipse would take me to Austria, Hungary, Greece and Turkey and now the USA.

During the eclipse in 1999 in Europe, I found out about the eclipse on August 21, 2017. I thought it was so far away. And I would be so OLD…62. I was not sure I could even think of an eclipse so far in the distant future. But here it is. I am 62. I will see it. 18 years went very quickly.

This will actually be my fifth total eclipse. The first one I accidentally saw was on the East Coast when I was a teenager on March 7, 1970. I remember being told not to look at the sun. I do remember it getting dark. But I honestly do not remember much of that celestial event.

My next three viewings of total eclipses were well thought out by my husband. Although he is a physician now, he spent his high school career determined to be an astrophysicist. He even studied at Cal Tech for the first two years of college. Although he totally changed his major, he never lost his love of the universe.  (I wrote about this in an earlier blog, see link below.)

On our first date, as we walked across the campus at the University of Missouri, he pointed out constellations in the night sky. This love of stars is contagious. I soon fell under the eclipse spell.

I have seen eclipse on land and in the ocean.

I cannot explain the magic that occurs as you see the moon shadow racing towards you as darkness overcomes daylight.

I cannot describe the beautiful red, orange, gold, yellow, white splashes of light the pour forth from the corona of a total eclipse.

To see the spurts and flourishes of the sun’s plasma as it shoots into the sky.

A vision you cannot normally see due to the brightness of the sun.

But now can look directly into the dark circle and see the stunning displays of light.

I cannot wait until Monday when we once again will stand in the darkness of an totally eclipsed sun! We plan to be with our umbraphile friends in Wyoming as we stand in awe during the eclipse.

My husband and I have vowed to take no photos during the eclipse. Let the experts do that. Instead we will look skyward and enjoy the spectacular joy of an eclipse.


Umbraphile: definition: one who loves eclipses

Beautiful Skies Light Up Catskills Nights

27 May

“Do you know what weekend you are coming?” My sister asked, when I gave her the dates I planned to come to New York for my annual Catskill visit. “It’s the weekend of the Perseid meteor shower!”

“Perfect!” was my response. “Do you remember lying out on the grass to watch?”

The night sky in the Catskills is so beautiful. No city lights block out the view. The nights are so quiet and so dark, (and sometimes scary), it makes watching the sky and the stars special.

In the Catskills, it is crisp and cool when the sun goes down. We often spent the nights sitting out on the wooden lawn chairs watching the sky, while wrapped in woolen blankets. Sometimes we would put blankets on the ground so we could look straight up at the sky. This gave us a much better view. But the grass was often damp at night, so my Mom had to give the okay to get some blankets wet.

Watching the sky during the second week of August was our favorite time. How many meteors would we see? Who would see the first one? How late would we be allowed to stay up to watch? How many nights would we actually be able to see the meteors? Although August 12 is the most active night for shooting stars, they appear for a few nights before and after.

I also remember my Dad pointing out man-made satellites and telling us how we could tell the difference between them and shooting stars. (Man-made satellites move steadily through the sky, while shooting stars go quickly and then disappear.)

When we had our own children and started taking them to the Catskills, we shared the love of the night sky and taught them to count the shooting stars. We loved passing along this tradition to our children. Sitting out on a wooden chair with a child in your lap is so warm and wonderful.

Occasionally, when we were little in the 1960s and 1970s, we were also able to see the aurora borealis. It did not happen often, but every once in a while, to the north, those greenish yellow lights would shoot up to the sky from behind the trees, or so it seemed.

I still remember the first time I really understood what it was when I saw them. I was about ten years old. And one evening, while looking for shooting stars, I noticed a yellowish glow above the line of trees. I was worried; was it a fire? The adults assured me it was not fire, instead it was the Northern Lights, the aurora borealis lighting the sky. I still remember the sight of the dancing green and yellow lights above the trees. This is the spot where, in the future, we would normally see them. I remember at night always turning to this spot on our property to look for the lights.

Whenever I see the aurora borealis, and I have seen it several times in my adult life, I always think of one of my favorite stories about my sister’s husband. Let me set the stage:

The first point is that my sister’s son was a very fussy baby at times. He did his best sleeping when being driven in a car. My sister and her husband spent many hours driving my nephew’s first six months of life.

The second point is that my sister’s husband had not spent his childhood summers in the Catskills, so had no true experience with the night sky. He was a metropolitan New York, Long Island boy, who had never seen the northern lights.

That is the setting. Now the story:

One night, when their son was being fussy, my sister and her husband took their baby for a drive in the Kauneonga Lake, Bethel, Swan Lake area, part of the time along old 17B. My brother in law kept driving and driving and driving, for quite a long time, along the dark, hilly, curving roads. Finally my sister asked, “Where are you going?”

“I am going to drive to those lights…to that city,” he responded.

My sister knew there was no city there. And those were definitely not the lights of any city.

“You will be driving for a very long time,” she told him. “Those are the Aurora Borealis.”

He had no idea that we could see them in the Catskills. He was mildly incredulous, but he did turn around and head back to my parent’s home.

We had been getting worried. It was the time before cell phones, so all we could do is wait for them to return. My father considered calling the state troopers. But they returned before the call was made.

When they got back, and my sister told us what happened, we loved it! Even better, my nephew continued sleeping.

I still love that story!

My husband did not have that problem. He recognizes the aurora borealis. He studied astrophysics and quantum mechanics at Cal Tech (in Pasadena, California) for two years of undergrad before he changed his major and his college. But his interest in the night sky started when he was very young, when he was growing up in St. Louis.   His Dad told me how he took my husband to classes at the St. Louis McDonnell Planetarium when he was a boy. And my husband told me how his Dad slept through the presentations. But at least his Dad went with him.

My husband’s interest in astronomy made the beautiful night skies an added attraction and enjoyment during his visits to our home in Kauneonga Lake. When he came up, he would set a blanket out on the grass at night and star gaze for hours. When our children were old enough, he would take them outside to watch the sky with him. They would stay out there for hours wrapped in blankets.

My children learned the name of the stars and the constellations at an early age. They also learned at a young age that Dad would wake them up in the middle of the night if there was something interesting going on in the sky. In the Catskills it was easy to see these special sky events, which made them much more fun.

There might more lights on in the Catskills at night now. But it is still dark enough to enjoy the night sky and the meteor showers. I cannot wait to see them this year. I wish everyone happy star gazing!