San Juan College Planetarium show focuses on lunar eclipse
FARMINGTON — While the night sky is regularly filled with sights that inspire wonder, one of the most accessible and enjoyable celestial events will be the focus of this month's AstroFriday session at the San Juan College Planetarium.
"The Lunar Eclipse Show" will be presented twice on Friday, Sept. 18 at the Planetarium, offering a dramatic simulation of the total lunar eclipse that will take place on Sunday, Sept. 27. Planetarium coordinator David Mayeux said the event will offer a time-lapse version of the eclipse as it will appear to the naked eye before a magnified image of the eclipse will be projected across the Planetarium dome, filling it.
"It'll be a simulation of the eclipse the way it's supposed to happen on the 27th," Mayeux said.
Because they can be seen easily without the aid of a telescope, Mayeux said lunar eclipses are popular — even with those who make their living at watching and charting the night sky. Mayeux said he still finds them appealing.
"I watch them whenever I don't have to get up at 3 a.m. (to see it)," he said, laughing.
Mayeux acknowledged that total solar eclipses are even more dramatic, but they occur very rarely.
"You have to be right on a narrow center line (to see it)," he said. "But with a lunar eclipse, you only have to be on the night side of the earth."
The total lunar eclipse on Sept. 27 will occur in prime time, he noted, meaning it is likely to be widely viewed, especially in the Mountain time zone. Mayeux said the moon will rise at a due-east point on the horizon before beginning its track across the night sky in a slightly southerly direction. The moon will reach its first umbral contact (when the eclipse begins) at 7:07 p.m. and enter its phase of totality (when the moon is entirely in the Earth's shadow) at 8:11 p.m. The eclipse will be at its mid-point at 8:48 p.m. and begin to emerge from the Earth's shadow at 9:23 p.m. It will move clear of that shadow by 10:27 p.m.
Mayeux said the period of the eclipse leading up to totality should offer particularly enjoyable viewing, as the moon will appear to be bathed in a red or orange hue.
"The earth's atmosphere acts as an eyeglass lens and bends some of the sunlight," he said, describing that phenomenon.
He said no special equipment is required to enjoy the lunar eclipse, although anyone who would like to see it close-up is welcome to come to the SJC campus that night where Mayeux will have telescopes set up for public viewing from 8 to 9:30.
Friday's program at the Planetarium will focus on the eclipse, but Mayeux said a tour of other notable objects in the night sky will be part of the program.
The Planetarium has a seating capacity of 60, and admission to the two shows is on a first-come, first-served basis, and no one will be admitted once a show has begun. Admission is free.
There is no limit for the stargaze session that follows Friday's shows. A press release issued by the college states that the waxing crescent moon is due to be paired up with Saturn, and visitors also may be able to catch a glimpse of Neptune and Uranus. The visibility of such objects depends on weather conditions.
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