Happy New Year 2019!

We here at the Beazley Planetarium wish you all a very joyous, healthy, and prosperous new year. While almost everyone’s attention will be drawn to the July golden anniversary of the Apollo 11 moon landing, we have some really cool events happening this month.  For starters, the entire continent of North America will experience a total lunar eclipse on the evening/early morning of January 20 and January 21, 2019.

As you may recall, eclipses occur when the position of the Earth, Moon, and Sun are aligned so the shadow created by one celestial object falls on another celestial body. In this case, the full Moon will slide into the Earth’s shadows creating an extended darkening of the Moon.  In fact not only will the Moon’s reflection dim, but because of the refracting of the Sun’s light as it passes Earth, will turn a reddish color!


This lunar eclipse is being touted as the Super Blood Wolf Moon eclipse. That is a mouthful!  Let me try to unpack the moniker. First, this lunar eclipse (like ALL lunar eclipses) is occurring during the full-moon phase. But the Moon’s orbit is not a perfect circle.  It is a bit of an ellipse. So sometimes the Moon is further from the Earth (known as apogee) and sometimes it is closer to the Earth (known as perigee). It stands to reason that the closer the Moon is to the viewer, the larger and brighter it appears.  During the January 20/21, 2019 event, the moon will be closer, brighter and SUPER.

Look high in the Southern sky around midnight on the evening of January 20 and early morning January 21. The Moon is between the constellations of Cancer and Gemini.

Secondly, since this full moon is going into an eclipse event and turning red, it will be a BLOOD Moon.  

Finally, the first full Moon in January is known as the Full WOLF moon, named by Native American tribes because this was the time of the year when hungry wolf packs howled outside their camps. The first Full Moon of January was also known as the Old Full Moon and the Moon after Yule, but somehow those names don’t carry the same swag now do they?  This full moon is one of the three Super Moons that will occur in 2019. By the way, this is the first full lunar eclipse visible from here in the past three years. Remember that you would have to be on the night side of Earth at the right time to actually see the marvelous event.

Here are some particulars:

Where can I see the lunar eclipse?  

This eclipse will occur around Midnight on January 20, 2019.  Lunar eclipse may span several hours from start to end. You may even see the Full Moon beginning to darken to a reddish color a little after 7:00 PM.  The completion of the lunar eclipse will stretch into the wee hours of January 21, 2019!

How can I view the lunar eclipse?

That is an easy one, just look up.  You need no special glasses to view this astronomical event as with total solar eclipses.  You may wish to make yourself some hot chocolate, wrap yourself in a nice blanket, and pull up a lawn chair to witness this stunning event.  Now if only the weather will cooperate! You may wish to view the spectacle with a pair of binoculars or a small telescope. You may even see the shadow of the Earth moving across the surface of the moon. How cool is that!

What can we do to further experience the lunar eclipse?

If you are taking in the eclipse with the family, maybe read aloud a book like “Goodnight Moon” by Margaret Wise Brown.  There are many other children’s books dealing with the wonder that is the Moon.

Also try your hand at astrophotography using your camera or cell phone. Try to make a time-lapse movie of the event using your phone on a tripod or your camera on a tripod. Many digital cameras allow for time-lapse recording.  I would guess that recording the event with an interval of every 10 seconds (allowing playback at 30 frames per second) would make for a really cool movie.

NASA Discovers a Deep Space Snowman

NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft just sent images back from the most distant object ever visited by a spacecraft!  New Horizons sent back images from the object known as Ultima Thule some 4 billion miles from our Sun. Mission specialists have guided the far-flung spacecraft to within 2,200miles of the Kuiper Belt object.  The object is so distant it would take dozens of hours to send a command to maneuver towards the object. The image reveals a bowling pin shaped object some 20 miles by 10 miles in size spinning end over end as it orbits the sun.  Kuiper Belt object like Ultima Thule is made of the leftovers of our solar system’s formation and are primarily ice from frozen water and gases and rock.

However, those with a more creative bent have seen other possibilities in the images.  David Wilson tweeted his take on the makeup of the body seeing something rather “Frosty”.

Another viewer must have had a more science fiction bent and saw the popular droid from the Star Wars franchise; good old BB 8 (actually BB – 9).

However you look at it, it is a masterful task to reach such a distant target.  New Horizons was designed and flown to primarily give us a glimpse into the dwarf planet Pluto launching in January of 2006.  After nearly 13 years, and billions and billions of miles, New Horizons offers just that: new horizons and ways of looking at our solar system.

The Beazley Celebrates Black History Month

Finally, we celebrate Black History Month here at the Children’s Museum of Virginia and offer Follow the Drinking Gourd planetarium show in the Beazley starting January 21, 2019, and running through the month of February.  This legacy planetarium show first ran back in the 1970s and was produced by the New Jersey State Museum Planetarium and the Raritan Valley Community College.  We have updated the content to make the best use of our full dome system. The show begins with a bit of celestial navigation before exploring the route of the Underground Railroad.  Our show also features Jeanette Winter’s artwork and the story of our Freedom Travelers; Molly, James, Isiah, Old Hattie and Young George using the stars to make their way to freedom. I think you will come away with a greater appreciation for the harrowing experiences of the Freedom Travelers, and an “earworm” for the famous folk song.

There is so we can learn when we decide to look up; whether it brings the wonders of an eclipse, pushing the technological boundaries associated with space exploration, or the comfort of knowing the constancy of our star patterns.  

The sky is always full of wonder, a celestial show! Never stop asking: “What’s up?”

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