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Touring the Skies By Jim Bonser (

December 27, 2018
Northern-Sun Print
Ps. 19:1 The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands. At last! The days are beginning to get longer, and it won’t be too long before the air will start getting warmer. In the meantime, this is the time of year when I get caught up on all my reading, how about you? Generally, as I’ve mentioned before, when the temperature gets below 20 degrees F., my telescope just stops working. Well, technically that’s not exactly true. It will operate in those temperatures just fine, but it sits idle because I stop using it! Sometimes, if there is something special going on in the sky, I will break my rule even if it requires that I wear long underwear (two layers), a sweatshirt, and a hooded fleece, my snowmobile suit, gloves AND mittens and two pair of thick cotton socks. And a scarf. This month there is the potential for just such an occasion: a total eclipse of the Moon on January 20th. There is just something so wonderful about eclipses that even when it is just too cold to think about, I bravely suit up and head out to watch and hopefully, get some beautiful pictures to remember it by. I still remember the first time I watched a total eclipse of the Moon. My family and I were at a PWOP (Parents With Out Partners - pronounced Pee-WOP!) Christmas party at the YMCA in downtown Youngstown, Ohio. Yes, I admit it, I didn’t grow up in Iowa, I am a transplant! But I love Iowa, and I call it home! But I digress… As I was saying, we were at the PWOP meeting, it was on Friday, December 18th. 1964, and I happened to look out one of the windows and I noticed there was something odd about the full Moon. It was already partially covered by Earth’s shadow! It was mesmerizing! I think I was more excited about the eclipse than I was about the visit by Santa Claus! Funny, I remember going around to everyone at the party, both kids and grown-ups trying to get them to come over to the window to see the eclipse. I guess I’ve never outgrown my love of sharing the beauty in the night sky. Totality occurred about 9:30, just a little before it was time to go home. I watched through the car window all the way home - but Mom wouldn’t let me stay up to see the end - that was way past my bedtime - rats! Ever since then, Lunar eclipses have held a special place in my heart. They often get clouded out, here in central Iowa, but it is good to be prepared just in case, so be sure to set a reminder in your phone or mark up your brand spanking new 2019 calendar so you don’t miss it! Partial eclipse will begin around 9:37 for me, near Marshalltown. A little sooner if you are east of me and later if you are to my west, but not by much. Totality begins at about 10:45 and mid-eclipse will happen about 11:16 for me. The eclipse ends a little before 1. I probably won’t see it - just like when I was a kid back in 1964 - WAY past my bedtime and even colder! Most of the planetary action has moved to the pre-dawn skies this month. A very slender crescent Moon will visit Venus January 1st and then again on the 31st. Venus is amazingly bright and visible even as the Sun begins to clear the horizon if the skies are really clear. I used to watch it on my drive to work in Cedar Rapids from Tama, years ago. As long as you knew where to look, it was surprising how long it remained visible as the Sun rose. Kind of a game I used to like to play. Closer to the horizon Jupiter also shines brightly before sunrise, although not nearly as bright as Venus. It rises about 5 a.m., an hour and a half after Venus at the beginning of the month. Watch them draw closer and closer together as Venus rises later and later each day. On the 23rd, Venus will be just about 2 and a half degrees from Jupiter. They will make a very striking pair, especially on the last day of the month when the Moon will separate the two creating a very beautiful predawn scene. Saturn spends the month hidden behind the Sun, leaving only Mars in the evening skies! The Moon pays Mars a visit on January 12th. Not a close pairing, but close enough to reassure you that, yes, that bright “star” a couple finger widths above the Moon is really the Red Planet, not a star. Please join me in hoping for a mild January with lots of clear skies! Please?

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