CCSU Family Day is Saturday, October 7, and the Copernican Observatory and Planetarium and Geology & Planetary Science Club have free activities that are out of this world! Planetarium shows run at 11:30 AM and 2 PM, and join us in the library-side foyer of Copernicus Hall for free geology and astronomy activities suitable for children of all ages. Between 11 AM – 2 PM can construct a starfinder or a model of Saturn to take home, examine rocks and minerals from Connecticut, try your hand at making craters, touch real meteorites and fossils, and observe sunspots (weather permitting).
… if Internet sources are to be believed (which they aren’t, but more on that later). Friday September 22 marks the first day of Autumn in the Northern Hemisphere, and Frodo and Bilbo Baggins’ birthday (for you fellow Tolkien fans), but it is the day after that has some hunkering down in their bunkers waiting for the beginning of the end.
According to one David Meade, this Saturday marks the countdown (conveniently of an unknown duration) to the end of Planet Earth. His “evidence” is the fact that September 23 marks the 33rd day after the solar eclipse (itself superstitiously considered an omen of the end) and that a number of the planets appear relatively near each other in the sky on either side of the sun, centered on the constellation Virgo. According to this individual’s personal interpretation of Revelation, this is a “clear” sign that the end is nigh. How will the actual end come about? According to Meade and other doomsday soothsayers who are piggybacking on this pseudoscience train wreck, the infamous (and apparently invisible to all astronomers) rogue planet/alien spacecraft “Nibiru” is finally on its often-claimed-but-never-observed supposed collision course with Earth.
Sigh. And I thought I was done with this after December 21, 2012 passed with a whimper and not a bang.
Let’s BRIEFLY debunk this, point by point. Please consult the embedded links for more information.
- The total solar eclipse on August 21 was not a harbinger of anything. There have been many total solar eclipses before (some with paths very similar to the one we enjoyed in the US) and there will be many more to come – until, in the distant future, the moon has slowly drifted far enough away from the Earth to no longer cover up the sun and cause a total eclipse. That will be a sad day indeed!
- While several planets do appear in a nice arrangement on either side of the sun (called a conjunction), there is absolutely nothing unusual about this. The fact that this is happening in the constellation of Virgo is also common. Nothing to see here folks, move along….
- Nibiru (sometimes called Planet X) is a figment of the imagination of one Zechariah Sitchin that was co-opted by various Internet alien conspiracy theorists and is equal parts bad astronomy and bad archaeology. There is zero evidence for its existence. Nada. Nothing.
Having said this, is it possible that the end of the world will be brought about through the influence of outer space? Actually I’d say the odds are 100%, but billions of years from now when the sun swells up into a red giant and turns the inner solar system into a rather unpleasant inferno. But in the meantime, we all have to go to work, pay our taxes, clean the litterboxes, and do the dishes. Life is too short to waste it worrying about pseudoscience. Instead, unplug from the Internet for an hour, go outside, and enjoy the real night sky without worrying that Planet Earth has a large red bull’s-eye painted on it. Like Twinkies, our expiration date is FAR in the future.
After a nearly 20 year adventure, the Cassini spacecraft will go out with a bang on Friday, September 15, when it plunges into the atmosphere of Saturn and burns up. This fiery farewell is necessary because the probe will soon run out of the fuel needed to make orbital corrections, and NASA is concerned that in the future a dead and drifting probe might accidentally crash into (and pollute) one of the icy moons, such as Enceladus or Titan. But even in its death, Cassini will increase our understanding of Saturn’s cloud layers. For a summary of all the historic discoveries made by this amazing mission, see the NASA website.
Saturn is still visible in the night sky, visible in the south above and to the left of the bright red star Antares in Scorpius directly after sunset. If you have a telescope, even a small one, why not view the ringed planet for yourself before Cassini’s demise and wave fond farewell in the direction of one of the finest spacecraft ever sent into the outer solar system!
Weather permitting, the Copernican Observatory will view Saturn this Saturday night (September 16) after the regularly scheduled free public planetarium show. The planetarium show begins at 8 PM. For more information, consult our website.
[Pinhole projections of the partial phase as well as the diamond ring after the total phase of the August 21, 2017 solar eclipse as seen from Marion, IL.]
Viewing a total solar eclipse is an extremely emotional experience, whether it is your first (in Jess’s case) or your fifth (in Kris’s case). We attempted to shoot a Facebook Live video with a cellphone of the minutes before totality until the internet connection cut out about halfway through totality. Although the visual portion is questionable at best, the audio gives you an accurate portrayal of the raw emotion that comes with witnessing a total eclipse after the years of planning, hundreds or thousands of miles of travelling, and nail-biting hours of wondering if the clouds will thwart all your hard work. Enjoy!
— Kris Larsen and Jessica Johnson
[Note: although the video is set as Public, it may not play on certain browsers]
The Copernican Observatory was highlighted in a recent article in the Astronomical League’s Reflector magazine, as shone above, in a story about Halloween observing. For several years, astronomy professor Kristine Larsen and then student (now alumna) Jessica Johnson decorated the observatory dome each Halloween. The Great Pumpkin isn’t so great compared to our festive (and now famous) Jack-o-lantern dome.
[Jessica Johnson looking excited at 4:30AM on the bus to see totality; Diamond ring photo by Justin Motta]
Editor’s note: Jessica Johnson, CCSU alumna, posted the following to Facebook shortly after experiencing her first total solar eclipse. She graciously allowed us to share it with you
Words cannot describe what I have just experienced. It was dodgy early on and we drove almost 4.5 hours this morning to get out of the way of a nasty frontal system. We made it to Marion, IL and only had to bribe a few towering cumulus clouds to leave. I have never seen an eclipse before and I still don’t know if I am composed enough to describe it or even process what I have just witnessed. Seeing the total eclipse, corona, and everything else associated with it has rendered me speechless (which doesn’t happen too often). It was like an amazing dream and it was worth the wait. I just sat there and cried; staring at something that was so beyond what pictures or stories could ever give. If there was ever a time or an experience where I was physically/emotionally reminded that I was a part of something so much larger than myself this eclipse exceeded it and happily reminded me of the star dust in which I was born and will return to. Just so wonderful and awe inspiring, I am still emotional and will remember this for the rest of my life. Thanks to Kris Larsen for making this a reality for me. I can’t wait for the next one! I have no pictures because I wanted to just experience it, but I have friends who will share pics with me and I will share with you [See above picture from Justin Motta].
— Jessica Johnson, CCSU Class of 2016
[NASA eclipse glasses donated to the Burlington Library by NASA Solar System Ambassador Kris Larsen; empty box that once house the 1000 pairs of eclipse glasses Kris Larsen bought and donated to the public for the eclipse]
Now that the Great American Eclipse is over, what do you do with those eclipse glasses? Given the pains many of you went through to get them, it seems a shame to just discard them. You can put them in a safe place until the April 8, 2024 eclipse (which will be 90% partial in Connecticut, and total in parts of New England and New York state). If you do this, you should examine them for any holes or defects BEFORE the 2024 eclipse (in case you need to get new pairs). You can always use them to view large sunspot groups. Only large groups are seen with just eclipse glasses and the eye, so it will not be an everyday event. To monitor sunspot activity, I recommend the Spaceweather website.
If you want to pass on to someone else the excitement you felt at observing the eclipse, you can donate your glasses (if they are in good condition) to Astronomers Without Borders, who will redistribute them to schools in South America for the next two total solar eclipses. Please follow the directions on their website.
Of course, you might just hang on to them as a memento!