Monday, 14 December 2009

Keep looking up!

The International Year of Astronomy (which, I must be honest, through sheer fluke (or fate perhaps?) tied in with my year of moonwalking around Britain) is coming to an end. But not without some exceptional astronomical treats. This weekend, I spent two shivering nights craning my neck, crushing some vertebrae and looking up. Twitter led me to the Geminid meteor shower and the sky didn’t disappoint.

By the time my face lost all feeling, I’d spotted over ten shooting stars firing across the night sky. By late Sunday night, I’d also managed to drag Mum outside. Together we watched a couple of sparklers crashing into our atmosphere (Earth’s atmosphere; there was no atmosphere between me and Mum). Wondrous. fizzling. Florescent green.

And the treats continue.

Blue moon this New Year’s Eve isn’t just special because it’s the 13th full moon of the year. Or because it falls on the last day of the 400th anniversary of Galileo’s and Thomas Harriot’s first moon sketches using a telescope (and pencil-type instrument, I’d guess). Or because it falls on the last day of the 40th anniversary of Man’s first moon-bounce.

Or, for me, because it falls three days after my birthday, and in the middle of my zodiac sign.

But this blue moon you’ll also witness another lunar spectacle. An eclipse. Well, you might.

Across parts of Asia, Australia, Europe and Africa, the complete partial lunar eclipse will be visible. Let me make that clearer. On 31st December 2009, Earth will pass between the sun and the moon, and our shadow – some of it at least (the 'penumbra'), plus a fingernail of 'umbra' – will appear on the lunar surface. For years I’ve taken this sort of thing for granted and stayed indoors. Not now. That’s amazing! It’s the astronomical equivalent of throwing a dart, spearing a fly, and hitting bullseye (all using the dart I should add).

So once again, skies permitting, you’ll find me wandering the streets by moonlight and occasionally stopping, staring and grinning. You’ll know it’s me because others will be pointing and whispering. And I'll be the one with the dart and the flies.

Whether I’ll see this slight dimming of Luna, I’m not sure. Scientists don’t like my chances (“unlikely to see with the naked eye”). But I’ll certainly look out for it. You never know. It’s possible (come on, let’s be positive) that at around 7.23pm (GMT) a slice of the southern limb of our distant neighbour will fade.

Then she’ll return to fullness and welcome us all into the next decade. 2010 – officially the Year After the International Year of Astronomy.

Come back Wednesday for your chance to get involved in moonwalking on blue moon 2009...


Sam C said...

Space really is quite amazing. Unfortunately I didn't manage to see any meteors because of the clouds here.

Rob Self-Pierson said...

It was spectacular. Don't worry, there'll be another show next year! And before that, a blue moon to walk by...