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Article from Triple Nickel for people
who want to know more,
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what's all about our view into space...
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First let us answer: What is an eclipse?
An eclipse is a celestial event when one object in space either passes through the shadow of another object or when one object passes in front of an object, or rather between that object and us, the viewer on Earth. The eclipse will cause the eclipsed object to be either partially or completely covered or hidden. A solar eclipse is when the Sun is eclipsed or hidden from our view, either partially or completely. This is most often witnessed here on Earth by the Moon passing in front of the Sun and either completely blocking out all the light from the Sun or by just covering up a section of the Sun. In an effort to complete this line of thinking, a lunar eclipse is when all or part of the Moon is covered or hidden from the light of the Sun. This happens when the Moon passes through the shadow of the Earth and the Earth's shadow covers up either all or part of the Moon. In this case the Earth is between the Sun and the Moon. Remember that the light from the Moon is reflected light, mostly from the Sun.
Some moonlight is actually light reflecting off the Earth and "bouncing" off the Moon and back to us here on Earth. This is referred to as Earthshine. You can observe Earthshine on clear nights when the dark park of the Moon is visible or somewhat lit up - because this dark part is being lit up by sunlight reflecting off the Earth onto this dark part of the Moon and back to us.
On October 23, 2014, the Moon passed in front of part of the Sun causing a partial solar eclipse. I happened to be with a large group of amateur astronomers all camping at Fort McKavett, northeast of Junction, TX. We all were at the fort for one of our twice-a-year outings or star parties as we call them. We all knew about the predicted solar eclipse from news media, web sites, and from talking amongst ourselves prior to making the trek to the fort. This partial solar eclipse was predicted to start around 4:45PM Texas time. This made it easy to arrive the day of the eclipse and get all set up and ready for this exciting event. The eclipse was to last a whole hour or so which made it even more exciting because we would have plenty of time to observe, share and photograph the event. Now before I go any further, I must warn you that you can NEVER look at a solar eclipse or the Sun directly. It WILL permanently damage your eyes! Only use approved safety devices to observe the Sun and a solar eclipse!
So to explain how we all did this let me say we took all the precautions to protect our eyes from the harmful rays of the Sun.
For me, I used a solar filter to cover the opening of my telescope so I could safely look at the eclipse up close. Others used approved handheld devices to view the eclipse. Anyway, as the time drew near the viewing field of the fort was abuzz with people talking about what they thought they would see and also about the exact time the event would occur. You see, it depends on where you are on the Earth at the time of the eclipse as to when you will actually observe the event. So we were all excited and waiting.
Finally you could hear someone exclaim "It has started!", meaning that there was a small crescent piece of the Sun missing. I immediately moved to the eyepiece of my 8 inch homemade telescope to see what was happening. Sure enough, a small part was missing from the lower left corner of the Sun. How cool was this. As I sat and watched, I could see this slice growing in size. It was a marvel of our universe to witness. This only happens because our Moon is orbiting our planet at just the right location or inclination to actually occasionally pass in front of our Sun. An interesting factoid is that our Moon is at just the right distance from Earth and is just the right size that occasionally it passes perfectly in front of the Sun to block out all the light of the Sun with just a slight glow around the edges. If the Moon were smaller or further away, we would never see a total eclipse of the Sun. In fact, the Moon is measurably moving away from the Earth, only about an inch or so a year, and thus someday, way in the future, the Moon will be too far from us to totally cover up the Sun and thus our future Earthlings will never see a total eclipse of the Sun. So we are truly lucky to see a solar eclipse.
Okay, enough about the future, back to this eclipse.
As the eclipse progressed, I had been observing the event enough to notice that the Sun was also experiencing some beautiful sunspots in the uncovered part of the Sun. This made the viewing even more spectacular. So I changed out the eyepiece in my telescope to zoom in on the spots and could see them bubbling and gurgling. And to think that these sunspots were the cooler temperature sections of the Sun at only 7,000 degrees Fahrenheit! The rest of the surface is around 10,000 degrees F! That's hot! Another bit of factoid is that the Sun is about 91,500,000 (91.5 million) miles from Earth. The light from the Sun take about 8 minutes to reach us. So, everything I was watching in my telescope had happened eight minutes before! Weird.
During the eclipse there were clouds drifting in and out, blocking some of our view of the solar eclipse. But as I said, the event lasted over an hour so we all got to see the eclipse for a long time. There were cheers on the viewing field and many loud "WOWs" as people shared the view through their protected telescope eyepieces. It was truly a social event as well as an astronomical event. Viewing any kind of astronomical event, or event just viewing the night sky through binoculars or a telescope gives you a wondrous perspective of our place in this vast universe.
After several years of observing the night sky, I have become familiar with the constellations and feel a closeness to the heavens above. This solar eclipse added one more friend to my familiar sky above.
Seen from Earth in Texas 2014: A solar eclipse
Isn't that an amazing view?
Photo by Triple Nickel
For more info and fun reading about eclipses, go to the NASA Eclipse webpage

About the author:
Triple Nickel is a friend of Peter and Marianne Bonenberger. He is a retired (25 years combat ready) USAF Fighter Pilot and a retired NASA Research Pilot (22 years at NASA). He lives in Hunt, TX, and they have 5 children and 6 grandchildren between them. Triple has been an active amateur astronomer for over 17 years and he built his own telescope with mentoring from Bob Taylor, BSBNCG Vice President. Triple has viewed and drawn all 110 Messier deep sky objects and is a member of the Johnson Space Center Astronomical Society. For his contributions to amateur astronomy his name was given to asteroid 14511Nickel by the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada. He supports the reduction of light pollution to our beautiful skies and encourages all to not light pollute. He says he still doesn't know what he wants to be when he grows up!

See Triple Nickel and his toy on the BSB NASA webpage

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