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UW Astronomer: Get Up Early To See Rare Five-Planet Alignment On Friday

in News/Astronomy
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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

A University of Wyoming astronomer is recommending following the old adage of “early to bed, early to rise” on Friday, as there will be a rare five-planet alignment that morning.

Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter and Saturn will align on Friday morning, just before sunrise. This is a rare event, occurring only once every 18 years, and will not happen again until 2040.

“Get up early, before sunrise, and look to the east for the rising planets,” UW planetarium coordinator Max Gilbraith told Cowboy State Daily on Wednesday. “If the weather is clear the alignment should be unmistakable.”

As sunrise times are not uniform in Wyoming, check to see when it occurs in your area and get up beforehand. It ranges from 5:19 a.m. in Gillette to 5:21 a.m. in Sheridan to 5:26 a.m. in Cheyenne to 5:35 a.m. in Riverton to 5:42 a.m. in Jackson to 5:52 a.m. in Evanston, and all points in between.


Weather conditions in certain parts of the state, stretching from Cheyenne to Casper to Worland, will be sunny on Friday morning with a possibility of rain showers and storms in the afternoon, according to the National Weather Service.

Other parts, such as Cody and Gillette, are expected to have rain early Friday, which could affect the visibility of the planet alignment.

According to science outlet Live Science, the “alignment” of the planets is actually a trick of perspective and that the planets aren’t actually in a straight line in space. The planets orbit the sun on a flat plane and when they pass close enough to each other, it appears from Earth that they have aligned.

The outlet also reported that the planetary line will be in the order of the planets’ distance from the sun. 

Mercury circles the sun every 88 Earth days, Venus every 225 days, Mars every 687 days, Jupiter every 12 years and Saturn every 29 years.

What About Uranus?

The eight planets will never fully align, because not all of them are on parallel orbital paths and some of the orbits are tilted compared to others, according to news outlet WUSA9.

However, it is possible that people of Earth can sometimes see all seven planets in the same night sky, although it won’t happen in the next few lifetimes. Science Focus reported that the last time it occurred was in 949.

The next time it will occur will be May 6, 2492. This date could change if astronomers discover another planet. It should be noted that Pluto is no longer considered a planet.

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Wyoming One Of The Best Locations In Country For Sunday’s Total Lunar Eclipse

in Astronomy
Photo by Phil Walter/Getty Images

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By Jimmy Orr, Cowboy State Daily

Grab your popcorn, the show is coming Sunday night and it’s going to be a good one.

Wyoming is one of the best locations in the country to watch Sunday night’s total lunar eclipse, according to University of Wyoming planetarium director Max Gilbraith.

That’s because of the timing of the lunar sideshow. This one doesn’t require you to get up in the middle of the night. Wyoming has prime-time viewing.


“Basically, once the sun sets for us in Wyoming, we’ll be seeing the moon rise. We’re in a perfect time zone for this eclipse,” Gilbraith told Cowboy State Daily.

A little after 8:00 p.m., the show begins. 

It’s not going to be the same for everyone as Wyoming is not one of those puny eastern states like Rhode Island which is smaller than some bathrooms out here in the Cowboy State.

The moon rises, roughly, at 8:05 p.m. The partial eclipse, according to, begins around 8:27 p.m.

About an hour later, the total eclipse begins and the moon will turn completely red.

Here’s what’s great about this eclipse:

1. It’s one of the longest eclipses of the decade clocking-in at about 90 minutes.

2.  Because it’s a “super moon,” it will appear about 10% larger than a normal full moon.

3.   It will get more pronounced as as it progresses.

“The moon actually gets brighter with this eclipse as it exits totality,” Galbraith said. “You’ve got have patience if you want to see the whole thing, but it’s beautiful.”

Most importantly, the weather looks good for Wyoming.

Not only will it be clear, but the winds will not be blowing at hurricane strength.

“Sunday will have the best break in the wind we’ve had in awhile,” meteorologist Don Day said. “It’s a great day to be outside.”

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UW Astronomer: Wyoming In Perfect Location To See May Lunar Eclipse; Longest Lasting In 7 Years

in News/Astronomy

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

A lunar eclipse lasting longer than any to be seen in the next seven years will be visible next month, a University of Wyoming astronomer told Cowboy State Daily on Thursday.

The “Super Flower Blood Moon” can be seen in full totality around 10:30 p.m. on Sunday, May 15, and will be visible for about 90 minutes.

Max Gilbraith, director of the UW planetarium, told Cowboy State Daily that this particular lunar eclipse will be the longest lasting one to occur until at least 2029.

“One of the delightful things about a lunar eclipse is you can really see them throughout the whole hemisphere,” Gilbraith said Thursday. “Basically, once the sun sets for us in Wyoming, we’ll be seeing the moon rise. We’re in a perfect time zone for this eclipse.”

While “Super Flower Blood Moon” sounds spooky and like something a comic book villain would utter, there is actually a reason behind each word in the nickname.

“Super” refers to the moon being in perigee, meaning it is at the closest point to Earth in its orbit, which makes it appear larger and brighter in the sky. Gilbraith said the moon will be about 10% closer to the earth during the eclipse when compared to normal full moons.

“Full” describes the phase the moon is in, meaning its entire shape can be fully seen from Earth. “Flower” refers to the moon being seen in May, the time when “May flowers” appear after a month of “April showers.”

Finally, the “blood” description harkens back to the moon’s red appearance, which occurs as it passes through the Earth’s shadow.

“The sky is blue and lunar eclipses are red for the same reason,” Gilbraith said. “The sky is blue because the radiation light is shorter in wavelength than the red light and scatters more easily in the atmosphere. Whereas the red longer wavelength bends and refracts through the Earth’s atmosphere. This is why sunsets are red.”

A lunar eclipse lasting as long as this particular Super Flower Blood Moon has not been seen since 2018, Gilbraith noted.

“The moon actually gets brighter with this eclipse as it exits totality,” he said. “You’ve got have patience if you want to see the whole thing, but it’s beautiful.”

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Lunar Eclipse Tonight (Friday Morning); Wyoming Viewers Have To Deal With Clouds

in Astronomy

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By Jimmy Orr, Cowboy State Daily

Early Friday morning, earthlings will experience the longest near-total lunar eclipse in over 700 years.

The astronomical event — in Wyoming — will last just under four hours and at its peak, the moon will be 97% covered.

For us, the show begins at 12:19 a.m. The peak is at 2:03 a.m. And it’s all done at 3:47 a.m. 

The good news is that the Cowboy State has front row seats for the action.

The bad news is that our front row seats likely will have obstructed views.

Wyoming meteorologist Don Day was hoping his long-range forecast for cloudy weather during the eclipse was wrong.

Sadly, he was right. Although his viewability grade for the eclipse did move up a notch.

Originally, he said our view would be worthy of a grade of D-plus.  Now it’s a solid C-minus.

That’s because high-level clouds are moving into most of the state — and the entire region.

“The problem is, we’re going to have to play tag with the clouds,” Day said. “The cloudiness is certainly going to be there but it probably won’t be continuous cloud cover. There are going to be some breaks.”

“You still might be able to get a good photo and you’ll likely be able to see it,” he said.

Day presented a slide showing the predicted cloud cover when the eclipse begins.

It’s cloudy throughout the region but the lighter shaded areas (see above) is where there will be some breaks, he said.

“Plus, everything will be moving,” Day said.  “So there is going to be a bunch of mid to high level-clouds — we just gotta get lucky and catch some breaks,” he said.

Day said “wave clouds,” however, could screw everything up.

Wave clouds are more opaque and toward the end of the eclipse is where parts of Wyoming (east of mountain ranges) may experience them.

“There are always breaks in the clouds so you should get a good glimpse,” he said.

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Wyoming To Experience Near-Total Lunar Eclipse on Friday at 2:00 A.M.

in Astronomy

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By Jimmy Orr, Cowboy State Daily

One might think with it getting dark so early, the divine schedulers might be able to do a better job with the starting time of the near-total lunar eclipse later this week.

In Wyoming, the eclipse will begin right after midnight on Friday morning.

For astronomy lovers, Wyoming meteorologist Don Day said this eclipse is not one to be missed.  Not only will it be the longest lunar eclipse of the century but the longest since 1440.

So unless you’re a vampire, Day said, chances are you haven’t seen one this long before. 

Friday’s event will last six hours and two minutes. But here in Wyoming, peak viewing times are between 12:00 a.m. and 3:45 a.m.

The earth’s distance from the moon is the reason for the eclipse’s staying power. The full moon is at its apogee — which means the furthest the moon can go in its orbit around the Earth.

The moon moves slower the further it is from our blue marble.

If you just want the Cliff Notes’ version of the eclipse, set your alarm for 2 a.m. — that’s when the eclipse will appear most full, covering 97% of the moon.

As for the weather, the divine schedulers could have done better here as well.

Because of cloud clover, Day grades viewing conditions at a C-minus to a D-plus — although that can always change.

“At the moment, looks like a lot of high clouds Thursday night/Friday morning, there will be breaks but more clouds than clear,” Day said.

Makes no difference to Day, however. These events don’t come along very often.

 “I will always say it is worth staying up and astronomical events are special, most folks miss out,” he said.

Day said he hoped the long-range forecast improves.

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Wyomingites Can See Lyrid Meteor Shower Peak Thursday Night

in Astronomy

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

Wyoming residents have the opportunity to see the Lyrid meteor shower at its peak Thursday morning, but they have to be up before dawn.

The annual meteor shower usually occurs from around April 14 to April 30, usually peaking around April 22.

Max Gilbraith, University of Wyoming planetarium coordinator, told Cowboy State Daily on Wednesday that Wyomingites could definitely see some of the shower if they start looking to the skies around 10 p.m. on Wednesday, but it will peak early Thursday morning.

“The only problem is that the moon will be out and it’s almost full,” he said. “You want to go somewhere without light pollution and you can get clear skies to best see the shower.”

There will still be an opportunity to see the meteor shower on Thursday night, though, if people aren’t looking to wake up before the sun rises.

Gilbraith didn’t recommend using a telescope or binoculars to see the shower, though.

“You want to see a large part of the sky when watching a meteor shower and you just can’t do that with a telescope or binoculars,” he said. “The meteors go too fast for you to try and watch them in one particular spot.”

The Lyrid meteors come from the comet Thatcher, which was discovered in 1861. It’s not expected to return to the Earth’s orbit until 2283.

“This is a fun shower, but it is variable, so the rate of meteors falling in one hour can range from zero to 90,” Gilbraith said. “I just hope people can get out, have some clear skies, look to the northeast and see some meteors.”

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Astronomer: “Phenomenal” Peak Viewing of Orionids Meteor Showing Days Away

in News/Good news/Astronomy

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

Here’s the good news: Wyomingites still have plenty of opportunities to see the Orionids meteor shower before it wanes in early November.

The bad news is that you’ll either have to stay up late or plan on waking up in the middle of the night.

The Orionids meteor shower is considered to be one of the most beautiful of the year, according to NASA, and is known for the brightness and speed of the meteors entering earth’s atmosphere. They can reach speeds of about 148,000 mph as they enter the atmosphere.

Max Gilbraith, plaetarium coordinator at the University of Wyoming, told Cowboy State Daily that the meteor shower can be best seen after midnight, usually around 1 or 2 a.m.

“Weather conditions are going to be the main concern, especially down in the southeast portion of Wyoming, where we have smoke from the Mullen and Cameron Peak fires,” Gilbraith said. “I would recommend getting anywhere high and dry, especially a place where you won’t have light pollution, like in Cheyenne and Casper.”

The astronomer also recommend not using binoculars or a telescope when looking for the meteor shower, as only looking at one spot (albeit magnified) will likely mean missing meteors in another portion of the sky.

Meteor showers occur when the earth passes through a “meteroid belt,” leftover “dust” from the disintegration of a comet, in this case, Halley’s Comet.

Gilbraith said the meteor shower will peak around Oct. 20, meaning that is when the most meteors can be seen in the shortest period of time. As recently as 2007, the meteor shower peaked at 70 meteors per hour, equaling just over one per minute.

“That is phenomenal, because there are usually a few dozen per hour, around 10 to 20,” he said.

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Newly Discovered Comet Could Be Brightest In Decades

in Astronomy

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By Ike Fredregill, Cowboy State Daily

Night sky watchers in May could be rewarded with a look at a bright new comet as well as the Eta Aquarids meteor shower, a University of Wyoming staff member said. 

The SWAN Comet, officially designated as C/2020 F8 SWAN, was discovered by an amateur Australian astronomer in December 2019, and UW Planetarium Director Max Gilbraith said it could be one of the most memorable comet-viewings in recent history.

“It might be brighter than the planet Venus and have a huge, beautiful tail visible with binoculars or a small telescope,” Gilbraith said. “Comets are hard to predict, but it could be the best comet we’ve had for 20 years.” 

Early morning, around 4:45 a.m., is the best time to catch a glimpse of SWAN along the northeastern horizon. Comets can be the size of a small town and are composed of frozen gases, rock and dust, orbiting the Sun like “cosmic snowballs,” according to NASA.

“This comet is on a parabolic path around the Sun,” Gilbraith said. “Once the Sun pulls it in with its gravity, it will fling it back out of the Solar System entirely.” 

While there could be an opportunity for viewers to catch the comet as it passes Earth on a trajectory leaving the Solar System, he explained the comet could just as easily break apart or succumb to the Sun’s gravity.

If a single bright comet isn’t enough reason to climb out of bed in the wee hours of the morning, the Eta Aquarids meteor shower is also gracing night skies throughout May. Named as a result of the meteors appearing to originate from Eta Aquarii, one of the brighter stars in the constellation Aquarius, the meteors are likely particles from the tail of Halley’s Comet, Gilbraith explained.

Although the show of shooting stars takes a backseat to the Perseid meteor shower later in the year, he said sky watchers might still see a meteor every few minutes.  

“You will catch meteors all through the night if you really look for them,” Gilbraith added. “If you look to the east around 4 a.m. to 5 a.m., you’ll definitely see some of those meteors.”

In the evening, Venus is visible to the west, but most planets appear in the morning, with Jupiter and Saturn hanging in the south and Mars shining to the southeast. 

“The planets do move through the sky, but very slowly,” Gilbraith explained. 

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Our Favorite Supermoon Photos

in Photography/Astronomy

The moonrise tonight was spectacular.

That’s because the “pink” supermoon is the biggest and brightest supermoon of 2020.

If you missed it tonight, you’ll be able to see another version tomorrow — but just about an hour later.

In the meantime, here are some of the best photos we’ve seen of this spectacular moon. Enjoy.

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Tonight’s moon 🌝 #supermoon2020 #pinkmoon

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