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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 TimeAndDate.com, 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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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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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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Super Blood Wolf Moon could be hidden by winter storm

in News
The moon transitioning during lunar eclipse, ALT=Super Blood Wolf Moon

Total lunar eclipse to occur Sunday during moon’s closest orbit to Earth

By Ike Fredregill, Cowboy State Daily (Image credit: NASA)

When the moon hits your eye like a big cherry pie, that’s a Super Blood Wolf Moon, aka total lunar eclipse, and it’s happening Sunday night.

“A lunar eclipse is when the moon passes into the Earth’s shadow,” said University of Wyoming Professor of Physics and Astronomy Chip Kobulnicky. “It typically happens about twice per year.”

While Super Blood Wolf Moon may sound like the name of  an ’80s hair-metal band, Kobulnicky said the nomenclature refers to the moon’s proximity to the Earth, and the atmosphere’s tendency to filter blue light.

“The moon’s orbit is ever so slightly elliptical,” he explained. “It looks pretty circular, but it has a small eccentricity, and that means during part of its orbit, it’s closer to the Earth.”

When its orbit draws the moon closest to the Earth, it is referred to as a Super Moon.

“The lunar eclipse has to happen on a full moon, because that is the time of month that the full disc of the moon is lit by the sun, so the moon is on the opposite side of the Earth as the sun,” Kobulnicky said. “As the moon moves completely into the Earth’s shadow, the moon will still be visible, because a small amount of sunlight gets through the Earth’s atmosphere.”

The atmosphere preferentially blocks and scatters blue light, giving the sky its blue appearance.

“It’s mainly the red light that gets through the Earth’s atmosphere,” Kobulnicky said, explaining the filtering process also grants sunsets a red appearance. “So, that’s why the moon will look red, and why I think they call it a Blood Moon.”

The first full moon of January is referred to as a Wolf Moon, likely because of the packs of wolves that gathered and howled outside Native American settlements during this time of year, the Farmers’ Almanac reported. It has also been dubbed the Old Moon or the Moon After Yule.

Unlike the limited visibility of 2017’s total solar eclipse, the Super Blood Wolf Moon will be seen from most places throughout North and South America — weather permitting — Kobulnicky said.

“They are usually visible from a wide swath across the Earth’s surface,” he added. “It’s a fairly long event, so I’m hoping we have clear enough skies for people to see the Super Blood Moon.”

As is often the Wyoming way, however, the event might be disguised by a storm front rolling in Sunday night, said National Weather Service Meteorologist Matthew Brothers.

“Right now, it looks like there will probably be some clouds in the sky Sunday night,” Brothers said. “We have a potential storm system moving in early Monday. We’re looking at cloud cover of about 50 percent for most of the state.”

The north and west portions of Wyoming are likely to see the most cloud cover, while southeastern Wyoming — mainly Laramie County — could experience less cloudy skies, he said.

Cloudy or clear, NASA reported the lunar eclipse will begin at 7:36 p.m. Mountain time Sunday with the edge of the Moon entering the Earth’s outer shadow, or penumbra. At 8:33 p.m., the Moon will enter the Earth’s inner shadow, or umbra, and begin darkening significantly, NASA reported.

By 9:41 p.m., the Moon will be completely enveloped by the umbra, kicking off the total lunar eclipse. The Moon exits the umbra at 10:43 p.m., ending the total lunar eclipse. And, the event will end entirely with the moon leaving the penumbra at 12:48 a.m. Monday, according to NASA.

Image credit: NASA/Rami Daud

A telescope is not needed to see the lunar eclipse, Kobulnicky said, but observers might use binoculars to get a closer look.

“The moon is so bright and so big, that a telescope is overkill,” he explained. “Just the eyes is a perfect tool.”

While the moon’s proximity to the Earth could mean bigger tides on the coast, Kobulnicky said the Super Moon would not affect the state in any discernible way.

“I don’t think there’s many tide affects going on in Wyoming,” Kobulnicky said, smiling. “There’s just not enough beachfront property here.”

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