Astronomy’s An Adventure And Don’t Let Anyone Tell You Differently

Photo taken January 16 from the International Space Station of the 62-mile diameter Manicouagan Crater in northern Canada, one of the oldest impact craters known. The feature was formed about 200 million years ago. An ring-shaped lake fills the crater's outer rim. Credit: NASA

Dawn space station passes for the U.S. will wind down this week, so if you’re a morning person, the next few days will present several nice opportunities to see the magnificent flying machine. Starting this Saturday the station will be making daytime passes only until it returns to the evening sky on or around Feb. 12.

* Tomorrow February 1 beginning at 6:27 a.m. Fine bright pass across the southern sky. At 6:28 the ISS zips under the planet Mars and a minute later under Saturn. Enjoy the ride!
* Wednesday Feb. 2 at 5:33 a.m. Brief, bright pass in the south-southeast
* Thursday Feb. 3 at 6:11 a.m. Low pass in the south

These are viewing times for the Duluth, Minn. region. For times for your town, please login to Heavens Above or enter your zip code at Spaceweather’s satellite flyby site.

A computer-created illustration of Rochechouart crater shortly after its formation some 200 million years ago. Credit: Frederic Michaud

The crater shown in the photo was created by as asteroid about 3 miles in diameter between 206 and 214 million years ago. Geophysicist David Rowley of the University of Chicago along with several colleagues has proposed that the Manicouagan Crater may have been just one of five multiple impact craters that formed at the same time from the breakup of a comet or asteroid. The others are the Red Wing Crater in North Dakota (5.6 miles diameter), Saint Martin in Manitoba (25 miles), Rochechouart in France (13 miles) and Obolon’ in Ukraine (12 miles). To learn more about the many craters identified to date on planet Earth, click over to the Earth Impact Database.

The inset photo shows Comet Shoemaker-Levy 9 in January 1994 when it was shattered to pieces by Jupiter's gravity. Six months later the fragments fell into the planet creating a series of black, sooty scars in its upper cloud deck. Credit: NASA/Hubble Space Telescope

The idea is plausible based upon similar ages and alignment, taking into account tectonic plate movements in the intervening 200 million years. We’ve also seen something like this happen before but not on Earth. Between July 16 and July 22, 1994 Comet Shoemaker-Levy 9, which was captured by the planet Jupiter, broke up into multiple pieces which rained down in succession into the planet’s cloud tops. Flashes from the explosive collisions with the atmosphere were recorded by the Galileo spacecraft at the time. Back on Earth, amateur astronomers thrilled to the parade of dark impact blotches that ringed Jupiter like an onyx necklace.

The lines on the map show the path of the July 10, 1972 total solar eclipse. Credit: NASA

I have a personal story to share about the Manicouagan Crater area. On July 10, 1972 the centerline of a total eclipse of the sun passed just south of the crater. My buddies Rick and Larry and I were working in northern Wisconsin at the time and decided to drive up and see the eclipse. We bought a few groceries and piled into Larry’s green Vega for a very long drive across Michigan and up through Canada into Quebec. As I recall, we made a left turn inland at Baie Comeau on the St. Lawrence River and drove until we hit the inevitable dirt road somewhere in the middle of the forest near the centerline. There we set up camp along a river the evening before the eclipse.

I don’t remember when we noticed the black flies, but they became an increasing problem the next day. We wandered along the river looking for a scenic spot to watch the rare event that afternoon. Just before totality, clouds obscured the sun, leaving us with little more than a few minutes of pseudo-darkness. No spectacular corona, no flaming pink prominences, no once-in-a-lifetime spinal chill.

While this was obviously a disappointment, more disturbing were the flies. We were fresh Wisconsin sausage in their tiny eyes and they pursued us now relentlessly. I had so many bites on the back of my neck and ears my fingers were bloody from scratching.

We hurried back to take down the tent, literally ran for the car and got the hell outta there. My fondest memory of the event was relaxing in a bathtub later that night in a motel in Baie Comeau nursing my bitten body. Astronomy’s full of adventure and don’t let anyone tell you differently.

5 Responses

  1. Stephan Burkhardt

    Hi Bob,
    thanks for the great “eclipse that wasn’t” story. That reminded me that a similar thing happened to me during the eclipse of August ’99. While everybody whom I later asked claimed to have been able to watch it – at least, part of it – well a tiny part of it…, I admit that for me, it was a total failure. It was cloudy down here and rained all day. So yes, only a few minutes of pseudo-darkness here, too, on August 11th, 1999, around the time of the totality. No big thing.

    I enjoyed the story of “Little Ina”. And I’m amazed about the great range of detail that was visible in Alan Friedman’s picture. Alan must live in an area with very quiet air..and he has some nice equipment too 🙂 congrats to those Moon picures.

    Greetings from a chilly Stuttgart in Germany

    1. astrobob

      Hi Stephan,
      Thanks for sharing your eclipse story. There’s always a risk of clouds. My very first total solar eclipse in May 1970 was a 1,500 mile bus ride to Georgia that met with cloudy skies during totality. My first (mostly) clear total eclipse was in Feb. 1979 in Manitoba.The best was in 1991 in Baja California with zero clouds and seven minutes of totality.

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