After A Stunning Conjunction The Moon Eclipses The Sun And Summer Begins

“It was a surreal sight. Reminded me of 2001: A Space Odyssey,” wrote Alex Conu in an e-mail communication this morning. Conu photographed the two crescents with a small 75mm (3-inch) refracting telescope from Oslo at 9:58 a.m. local time today then watched the moon occult Venus through the telescope. Details: Canon EOS 6D, 1/500 second, ISO 100. Alex Conu

It stung a little not being able to see the conjunction of the crescent moon and crescent Venus. We had clouds, but others, like photographer Alex Conu of Oslo, Norway, were luckier. He photographed the conjunction in full daylight then set down his camera to watched through his telescope as the lunar crescent slowly covered Venus. From parts of Europe the conjunction occurred in the daylight sky and the moon occulted the planet. By the time the moon rose in the U.S. it had already passed Venus, with the two shining gloriously side by side.

From Buenos Aires this morning the moon and Venus had separated to form a wide, pretty pair. This photo was taken with a cell phone through 7×50 binoculars. Piqui Díaz

If you missed it the next Venus-crescent moon conjunction occurs on July 17 at dawn. They won’t be as tight — just under 3° apart — but close enough to make a beautiful sight.

During an annular eclipse the moon (seen in silhouette) is too small to completely block the sun, leaving an annulus or ring of sunlight. Wikipedia

The moon’s going to be busy the next couple days. On Sunday, June 21 it will eclipse the sun along a narrow, snaking path that starts in central Africa then crosses the southern Arabian Peninsula, northern India and China. Because the moon is located near the far end of its orbit (called apogee) it appears a little smaller than normal and won’t completely cover the sun. Instead of a total eclipse we’ll see a ring or annulus of sunlight surrounding the silhouetted moon at maximum eclipse. Many refer to the annulus more colorfully as a “ring of fire.”

This particular ring of fire will be extremely narrow because the apparent size of the moon will nearly match that of the sun. Expect a wire-thin annulus at maximum eclipse. Catch every moment you can because the complete ring will only be visible for a maximum of 38 seconds before the moon’s eastward motion breaks it into an exotic, long-cusped crescent.

This map shows the path (red line) of the June 21st annular solar eclipse. Anyone in that path will see the moon pass directly in front of the sun. Locations under the blue netting will experience a partial eclipse. Fred Espenak, NASA’s GSFC

Despite occurring many thousands of kilometers away anyone can watch the eclipse. I know of three sites that will live stream the event. If you live in the eastern half of the U.S. or Canada you’ll have to stay up late so I recommend a nap earlier in the day. To convert CDT to Eastern time, add 1 hour; subtract one hour for Mountain and 2 hours for Pacific:

Below is a list of key eclipse moments in Central Daylight Time (CDT), June 20-21. Remember, the eclipse won’t be visible anywhere in the U.S. because it occurs on the other side of the planet.

First location to see the partial eclipse begin — 10:46 p.m. (June 20)
First location to see the full annular eclipse begin — 11:48 p.m. (June 20)
Last location to see the full annular eclipse end — 3:32 a.m. (June 21)
Last location to see the partial eclipse end — 4:34 a.m (June 21)

The moon travels moves along its orbit at around 2,280 mph (3,660 km). At that speed, the path of annularity — from touchdown in Africa until departure over the Pacific Ocean east of China — takes a little less than 4 hours.

Earth’s axis maintains a 23.5° tilt as it orbits the sun, but its changing position in orbit causes the north polar axis to point toward, away and sideways to the sun during the year. At the summer solstice (left) it leans toward the sun, the reason the sun stands so high in the sky. On the first day of winter (right), it’s tipped away, so the sun tracks low in the sky. Seasons are opposite in the southern hemisphere — tomorrow is the first day of winter. Sonoma University with additions by the author

Tomorrow, June 20 is special for another reason. It’s the solstice, the first official day of summer, and begins at 4:44 p.m. Central Time. That’s when the sun stands at the pinnacle of its yearly circle around the sky, a spot in the constellation of Taurus the bull. Because Taurus is very near Orion, both constellations are only up in the daytime and completely invisible in the solar glare.

The tilt of Earth’s axis paired with its yearly circle around the sun cause the sun to climb up and down in the sky like someone riding a rollercoaster. It reaches the top of its yearly cycle at the summer solstice and bottoms out on the first day of winter. The rollercoaster-like track it follows is called the ecliptic. Wikipedia with additions by the author

Earth’s north polar axis leans toward the sun at the summer solstice (above) as if in a bow, so the sun appears high above us. In winter, the axis leans away from the sun, which makes it appear low in the sky. The sun’s altitude has everything to do with both the length of daylight vs. night and the intensity of the energy the Earth receives. We have the longest days of the year and most intense sunshine at the summer solstice and the shortest, least intense solar radiation at the winter solstice. Hence the incredible variation between those two seasons.

Go out and enjoy the long hours of daylight — and languorous twilights, too — but save some time for the night when the air is fragrant, the fireflies bright and the Milky Way surges in the eastern sky. Summer is all about abundance. Gather it by the armful!