At the risk of adding to the “super Moon” hype, allow me to point out that both full Moons in January are “super”. The Jan 1 full Moon is more super than the full Moon at month-end by a mere 2 429 km, but the full Moon on Jan 31 is also a so-called “blue” Moon. Adding to the hype, the Moon is supposed to turn “blood red” during a lunar eclipse that morning. So on Jan 31, we are due for a Super, Blue, Blood Red Moon! Sheesh.

The “blood red” label appears to be a relatively recent development, a result of two prophets of doom that thought four lunar eclipses in a row (ending with the Sep 27, 2015 eclipse) meant something special. It did not. The apocalypse did not happen in 2015, just like the other 20 times doomsday was predicted since Jan 1, 2000. By the way, there are three dates (so far) on which the world will end in 2018. I would watch out for the doomsday of May 20, a date supposedly guaranteed in the Bible (or your money back).

The Earth’s shadow in space has two parts, a dark circular core called the umbra, which is about 3 times the diameter of the Moon, and an invisible outer shadow called the penumbra which is even larger. It is only the umbra that we see progressing across the Moon during an eclipse, making it appear to go through its monthly cycle of phases in a just a few hours. See our website
www.bluewaterastronomy.com for a neat graphic depicting this.

Moon colour during lunar eclipses is caused by our atmosphere filtering out blue light the same way it does whenever the Moon or Sun are near the horizon. For any of the lunar eclipses I have seen, “blood red” would not be a colour description I would have used. I have seen “reddish-brown”, “orange”, “yellowish-orange”, and even “gray” the one time that volcanic ash in our atmosphere filtered out all the colour from the light getting to the Moon. That time, the eclipsed Moon was invisible to the naked eye and only just detectable in binoculars, appearing like a black hole among the stars. Furthermore, the central part of Earth’s shadow is darker so the Moon’s colour changes as the eclipse progresses. Colour-wise, no two lunar eclipses are ever exactly the same and hardly ever do we see “cherry” or “blood red” colours, -except after some Photoshop “enhancement” also known as “astro-fake-it-ography”.

The total lunar eclipse just before sunrise on Jan 31, 2018 will be visible all over the western hemisphere more or less. For us here in Bruce and Grey county, it will be less than more. Folks in the Prairie provinces get more, and those farther west in Calgary or Kelowna, for example, will see the entire event.

The hour-long passage of the full Moon through Earth’s shadow is the most interesting part of a lunar eclipse, but unfortunately this time, all of eastern Canada misses it. Locally, the Moon sets below our western horizon 10 minutes before totality begins and we will see only a bright “crescent” Moon with a bit of redness to the darkened portion like the image provided here of the Sep 27, 2015 lunar eclipse. Seeing conditions will have to be perfect to see anything like this and the Moon will be dimmed because sunrise is at the same time as moonset.


Sep 27 Total Lunar eclipse by John H. at prime focus (TeleVue NP101) eff.foc.len. = 864mm
Exposure 1/20 s at ISO 2000

For Bruce-Grey, the first umbral contact occurs at 6:48 am EST with the full Moon only 8 degrees above the western horizon (about the width of your out-stretched hand). A darkening at upper left should be noticeable by 6:45 am or so and it will progress across the Moon until the Moon sets at 7:44 am EST below our western horizon. For those in the Pacific Time Zone, totality starts at 4:52 am PST (7:52 EST), and lasts for 76 minutes until 6:08 PST. The eclipse ends when the last bit of the full Moon reappears by 7:11 am PST. You need to be west of the Manitoba-Saskatchewan border to see all of totality before the Moon sets.

The Bluewater Astronomical Society will make the best of the event locally with telescopes at a location with a good view to the western horizon. We will be scouting locations along the Lake Huron shore where snowbanks are manageable. Assuming weather co-operates, check our website
www.bluewaterastronomy.com as the time approaches for last-minute confirmation of viewing site. Fingers crossed for clear skies!

A DEC 3 Lunar and Two December Solar ISS transits

by John Hlynialuk

The website I use to determine the best viewing locations for ISS transits is
transit-finder.com. It allows you to designate your home latitude and longitude and select a travel radius and range of dates (about a month ahead). I picked 140 km as a travel radius, and it give me the transits that are within a couple of hours driving distance from Owen Sound, ON. There is one lunar transit of the superMoon on Dec 3 and two solar transits in December as well, Dec 8 and Dec 12. Some details for those are provided below.

Dec 3:
lunar transit occurs across the Full Moon but the ISS is not illuminated this time so you have to be watching at the right time (10:11 pm EST ) for the passage of the ISS silhouette, Centreline of the transit is from just S. of Sauble Beach over Allenford and thence SE towards Keady, Markdale, Flesherton and eventually Toronto. (See second map below). This is a short transit of about 1 second silhouetted against the bright super full Moon) with the moon 48° above the western horizon. Time is Dec 3 at 10:11 pm EST. Check www.transit-finder.com for the path in your area if you are outside of Bruce-Grey.

Screen Shot 2017-11-30 at 2.59.38 PM

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Dec 8:
solar transit occurs in mid-afternoon at 2:33 pm EST and lasts about 3 seconds as well but the outline of ISS should be visible for the entire time. The Sun is just about in the same position in the sky as the lunar transit two weeks earlier. This time make sure you use solar filters on your telescope. This is the Sun you are looking at! Area of visibility is about the same coincidentally as the lunar transit of Nov 24, but centred over Hope Bay and Cape Croker. Howdenvale is well-placed.

Dec 8 solar

Dec 12:
solar transit occurs with a track of visibility farther south this time and visible Port Elgin to Big Bay. The Sun is a bit higher and the transit is fast -only 1,5 seconds. Be looking at 12:41 pm EST or so. Once again check out transit-finder.com for exact times for your location. Once again, proper solar filters for your telescope are required.

Dec 12 solar PE

Not one, but TWO ISS lunar transits in mid-Nov.

by John Hlynialuk
Lately I have taken to observing ISS transits of the Sun and Moon. These occur much more often than solar transits of planets (which are only possible for Mercury and Venus, both of which I have seen). Of course, no planets can pass in front of the Moon (unless we get a stray asteroid or other object in transit) but the International Space Station does this on a regular basis.

So far I have spotted one lunar and one solar ISS transit (Oct 4 and Oct 9) and have reported on the former event in the
SGN issue for Nov 2017 (pg 5). Click to download a copy.

The website I use to determine the best viewing locations for ISS transits is
www.transit-finder.com. It allows you to designate your home location latitude and longitude and select a travel radius and range of dates (about a month ahead). I picked 140 km as a travel radius, and it gave me 8 transits from Oct 30 to Nov 22, including the two described below.

The morning sky is the place for planet groups right now and will be until the end of 2017. Venus, Jupiter and Mars are located along the ecliptic over a span of about 30° and they are joined by the last crescent Moon in mid-Nov and mid-Dec. Check
COMING EVENTS and SKY SIGHTS on this website for details about some of the more interesting events.

The planets and Moon in the eastern sky before dawn are the backdrop for two interesting lunar transits by ISS that happen on the mornings of Nov 14 and Nov 15. The ISS (with a crew of 6 aboard) will be visible each morning crossing the sky from west to east. On Nov 14, around 5:56 am EST, look northwest and halfway up to the zenith. ISS will be bright that morning reaching -3.8 magnitude, -as bright as Venus! The heavens-above star map for the track of ISS is below:

Nov 14 ISS pass star map

ISS will appear as a very bright moving point of light crossing the sky from NW to SE and towards the crescent Moon above the south-eastern horizon. For most of us in Grey and Bruce, it will just miss the Moon, but if you are on the Cabot Head Rd about 4 km south of the lighthouse, you will see it pass right across the lunar crescent! (See the inset box on map below). The ground track of the ISS shadow is like an eclipse shadow with a specific width and path and is show shaded in blue on the Google map below. The only place it crosses land close to us on Nov 14 is across Cabot Head on the Bruce. The rest of the track is over Georgian Bay although it reaches land again in the Wyevale area and Horseshoe Valley. The location of the only observing spot for Bruce-Grey is shown below:

Nov 14 lunar 558pass

The pass of the ISS downwards across the crescent Moon will take about only 1.8 seconds and it will be illuminated so you will be able to follow it as it approaches the Moon quite easily.

A repeat of this happens again the next morning on Nov 15 at 5:08 am EST. This time a wider audience can get a view, and anyone from Miller Lake to Cape Croker will see it even though the lead up will be much shorter. This time ISS comes out of shadow just before it encounters the Moon, so look at the crescent at the appropriate time and the space station will appear right above it and slowly drop down to cross the Moon’s thin face. Those of you living in Lion’s Head can see it from home if you have a low enough eastern horizon where the Moon can be seen above the trees. (I suggest the Isthmus Bay Road which is where I will be set up if the weather allows).

Nov 15 ISS pass star map

Nov 15 wider view

The two maps from transit-finder.com show the entire track across the Bruce (above) and a close up of the the track across Lion’s Head (below). Isthmus Bay Rd about 2 to 3 km from “city centre” is a good location to view since it has a nice clear horizon to the east where the crescent Moon will be rising. This pass lasts about 4.5 seconds which is close to the maximum that can occur. Lots of time to get a good look at the ISS! I suggest you fill the FoV of your scope with Moon and watch the action! And if you get some images please let us all have a look by posting them here. I guarantee HOME page coverage.

Nov 15 lunar pas 508

Cassini Death Plunge

Goodbye Cassini and WELL DONE!
by John Hlynialuk

Intentionally crashing a 5600 kg spacecraft into a planet does not sound like a good thing, but controllers at the NASA Jet Propulsion Lab in Pasadena, California will do just that to end a multi-billion (that “b” is not a typo) dollar mission that has been studying Saturn for the last 13 years. It happens on Sep 15 and it is, in fact, the smart thing to do. One of the discoveries made by Cassini, the vehicle in question (think fully-loaded, over-sized SUV), is that one of the moons of Saturn probably has an ocean under its ice layer that could harbour some form of life. If the spacecraft contaminated that moon with earthly bacteria (spacecraft are routinely sterilized but you can’t keep a hardy bug down), it would not be a good thing. It is much wiser to vapourize the vehicle intentionally in Saturn’s atmosphere where the incineration would reduce everything to sterile atoms.

PIA21438 2

But even to the very end Cassini’s instruments will be wringing out information about Saturn.

To quote Linda Spilker, Cassini project scientist from NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory:

The Cassini mission has been packed full of scientific firsts, and our unique planetary revelations will continue to the very end of the mission as Cassini becomes Saturn’s first planetary probe, sampling Saturn’s atmosphere up until the last second. We’ll be sending data in near real time as we rush headlong into the atmosphere – it’s truly a first-of-its-kind event at Saturn.

The data about the composition of Saturn’s atmosphere will be added to the wealth of other data and terabytes of images sent back by the spacecraft over the last 13 years. The discoveries have increased our knowledge about the planet immensely; where we had a single chapter in astronomy texts on Saturn, now there are literally dozens of volumes of information about the planet. As of December 2016, there were 3700 papers published in scientific journals using the data from this mission and it is not over just yet.

Cassini has clearly transformed our knowledge of the planet. Starting with the beautiful feature visible in telescopes from Earth, Saturn’s rings, Cassini found a highly dynamic system of particles constantly changing over time. Another surprise were the small moons embedded in the rings; these carve out gaps leaving behind beautiful sinuous patterns in their wakes. The dynamics of the rings of Saturn have revealed secrets about how planets form around stars and give insights into how our own planet may have coalesced from the dust circling our Sun in our early solar system.


As some discoveries have solved mysteries about Saturn, other mysteries have arisen as scientists scramble to analyze the data coming in. This includes giant hurricanes at Saturn’s poles, one with bizarre hexagonal sides unlike anything ever seen. How can this pattern be maintained over time? The number of scientific papers will continue to grow as planetary meteorologists propose theories to explain this unusual structure and other weather patterns in Saturn’s immense atmosphere.

Cassini also studied the dozens of moons circling Saturn and discoveries of wonderful things have involved them as well. Plumes of water vapour stream up from Saturn’s moon Enceladus, indicating a sub-surface ocean that is a possible abode for living organisms perhaps like those near Earth’s own deep ocean vents, the “black smokers”. The Cassini mission to Saturn also involved a smaller spacecraft called Huygens, which piggy-backed on Cassini from Earth and was released to parachute into the atmosphere of Titan, Saturn’s most enigmatic moon. There it found hydrocarbon lakes and rivers containing organic compounds, -a world where the chemistry may resemble our early Earth giving us a possible look back at our own evolution.

I highly recommend a look at the NASA Cassini website for more about the spacecraft and its discoveries, including some of the most spectacular images of Saturn, its rings and moons that I have ever seen. The link is provided here: https://saturn.jpl.nasa.gov

Goodbye Cassini, you have served us well!


by John Hlynialuk
As a satellite in our solar system, Earth’s Moon is actually one of the larger ones, ranking 5th biggest in diameter. Only three moons of Jupiter and one of Saturn, appropriately called Titan, are larger. Ganymede, circling Jupiter, holds the number one spot at 5262 km across, half again as big as our Moon which is 3475 km in diameter. Six of the several hundred planetary satellites in our solar system are actually bigger than the former planet, Pluto, now a “dwarf planet”, which I think puts it in its proper place.

The four large moons of Jupiter are interesting to watch in a telescope as they circle the giant planet especially when one (or more) cast shadows onto Jupiter’s disk. Through our telescopes, we can actually see the shadows produced by these moons during their eclipses and can follow the dark blots as they pass across the face of the planet.

Our own Moon also casts a shadow, and being on the surface of the Earth, we have the opportunity to put ourselves inside the shadow where it appears. All this comes together during a total solar eclipse.

The solar eclipse on Aug 21 is the most spectacular astronomical event of the year and will probably be seen by millions of people. For about an hour and a half, the Moon’s 110 km wide shadow will travel diagonally across the USA from Oregon to South Carolina. Two dozen BAS members will be watching near Grand Island, Nebraska where we reserved campsites a year and a half ago. Many more casual observers in the 11 states the path crosses will likely clog up the highways to the shadow path on that date, -one estimate predicts up to 7 million people may try to get to the narrow track at eclipse time.

The Moon may be large, but it’s shadow dwindles to a tiny dot by the time it reaches the Earth and only in that very narrow path, can one say that they have “caught” the Moon’s shadow. (it’s more like letting it pass over you for the few minutes of totality). I “caught” my first Moon shadow in the clear, cold sky above Gimli, Manitoba on Feb 26, 1979, over 38 years ago, and I still get goose-bumps on the back of my neck when I think about it. The shadow could be seen moving our way and then it swept over the group creating a 360* sunset. I could not help but shiver, not from the Manitoba cold but from the experience itself. And up in the sky an incredible sight! The corona, the outer atmosphere of the Sun appeared, wispy streamers like white, irregular flower petals, surrounding a black hole, the silhouette of the Moon. More shivers!

In the Bruce-Grey area on Monday, Aug 21, only a partial eclipse will be seen since the Moon misses crossing the centre point of the Sun. The maximum is at 2:30 pm DST, when 70% of the Sun will be covered.
The partially eclipsed Sun will NOT BE SAFE TO VIEW without solar eclipse glasses like those available from FotoArt or from suppliers like Rainbow Symphony or American Paper Optics online. SkyNews magazine July/Aug issue came with a pair as an insert and it may still be available at local outlets. Also a #14 (not #12) arc welders filter will provide safe viewing. Please note, none of these filters are to be used with binoculars or telescopes, they are for naked eye viewing and only for short intervals. Please be careful with your eyesight!
First contact last contact

From Owen Sound, some part of the Moon’s silhouette will be visible on the Sun from 1:08 pm DST to 3:45 pm DST. If you are further north or south, times may vary by several minutes, -first contact occurs later if you are north of Owen Sound’s latitude and earlier if you are south.


So if you are stuck on this local part of Earth on Monday Aug 21, at least have a quick look at the Sun with solar eclipse glasses around 2:30 pm or so. And on Sep 6 at 7 pm, you are welcome to join BAS at the Fox Observatory as we recap the event from the path of totality.
Here’s hoping for cloud-free skies (all over North America) on Aug 21!