This article was contributed by community member David Baumgartner as part of a local series on astronomy.
If you think it is interesting or unusual to discover another planet’s moon, or landing a space craft on an asteroid taking a sample in hopes of returning it back to Earth, or, just get excited because you hear that the Chinese have landed a craft safely on the far side of the Moon, then you must have been in astronomy heaven for the year of 2019.
What a wonderful year it was for astronomy. Many of the events are more exciting than others, I must admit. But who is to say which is more exciting than the other? So each year you see a list of top ten astronomical events of the past year, including mine. My list, of course, is my idea of what was the most important event of the year, and may not be accepted or agreed upon by anyone else. But then again, this is my list, and I love it when I have a say or control over something. Unlike at home. It doesn’t happen very often.
So how about we start with my No. 10: “The Fall at Transit”
Number 10 on this list is somewhat of a personal pick. (Keep in mind, this is my list). On Nov. 11 a hand full of my friends and I were getting ready for the planet Mercury to transit the Sun. A transit is when another body goes between the Earth and the Sun, for example, showing a shadow on the surface of the Sun as it passes by. Mercury and Venus are the only two bodies that do so, mainly because their orbits are located between the Sun and Earth. You can witness Jupiter’s four largest moons passing in front of the largest planet in our Solar System. It doesn’t take a very large telescope to view.
So we gather on that morning at 6am to photograph this event, which only occurs 13 to 14 times a century, and won’t occur again for 13 years. You’re probably wondering when does the “Fall” come into play? Just be patient, it will happen. The transit started at 4:30 in the morning, so by the time the Sun came up to greet us the transit was half over with. We still were able to witness about two and a half hours of it, so it was all good.
Get ready for the “Fall”; I began to setup my telescope. I got the heavy mount and scope on the tripod and discovered that I needed to raise the three legs up on the tripod so as to work at a higher level. So I raised the first leg up, put it back on the ground and witnessed the gravity affect take hold. Here I stand watching my expensive equipment falling to the ground. Of course my first instinct was to grab hold of it to prevent it from falling. I found out that that was a no-no. The unit didn’t even slow down as it took me with it. It seemed like it took an eternity to end the fall hitting my head on the ground. It was like a slow motion movie. My whole life flashed in front of me as I’m going down, making me realize that I haven’t been the best person I could have been in my life. The whole time my friends stood watching my number 10 on my list for the year slowly materialize, laughing as they wiped the blood off my forehead. I did get everything back up and running though. The equipment fared better than I did, but I was able to get some good pictures of the Transit, despite the fall. If I learned anything here, it was to always adjust the legs on the tripod before you put the mount and scope on it. I’ll probably do it again. That’s what I do.
Now I have to promise you that the 9th through 1st events of the year won’t take as long as the “Fall” did. But you will have to wait until my next article at mid-month. Hope you all had a great holiday.
January Sky Watch
Jan 01 Moon is at apogee (251,394 miles from Earth)
Jan 02 First Quarter Moon
Jan 04 Quadrantid meteor shower peaks Moon is 5 degrees south of Uranus
Jan 05 Earth at perihelion (91.4 million mies from the Sun)
Jan 10 Full Moon occurs at 11:21pm
Jan 10 Lunar eclipse, Earth goes between the Sun and Moon
Jan 13 Moon is at perigee (227,396 miles from Earth) Eastern Orthodox Christmas
Jan 08 Moon is 1.3 degrees north of Mars