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Solar eclipse wows many; don't miss Jupiter

Friday's rare "hybrid" solar eclipse in parts of Central and South America was a memorable thrill for some, or a disappointment where clouds moved in and blocked the view. For observers in the United States, it was a not-so-noticeable partial eclipse across the Southern states. Barely one percent of the sun's disk was obscured as seen from Baltimore, where skies cleared in time for the event. Here's a gallery of eclipse images.

All things considered, for those of us unable to travel to South America, these last few days of clear weather have been best for viewing the stars, Saturn, and especially brilliant Jupiter. I was outside last night with my 10 X 50 binoculars and had a clear view of the King of Planets - now the brightest object in the evening sky.

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Even at 400 million-plus miles, the planet's disk was clearly visible in the glasses - no mere pinpoint of light at this time of year, close to Earth's nearest approach to Jupiter. Better still, at least two of Jupiter's largest moons were clearly visible lined up to one side of the planet.

I'm guessing, based on a chart of Jovian lunar predictions for the night, that I was seeing Ganymede and Europa. But based on the chart it appears that Europa and Callisto were very close together, and it's possible they merged as a single dot of light. My binocs were simply too weak to separate them. (And I was too lazy to haul out the telescope.) The tiny, volcanic moon Io would have been very close to, or behind Jupiter last night, and out of view.

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The skies over Central Maryland should be clear again tonight, and prime for more planetary observations. Saturn is high overhead at 9 or 10 p.m. Binoculars won't resolve its majestic rings, but if you can find one of Baltimore's streetcorner astronomers (at Fells Point, or the Inner Harbor), it's well worth a look. No one ever forgets his or her first "live" view of Saturn and its rings. And don't forget to drop a donation in their hats. They're performing a valuable service to public education.

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