Online Exhibition: Voices of Apollo
In May 1961, President John F. Kennedy announced a seemingly impossible goal of putting a man on the Moon by the end of the decade. “We choose to go to the Moon,” he declared.
Eight years later the unthinkable would be proven possible. On July 20, 1969, NASA’s Apollo 11 mission would touch down on the surface of the Moon. Nearly 600 million people would watch a televised photo of Commander Neil Armstrong and hear him say, “…that’s one small step for a man, one giant leap for mankind.”
As we celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 lunar landing, we continue to draw inspiration from this monumental event. It took over 400,000 people almost a decade to land two men on the Moon. This “moonshot” was on a global scale never seen before, with an international interest yet to be repeated.
In our latest online exhibition, we’re celebrating all things Apollo—from the collaborative nature of the Apollo program, to memories of the historic event, to continual inspiration for future generations. Hear from a handful of the 400,000 people who made the Moon landing possible, as well as the people who watched this incredible feat in awe from Earth.
Explore “Voices of Apollo” for yourself and check out our other exciting exhibitions, including the historical origins of space exploration and an in-depth look at artist Frederick J. Brown’s Milky Way, on Google Arts and Culture.
Header Image: Robert Davidson, shown on the left of the image holding a microphone, seen here conducting a spacesuit fit check with astronaut Rusty Schweikart on December 17, 1966.
Building Community Under the Stars
In September 2016, we—the Adler’s ’Scopes in the City team—brought a telescope to the Wrightwood-Ashburn library branch on Chicago’s southwest side and set it up in front of the library. This branch has a beautifully clear view of the sky with no tall buildings in the way. A teen involved in other library programs came up and started to hang out with me. I showed her how to use the telescope, and she immediately began explaining how the telescope works to other passers-by.
I stepped back and let her lead the effort. She was incredibly engaging, and quite a few people stopped to look through the telescope, chat, and ask questions, many hanging out with us for 30 minutes or more. One little girl looked through the telescope more than a dozen times. A group of ladies from the library’s knitting club came outside after finishing their meeting. We invited them to look through the telescope, and the exclamations of delight were amazing. In return, the ladies offered us cupcakes. Our telescope was the center of an impromptu little community for an hour.
When people find out I have been working at the Adler Planetarium for almost 24 years, they often ask me, “What is the best part of your job?” The answers are almost endless, but the one thing I keep coming back to is this:
The excitement, glee, wonder, or shock on a person’s face when she or he looks through a telescope for the first time is inspiring. Seeing spots on the Sun (safely, of course!), moons of Jupiter, rings of Saturn, craters on the Moon with your own eyes—seeing these dots and places as real worlds, seeing them as they look in pictures in a book or magazine—these are the experiences that, for many people, instantly turn astronomy from an esoteric subject into a Universe of real places.
In 2014, the Adler Planetarium debuted ’Scopes in the City to bring telescope observing to people where they are and get eyeballs to the eyepiece. It was obvious from the beginning that ’Scopes was going to be impactful, and it was also obvious that we were going to need some help to reach people. In 2015, we began searching for a partner, and the Chicago Public Library seemed like a natural fit. Eighty library branches are located all over Chicago, and libraries provide an impressive array of services to Chicago residents.
When we began talking with the Teen Programs staff at the Harold Washington Library about what we could do together, facilitating ’Scopes in the City programs at library branches seemed to all of us like a slam-dunk. Starting with two grants from the Hive Chicago Learning Network, we surveyed all of the library branches in person to ascertain how much of the sky could be seen from each location, compiled check-out kits of astronomy and optics materials for librarians to use in their programs, purchased several telescopes that would be housed at five branches, and taught library staff how to use those telescopes. We also taught a number of teens at YouMedia technology centers how to use the telescopes.
Our partnership has continued. This past summer, four of our teen interns worked with Adler staff to provide ’Scopes in the City observing experiences at 10 library branches. In part thanks to the Chicago Public Library Teen Services Department, ’Scopes in the City has grown from four pilot events reaching 600 people in 2014 to almost 40 events reaching more than 2,000 people in 2018.
Pointing out stars, planets, the Moon, the Sun, showing nearby worlds in our Universe, cultivating temporary telescope communities, and working closely with a partner such as the Chicago Public Library is critical to the success of ’Scopes, and the responses from our partners and the community inspire me every day.
That night in 2016, after the event at the Wrightwood-Ashburn library wrapped and everyone else had left, the branch manager asked if I could show her where the Big Dipper was in the sky. I told her to turn around and face north. The Dipper was resting in the sky just above the roof of the library. She saw it, screamed, and gave me a big hug. She said, “I have wanted someone to show me where the Big Dipper was for my whole life. Thank you!”
Adler Skywatch: July 2019
Header Image: Moon surface taken by the Adler’s Doane Observatory on April 7, 2017.
The nation celebrates the 50th anniversary of NASA’s Apollo 11 mission this month, July 2019. It was 50 years ago on July 20 when humans first set foot on Earth’s natural satellite.
It’s a big month for the Moon astronomically as well. This month, when we commemorate humankind’s first steps on the lunar surface, there are two New Moons—on July 2nd and on the 31st. (Note: New Moons are not ever visible.) The evening of the Full Moon, the 16th, is 50 years to the day since the launching of Apollo 11.
The Moon also plays another special role on the 2nd (though in the daytime sky and in a different hemisphere) when it passes in front of the Sun to cause a total solar eclipse. Unfortunately, this eclipse won’t be visible at all in Chicago, nor in most of the Northern Hemisphere. The path of totality, where the Moon will completely cover the Sun, traces a thin line across the southern Pacific Ocean and through the nations of Chile and Argentina. The area where the Moon only partially covers the Sun will stretch across most of South America and small parts of southern Central America.
During evening twilight in the Chicago area this month, look low in the southeast sky to spot the planet Jupiter. It’s the brightest planet in the night sky this month since the planet Venus rises too close to sunrise to be readily visible. Jupiter is also brighter than any star in the July sky, so it’s easy to spot. This month it’s five to eight degrees to the left of the reddish star Antares, in the constellation Scorpius. The evening of the 13th, Jupiter appears near a waxing gibbous Moon. Jupiter moves low across the southern sky this month, setting in the southwest about 3:30 am CDT at the start of the month and about 1:30 am CDT by month’s end.
The planet Saturn appears about 30 degrees east of Jupiter. At the start of the month, it rises in the east-southeast as evening twilight ends—but by the end of the month, it’s already well above the horizon before sunset. Saturn outshines the nearby stars low in the southern sky this month—only Jupiter shines brighter. The night of the 15th and in particular the early morning darkness of the 16th, Saturn appears less than a degree away from the nearly Full Moon. It’s low in the west-southwest just before the start of morning twilight.
The planets Mercury, Venus, and Mars all appear very close to the Sun this month and thus will be difficult if not impossible to see.
Aphelion, the point in Earth’s orbit when the Sun is at its furthest for the year, falls on July 4th at 6:10 pm CDT. How far away is the Sun from Earth at aphelion? It’s roughly 94-million miles distant. By comparison, at perihelion—when the Earth is closest to the Sun—we are about 91-million miles away. Perihelion occurred earlier this year, on January 2nd.
The annual Southern Delta Aquarid meteor shower peaks in late July. This year the peak is expected around the 28th. The southern hemisphere is actually the best place to see this meteor shower; so from our northern-hemisphere location, only a handful of meteors might be seen from a dark sky location, far from city lights. The best times to try spotting these quick streaks of light in the night sky are the hours after midnight and before morning twilight. The shower’s peak falls only a few days before New Moon, so the night sky will indeed be dark—as long as you’re far away from artificial light, which washes-out all but the brightest meteors. From light polluted urban or suburban skies, this shower may not be visible at all.
New Moon: July 2nd and 31st
First Quarter Moon: July 9th
Full Moon: July 16th
Last Quarter Moon: July 24th
Please note: these descriptions are for the Chicago area, using Central time.
Tunguska: Unraveling the Mystery
Setting: Tuesday, June 30, 1908, around 7:15 am. A remote forest near the Podkamennaya Tunguska River in Siberia.
A large fireball streaks through the sky followed by an intense wave of heat felt up to 40 miles away. A loud explosion. The ground shakes. Silence.
If the playwrights of today were to write a theatrical piece about the mysterious event that took place 111 years ago in remote Russia, its introduction would look something like the above. A rather bold, dramatic scene set for something that would become a century-long debate. The event near the Podkamennaya Tunguska River was unexplainable by locals—or rather the multiple accounts of the incident didn’t always add up. Some people saw an explosion. Others only felt tremors or heard an explosion. Indigenous peoples to the area (the Evenkis and Yakuts) even believed a god had sent the fireball to destroy the world.
Following the occurrence, Russian newspapers would report the event as a possible meteorite impact. Over the decades, others would hypothesize a volcanic eruption of some kind. In the 1970s, American physicists would propose the phenomena as a small black hole colliding with Earth. Whatever it was, as many as three casualties were reported in the area. And it’s thought that there was up to 30 individuals in the blast zone. It is unclear how many of them may have survived.
Due to the remoteness of the region, as well as the political situation of the time (the Russian Revolution and the outbreak of WWI), scientific investigation at the potential site of impact was delayed for nearly 20 years, leaving a lot of room for speculation.
Leonid Alekseyevich Kulik of the Russian Meteorological Institute would eventually become interested in the area. In 1927, he would send an expedition team to the site with the hope of finding meteorite fragments and materials. They would discover that the area impacted by the event would cover approximately 800 square miles. One of the most peculiar things found by Kulik and his team was at “ground zero” where they expected to find a large impact crater. Instead of a massive hole, the team would discover a five square mile zone with scorched trees devoid of branches, standing upright in a pattern pointing away from the center.
In the end, Kulik’s team would come up short on their search for meteoritic fragments.
Ultimately, scientists and historians have come to conclude that, despite the lack of meteoritic material found in the area, the probable cause of the Tunguska Event (as it has come to be known) was indeed a meteorite impact. Likely from an asteroid that was originally 40-80 meters in size.
But how do we know? Many of the anecdotal accounts of the incident, as well as the supporting evidence from the butterfly-shaped blast pattern at the impact site, help support this conclusion.
“In the 1960s, the Soviets experimented recreating the blast site by sliding explosives down a wire into mini model forests,” explains Adler astronomer Mark Hammergren.
The experiments suggested that the hypothesized meteorite approached the Tunguska site at an angle of roughly 30 degrees from the ground and 115 degrees from north, and likely exploded in mid air. This would also help explain why a large impact crater was never discovered at the site.
Small meteors enter and burn up in the Earth’s atmosphere every single day, never coming near to having impact with the ground. Scenarios like the Tunguska Event are much rarer. It is estimated that they occur every 300 to 1,000 years.
Today, scientists have found and mapped the course of approximately 97% of asteroids bigger than 1 km in our Solar System. These are the asteroids that could wipe out entire cities. They’ve also cataloged the course of virtually all asteroids that are bigger than 5 km in diameter (in other words, asteroids that are sizable enough to destroy civilization as we know it). The good news is that none of these existence-threatening asteroids are on a collision course with Earth!
We don’t know when the next Tunguska-like event will be. However, it’s likely that with advances in today’s technology, and the number of astronomical surveys happening across the globe, whenever that day comes, we will have enough warning to be able to evacuate any threatened areas that are populated with people. And humanity will continue on, business as usual.
Header Photo: View of the Tunguska Event impact site as seen on Google Earth.
Discover: The Big Dipper
It’s night and you’re looking up into the night sky. What’s the first constellation you see? If you thought to yourself “the Big Dipper,” you’re not alone! In Western culture, it’s often one of the first things we learn to recognize in the night sky as children.
For many people in the United States, this recognizable grouping of stars represents a large spoon. Three stars make up the “handle” and four stars make up the “bowl.” But did you know that two of the stars in the bowl, known as Merak and Dubhe, can actually help you find Polaris, or the North Star?
But that’s not all! Get ready to impress your friends at parties because the Big Dipper can also help you find the star Arcturus during the spring and summer months. And if you’re lucky enough to spot Arcturus, congratulations! That means you’ve also spotted Boötes the Herdsman, as Arcturus is the brightest star in that constellation.
The Big Dipper itself is actually a part of Ursa Major, a constellation in the northern sky that borrows its name from antiquity. In Latin, Ursa Major means “the greater bear.” It is one of the 48 constellations cataloged by the Greco-Roman astronomer Ptolemy in the second century and one of the 88 modern constellations recognized by the International Astronomical Union (IAU).
The Big Dipper can be found in myths, folklore, and depictions all over the globe
In Roman mythology, the Big Dipper is associated with the beautiful nymph Callisto who gave birth to the son of Jupiter (Zeus in Greek mythology). Juno (Greek Hera), the wife of Jupiter, turned Callisto into a bear out of jealousy as to punish Callisto and take away her beauty. In one version of the story, Callisto would come across her child all grown up many years later. Just as her son was about to slay his own mother, Jupiter would appear and avert the situation by placing them both amongst the stars.
In Arabian lore, the Big Dipper is associated with funerals. The bowl represents a coffin and the three stars in the handle are mourners following behind it.
Stories in some Native American groups saw the stars in the bowl of the Big Dipper as a bear, while the stars in the handle are hunters chasing it. Alternatively, the handle is interpreted as the tail of the bear and the bowl is part of the hindquarters.
The pattern of stars that forms the Great Bear is depicted as St. Peter’s Boat in this map from Julius Schiller’s Coelum stellatum Christianum (1627), where he tried to Christianize the constellations that Europeans inherited from Mesopotamia and Ancient Greece, and which had also been adopted by Islamic astronomers.
If you look carefully, you will be able to see the Big Dipper on the upper right side of the boat, with the Pointers just next to the mast (also in this case, the positions of the stars are reversed, as if seen on the surface of a celestial globe). Schiller’s constellations failed to gain any footing, but besides their impressive artistry, they are also a reminder that the night sky is open to everyone’s imagination!
Searching for the Big Dipper
So, how do you see the Big Dipper in a place like Chicago? Easy! First, refer to this phrase: spring up and fall down. Similar to the way “spring forward, fall back” helps us remember which way to turn our clocks during daylight savings time, “spring up and fall down” tells us where to find the Big Dipper in the sky each night. As you might guess, during the spring months, you’ll catch it high in the sky. And during the fall, you’ll find it low, close to the horizon. (Note that even when the Big Dipper is close to the horizon it will never fully go beyond, so you’ll be able to find it at any time of night!)
Next time you step outside to #LookUp at the Big Dipper, think about its fascinating and culturally rich significance in our night sky. Then remember that people all over the world are also looking up at this same grouping of stars and telling their own stories about what it means to them.
AstroFan: It’s a star! It’s a planet! No—it’s a brown dwarf?!
Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech
Our Universe is filled with strange objects that even scientists have trouble classifying. Read on to learn about brown dwarfs, the celestial objects that are kind of like a star and kind of like a planet but are actually neither.
A wise man once said, “Only a Sith deals in absolutes”.
That wise man was a jedi-master named Obi-Wan Kenobi, and he said those words during the climactic battle on planet Mustafar in (arguably) one of the greatest episodes of Star Wars—Revenge of the Sith.
In the case of brown dwarfs, most astronomers would agree with master Obi-Wan. For today’s topic, it is most salient that we stray far, far away from speaking in absolutes.
You see, brown dwarfs are very wonky in that they are neither a star nor a planet—they’re sort of something else entirely.
The life of a brown dwarf starts off similar to a star; both form from a collapsing cloud of gas and dust. The difference here is that once brown dwarfs form, they lack the mass that is needed to support nuclear fusion.
Nuclear fusion is when low mass atomic nuclei are built up into higher mass atomic nuclei in a star’s core, releasing energy and fueling the star in the process.
Since brown dwarfs don’t have nuclear fusion they behave differently than a star and are essentially massive objects composed of gas and dust with no fuel to burn. Brown dwarfs are less massive than the Sun but much more massive than gas giants (i.e. 13 to 90 times more massive than Jupiter).
When a brown dwarf first forms, it starts out being pretty hot due to the physical forces that made it, but without nuclear fusion, brown dwarfs inevitably cool as they age. Higher mass brown dwarfs cool a lot more slowly and have a higher luminosity for a longer period of time than lower mass brown dwarfs. Most brown dwarfs glow in the red and infrared spectrum of light.
A fun fact about brown dwarfs is that shortly after they were first predicted in the 1960s, scientists thought that their existence could explain the mysterious case of dark matter. (For those who don’t know, dark matter is a material that is unobservable to scientists and is believed to make up 80% of the mass in the Universe.) It later turned out that brown dwarfs were nowhere near numerous enough to be an important component of dark matter!
Although the existence of brown dwarfs didn’t explain the mysteries of dark matter, it has been suggested by some that brown dwarfs could offer another way for life to thrive in our Universe.
Recently, researchers at Harvard University proposed that the upper-atmosphere of some brown dwarfs may have habitable conditions for life. We’re talking a microbial oasis of water vapor, warm temperatures, and nutrients. Think about that—life thriving in the clouds of these non-planets!
Speaking of atmospheres, when it comes to brown dwarfs, things get… interesting. Unlike the atmospheres of stars, brown dwarfs have atmospheric winds that fall into regular belts and zones.
Due to their higher masses, it has been hypothesized that the storms that occur on brown dwarfs are larger and more powerful than the ones typically seen on the gas giants in our Solar System.
As you can see, brown dwarfs fall into a league of their own. Their very existence has helped astronomers begin to bridge the gap between gas giants and stars.
Brown dwarfs prove that sometimes it is very difficult to group celestial objects into neatly delineated categories. They prove that sometimes the natural world creates objects that have such unique characteristics that they completely change the way astronomical objects are categorized.
So, if you’re ever at a dinner party and hear someone say “ A brown dwarf IS a star” or “A brown dwarf IS a planet,” remember the wise words of Obi-Wan Kenobi…
Stay tuned for more awesome space facts on the next AstroFan.
Thank you for reading!
—Bianca, a.k.a. AstroFan
Adler Staff Star: Pride Month!
For this month’s Adler Staff Star we decided to highlight the employees at the Adler who embody what it means to be an ally and a part of the LGBTQIA+ community.
What does Pride Month mean to you?
“Pride Month is a remembrance/memorial for the brave trans-women of color who fought for visibility and equality at stonewall, a continuation of work worldwide, a celebration of how far the queer community has progressed, and an acknowledgement of how far we still have to go. This Pride Month, I will be working especially hard to be a good ally to my trans-siblings in the community, especially to trans-people of color.” – Jordan Scherer
“For me it is a time of celebration and remembrance. A celebration that encourages myself and the whole community to be who they are without apologies or mandates. Remembering those who have paved the way for the lives that we all lead now. Pride has always given me comfort and when I attended my first Pride 15 years ago it showed me that I wasn’t alone, even though many in the community sometimes feel like they are.” – Josh Stewart
What part of the Adler’s Pride Month celebrations are you most excited about?
“I love the shirts and the buttons. I am very excited for Adler After Dark: Out in Space. The panel sounds awesome and it’s just amazing to me to have an organization like the Adler showcase members of the LGBTQIA+ community and stand behind Pride.” – Joseph Wesolowski
“Out of all the events the Adler is doing to support and welcome the LGBTQIA+ community, I think changing the Grainger Sky Theater to multi-colors is what I’m most excited about. I work mostly at the main box office so it’s nice getting to see lively colors for a change while I’m here for shifts.” – Daniel Noriega
“I love being able to look out the window and see a very inclusive Pride flag waving in the wind.” – Martha Garcia
In your opinion, how can heterosexual and/or cisgender people work toward being good allies to the LGBTQIA+ community?
“I would say; just listen, be humble, and stay open to new and sometimes uncomfortable ideas. Learn about our cultures, see a drag show, talk to a trans-person or someone living with HIV. And by all means, have fun! Just don’t make it about you. One of the discouraging movements I’ve noticed a lot more this year is a push for a “Straight Pride” counterpoint. This misses the point. Pride is a moment for those of us who have been invisible, excluded, ignored, and mistreated our whole lives. This is our counterpoint to a whole world designed for straight and cis-people.” – Jonathan Russell
“Understand that 90% of being an ally is listening, the other 10% is using your privilege to speak up if and when unjust situations arise.” – Jasmine Porter
“Continuing to be more proactive about inclusion and pronouns.” – Kira Mangum
Share one interesting fact about yourself!
“I’m working on a pseudo-fantasy epic about mostly queer characters! My worldbuilding style is deliberately queer as well.” – Jonathan Russell
“I am an identical twin. He is my best friend and we go to the Twins Days Festival every year!” – Josh Stewart
Adler Sky Observing 101: What to See
Header Image Credit: Kronerda, Wikimedia Commons
From moon phases to meteor showers, the Adler has got you covered when it comes to knowing what to look for in the sky. Read our list below to get started!
Moon Phases & Eclipses
At all times, half of our Moon is lit by the Sun, just as half of the Earth is always lit by the Sun. As our Moon orbits the Earth every 29.5 days, the amount of the “lit part” that we can see changes. We call these the “moon phases.”
Check out this useful timetable to learn more about when the Moon rises, sets, and which Moon phase it is.
Our Moon orbits the Earth every 29.5 days, and the Moon’s orbit with respect to the Earth is tilted just a bit. If you could see the shadow of the Earth cast into space, the orbiting Moon would usually appear to miss the Earth’s shadow, passing either just above it or just below it at the phase called Full Moon.
A lunar eclipse occurs when the Moon passes through the Earth’s shadow. A lunar eclipse is visible on Earth generally one or two times a year. Lunar eclipses are very accessible to everyone, as you need no special equipment to see them. If the eclipse is happening when the Moon is up above the horizon in your area, then just go outside & look for the Moon!
There are two parts to the Earth’s shadow, a lighter outer part & a darker inner part, and so there are three possible types of lunar eclipses. First, if the Moon grazes the Earth’s shadow & only encounters the lighter outer shadow, called the penumbra, then this is called a penumbral lunar eclipse.
Here at the Adler, we generally don’t have viewing events for penumbral lunar eclipses, only because the color change of the Moon can be pretty subtle and difficult to discern, and in some cases, you really don’t notice much of a color or shading difference at all. It doesn’t mean you shouldn’t go out and look for it, though!
If the Moon passes partly into the umbra, or the darker more central part of the Earth’s shadow, this is called a partial lunar eclipse. As the Moon encounters more and more of the shadow, you can see the curved shape of the Earth’s dark shadow on the Moon itself, while the rest of the Moon appears brighter. If the Moon passes fully within the umbra, this is called a total lunar eclipse. At this point, the Moon can appear dusky orange, dusky red, dark gray, or it may almost appear to vanish completely. A few minutes to an hour or so later, the Moon begins to exit the umbra and then exit the penumbra. A total lunar eclipse can last up to a few hours from beginning to end.
Here are the next several lunar eclipses visible from the Chicago area:
- July 4, 2020 – From the Chicago area: 10:07 pm CT on July 4 to 12:52 am CT on July 5. This is a penumbral lunar eclipse, and the Moon won’t appear to darken much at all.
- November 30, 2020 – From the Chicago area: 1:52 am CT to 5:53 am CT. This is a penumbral lunar eclipse, and the Moon will only appear a bit more tan-colored or gray-colored, at most.
- May 26, 2021 – From the Chicago area: 3:47 am CT to 5:26 am CT. This is a partial lunar eclipse, and about half the Moon will appear to darken quite noticeably.
- November 19, 2021 – From the Chicago area: 12:02 am CT to 6:03 am CT. Technically, this is a partial lunar eclipse, but almost all of the Moon will be within the dark part of the Earth’s shadow.
- May 15, 2022 – From the Chicago area: 8:52 pm CT on May 15 to 1:50 am CT on May 16. This is a total lunar eclipse.
- November 8, 2022 – From the Chicago area: 2:02 am CT to 6:40 am CT. This is a total lunar eclipse.
- March 24, 2024 – From the Chicago area: 11:53 pm CT on March 24 to 4:32 am CT on March 25. This is a penumbral lunar eclipse, and the Moon will only appear a bit more tan-colored or gray-colored, at most.
- September 17, 2024 – From the Chicago area: 7:41 pm CT to 11:47 CT. This is a penumbral lunar eclipse. The Moon will appear a bit more tan-colored or gray-colored, with a small bit of curved dark shadow on one part.
Our Moon orbits the Earth every 29.5 days, and the Moon’s orbit with respect to the Earth is tilted just a bit. If you could see the Moon at the phase called New Moon—which normally is impossible from Earth due to the brightness of the Sun—the Moon would appear to miss the Sun, passing either just above it or just below it.
To look at the bright part of the Sun, you need proper solar viewing glasses or a properly filtered telescope. You should never look at the bright Sun because this could cause permanent eye damage. Never point an unfiltered telescope or your unfiltered eyes at the bright part of the Sun.
A solar eclipse occurs when the Moon passes between the Earth and the Sun, making a direct line between the Sun, Moon, and Earth. A solar eclipse is visible someplace on Earth generally one or two times a year. The Moon can either partially or completely block light from the Sun. If the Moon only blocks a bit of the Sun, leaving some of the bright part of the Sun visible, this is a partial solar eclipse. A partial solar eclipse can generally be seen from a fairly wide region on Earth, and partial solar eclipses can last from a few minutes to up to a few hours.
If the Moon completely covers the Sun and none of the bright part of the Sun can be seen, this is a total solar eclipse. A total solar eclipse is very special and is one of nature’s most amazing sights. A total solar eclipse can only be seen from a narrow path on Earth, called the path of totality, on a specific date at a specific time. Every total solar eclipse starts off as a partial solar eclipse as the Moon gradually covers more and more of the Sun over the course of about an hour or so. When the Moon finally covers all of the bright part of the Sun, this is called totality. From a single location within the path of totality, the amount of time the Sun is totally blocked by the Moon can range from just a few seconds up to a few minutes. During totality, the Sun’s outer atmosphere, called the corona, can be seen. We usually don’t see the corona from Earth because the Sun’s light is too bright. It can only be seen during totality. After totality, the Moon gradually moves away, blocking less and less of the bright part of the Sun. The total amount of time from the beginning partial eclipse through totality and to the end of the partial eclipse is about 3 hours.
If you are lucky to be within the path of totality for a total solar eclipse and the Moon blocks 100% of the bright part of the Sun, then for those few seconds or minutes DURING TOTALITY ONLY, you should remove your solar viewing glasses to view the incredible corona. It is completely safe to view the totality phase with just your eyes. After totality is finished, the bright part of the Sun gradually becomes visible again, so as soon as the bright part of the Sun begins to peek past the Moon, immediately put your solar viewing glasses back on and make sure your telescope has a proper solar filter installed.
Here are the next few solar eclipses visible from the Chicago area. All of these are partial solar eclipses. The next total solar eclipse to pass through part of the city of Chicago will be September 14, 2099.
- June 10, 2021 – From the Chicago area: the Sun will rise already at its maximum extent (23% of the Sun covered) around 5:18 am, and the eclipse ends at 5:39 am CT. You will need proper solar viewing glasses or a properly filtered telescope to see any of this eclipse.
- October 10, 2023 – From the Chicago area: 10:37 am to 1:22 pm CT. You will need proper solar viewing glasses or a properly filtered telescope to see any of this eclipse. At the maximum point at 11:58 am CT, about 43% of the Sun will be covered by the Moon.
- April 8, 2024 – From the Chicago area: 12:51 to 3:22 pm CT. You will need proper solar viewing glasses or a properly filtered telescope to see any of this eclipse. At the maximum point at 2:07 pm CT, about 94% of the Sun will be covered by the Moon.
Supermoon & Micromoon
The Moon’s orbit around the Earth is not a perfect circle, so the Moon can be as close as about 225,000 miles from Earth and as far as about 250,000 miles from Earth. If the point at which the Moon is at its closest to Earth coincides with Full Moon, this has come to be known as a “supermoon.” If the point at which the Moon is at its farthest from Earth coincides with Full Moon, this may be called a “micromoon.” At supermoon, the Moon may be up to 14% larger & about 30% brighter than it is at micromoon. Can you actually see a difference in size or brightness? Since you don’t have another Full Moon in the sky to compare it to, you might not. (In other words, if you don’t notice a difference, don’t feel bad! We at the Adler might not notice a difference, either.)
The astronomical term for 3 celestial objects in a line is syzygy; in this case, that’s the Sun, Earth, and Moon. The astronomical term for something at its closest to Earth is perigee and something at its farthest from Earth is apogee. Supermoon (arrangement: Moon-Earth-Sun) is a perigee syzygy and micromoon (arrangement: Earth-Moon-Sun) is an apogee syzygy.
Do you need to worry about a supermoon or micromoon? Not at all. Neither one will cause extreme weather events nor earthquakes or volcanic eruptions.
When material streaming off of the Sun interacts with Earth’s magnetic field, this may produce an aurora, sometimes called the “northern lights,” if seen in the northern hemisphere, or “southern lights,” if seen in the southern hemisphere. Positively and negatively charged particles can slam into the upper reaches of Earth’s atmosphere, causing the air to glow. Different regions of Earth’s atmosphere and different atoms or molecules in those regions cause colors such as green, red, or purple. To the human eye, the colors are not usually very vibrant, appearing more washed out than in photographs, but aurora structures, such as curtains & spokes, and movement of those structures across the sky might be seen, sometimes lasting from minutes to hours.
In the northern hemisphere, auroras (or aurorae) are more likely to be visible in Alaska and northern Canada. Auroras can be spotted in Northern Wisconsin and northern Michigan a little more often than in Illinois to the south. Auroras are incredibly difficult to predict, and our prediction abilities for an aurora are about where we were with predicting the weather 30 years ago. In other words, we’re not great at it. There is no single good place to go see an aurora in our area and there is no preferred direction to look because circumstances are different each time. It helps to go to a dark place far from light pollution, but even then, auroras that are predicted may not appear at all, or they might appear when one was not expected. We cannot predict the likelihood of an aurora more than a day or two in advance. For more information about current aurora predictions, click here.
If you want to travel to see an aurora, head to northern Canada or Alaska—though not in the summertime, as the periods of darkness are much shorter then. Auroras can also appear a little more often around March or September, and they can appear more often during the time when our Sun is more active, called “solar maximum.” In 2019, we’re in the depths of “solar minimum,” when the Sun is least active and auroras happen less often. The next solar maximum is predicted to peak around the year 2024.
Spot the International Space Station in the Sky
The International Space Station (ISS) is very bright and can even be seen from downtown Chicago! It looks like a bright unblinking airplane. Want to see it? Check out NASA’s Spot the Station page.
Meteors & Meteor Showers
A meteor is sometimes called a “shooting star,” but meteors have nothing to do with distant stars in the sky. They occur when an object from space falls through our atmosphere at tens of thousands of miles per hour or more. Friction within the Earth’s atmosphere causes the air around the object to heat up and glow, and it is this glowing air that we see from the ground as a quick streak of light in the sky. From a dark sky location, a handful of meteors per hour may be seen on any given night.
Meteor showers occur when the Earth runs into the trail of debris in space left by a comet. Meteor showers can be predicted because the Earth encounters these comet material trails at the same time each year as the Earth orbits the Sun. To see a meteor shower best, go far from city lights to a dark sky location, face east, and look up. Meteors can range across the entire sky. No binoculars or telescopes are needed. Viewing a meteor shower after midnight is generally best. Also, the light from the Moon can interfere with seeing dimmer meteors, even in locations without much light pollution, so Moon phases from Waxing Gibbous to just after Third Quarter Moon may interfere with your view. If you are viewing meteor showers from urban or suburban areas, light pollution may drastically reduce the number of meteors you might see from several dozen per hour to few—or possibly none.
Visit the American Meteor Society website for more meteor information and a calendar of observable meteor showers. The meteor showers with the greatest number of meteors per hour include the Quadrantids (peak: around January 3-4), Perseids (peak: around August 11-12), and the Geminids (peak: around December 13-14). The Leonids are often touted as a major shower, but the Leonids are only interesting about every 33 years, give or take. The Leonids may not be a decent meteor shower until the early 2030s, mid-2060s, or late 2090s. In 2019, light from the Moon will interfere with both the Perseids and the Geminids.
Note: these descriptions are for the Chicago area, using Central time.
Adler Sky Observing 101: Where to Go
Interested in observing the night sky but not sure where to start? No worries! We’ve compiled the following list of sky observing locations and organizations for you to use as your guide. Please check with relevant local authorities regarding any required fees, overnight use, availability, etc.
Places to Go
The western entrance of the 606 Trail at 1801 N. Ridgeway, Chicago, IL is relatively clear of buildings, though not necessarily clear of light pollution. The 606 Trail is open until 11:00 pm daily.
The Indiana Dunes State Park is only a little over an hour’s drive from downtown Chicago. Check their website for rules, regulations, hours, and fees.
Locations along the shore of Lake Michigan looking east offer slightly darker skies. Locations include Loyola Beach, Foster Beach, Montrose Beach, Rainbow Beach Park, 12th Street Beach, Margaret Burroughs Beach and Park, Oakwood-41st Street Beach, 57th Street Beach, 63rd Street Beach, South Shore Beach, and Calumet Park.
State Parks and Forest Preserves
ILLINOIS STATE PARKS
The Illinois State Parks website lists the best places to go stargazing.
Illinois State Parks that are a relatively easy drive from Chicago include:
- Adeline Jay Geo-Karis Illinois Beach State Park
- Goose Lake Prairie State Natural Area
- Kankakee River State Park
- Starved Rock State Park
- Weinberg-King State Park
- Siloam Springs State Park
Note: Those interested in visiting should check with individual parks to find out if campground sites are only available to those camping overnight.
WISCONSIN STATE PARKS
Wisconsin State Parks that are a relatively easy drive from Chicago include:
- Richard Bong State Recreation area (open year-round until 11:00 pm). A vehicle admission sticker is required. Overnight camping (for a fee) is available.
FOREST PRESERVES OF COOK COUNTY
The Forest Preserves of Cook County have several parks that offer overnight camping. Check their website for available dates and overnight camping rates. Some locations are closed on certain days of the year or during certain months of the year. All other forest preserve locations generally close at sunset. Check with individual parks for closing times.
- The Chicago Park District and the Chicago Astronomer conduct regular public observation sessions in parks throughout the city.
- Fox Valley Astronomical Society offers free monthly star parties at Peck Farm in Geneva, IL.
- Naperville Astronomical Association hosts periodic free public events at their Astronomy Education Center in Naperville, IL, including sky viewing.
- The Calumet Astronomical Society offers periodic free public events at the Thomas Conway Observatory in Lowell, Indiana, about an hour’s drive southeast of Chicago.
- Check out this list of Astronomy clubs and organizations across the nation. (Note: the list is subject to change without prior notice)
This list is accurate at the time of writing, however, this information is subject to change without prior notice. Practice safe sky observing at all times. Beware of any ground obstructions or other hazards in any location. Follow all national, state, and local laws, rules, and regulations. Stay off of private property unless you have the property owner’s expressed permission. The Adler Planetarium assumes no responsibility or liability for any injuries or damage sustained during any activities at any of these locations or events.
Note: these descriptions are for the Chicago area, using Central time.
Meet “Out in Space” Panelist: Bryan Terrazas
Meet Dr. Bryan A. Terrazas, NSF Fellow and Rackham Merit Fellow in the Department of Astronomy at the University of Michigan, at Adler After Dark: Out in Space! Dr. Terrazas will be featured in a panel discussion about the importance of having a broad range of perspectives in the scientific community.
Why have you chosen to pursue astrophysics as a career?
My interest in astrophysics stems from the fact that it deals with things that we as humans cannot touch, move, or manipulate. The objects we study in space are incredibly far away, enormous in size, and operate at timescales of millions to billions of years. Their existence is completely different from what we experience in our day-to-day lives. Because of this, instead of being hands-on experimentalists, astrophysicists are mostly observers and interpreters. We live on a planet revolving around one of billions of stars in our galaxy which is one of billions of galaxies in our universe. Yet we’ve developed methods for understanding the universe through mathematics and the scientific process that give us remarkable insights into the way things operate in space.
It takes persistence and, most importantly, a lot of creativity to tease out information about the universe from our limited human perspective. Figuring out creative solutions to the universe’s biggest unsolved mysteries is detective work that requires piecing together evidence and writing down a consistent story for how things work. This is a difficult but incredibly rewarding task. I find it very exciting to devote my career to expanding our knowledge about the universe.
Can you tell us a little bit about your research and work on galaxies?
I care about how galaxies have grown and evolved throughout the history of the universe. More specifically, I want to know why some galaxies are actively forming new stars, while others are not. Star formation is one major way a galaxy grows, so it’s concerning when a large number of galaxies have stopped the majority of their star formation. There are many ideas for what could lower the rate of star formation, but the most popular theory today has to do with the supermassive black hole that resides at the center of most if not all galaxies. My work focuses on the connection between these central supermassive black holes and the amount of star formation in their host galaxies.
Specifically, my collaborators and I have shown that galaxies with more massive black holes have suppressed star formation activity to a greater extent than those with less massive black holes. However, a coherent picture of how this process works in galaxies has yet to be discovered. In September, I’ll be starting a postdoctoral fellowship at the Center for Astrophysics at Harvard & Smithsonian where I’ll be gathering more evidence and trying to piece together a complete narrative for how black holes affect galaxies.
While at the University of Michigan, you led the effort for the creation of the Committee on Equity and Inclusion within the Astronomy Department. What motivated you to do this?
The motivation came from the 2015 National Society of Black Physicists Conference in Baltimore, MD. Together with my close friend and fellow graduate student at the time, Alejo, we came up with the idea after many discussions on how we could improve recruitment and climate for black and brown scientists. We had proposed the idea of sending representatives from the University of Michigan to the meeting and we decided that we would go a step further by proposing an official committee. We felt the need to do this because, through those conversations, we had identified several specific areas where the department could improve through more direct and concrete actions. Profs. Emily Rauscher and Nuria Calvet, who were also in attendance at the meeting, said they would provide full support and help present a case to the department through a formal presentation. We were successful, and the committee began its work a few months later during the 2015 Fall semester.
What was the vision and goal of the committee?
We envisioned the committee as an institutionally-recognized group of department members from all levels who would actively think about how to make the astronomy department a safe and welcoming space in which anybody could do science. Academia is predominantly made up of people who are white, male, cisnormative, heteronormative, non-disabled, and wealthy. In order to make the department welcoming for all, particular effort needed to be aimed at ensuring that people who do not fit into those demographics were being actively recruited to the program and supported throughout their time here. This last point is important: it was vital that the committee have the power to address issues regarding climate in order to ensure that those who were being recruited would feel safe and supported as they build their careers.
Since 2015, what changes have you noticed in the department as a result of the committee?
Since its inception, the committee has done a lot for the department. In terms of graduate admissions and recruitment for the next generation of astrophysics PhDs, they have organized recruitment efforts and attendance at meetings for underrepresented folks in science (e.g., NSBP, SACNAS), eliminated the physics GRE requirement, and introduced methods for avoiding bias when assessing applications. Additionally, they have organized a bimonthly event for the discussion of various social issues present in the scientific community, introduced gender-neutral signage for departmental restrooms, and centralized clear and transparent guidelines for dealing with issues of harassment. Change is slow and often frustrating when going against the status quo that everybody is used to, but it’s wonderful to reflect back and be able to concretely list these successful outcomes after four years. A lot more work needs to be done, but the committee has been a great first step forward.
When did you first become passionate about improving the climate for underrepresented minorities in astronomy and the broader STEM community? What sparked the desire to be someone who advocates on behalf of others?
Coming into my PhD program, I was in the extreme minority as a queer Latinx graduate student and first generation both in terms of attending university but also as a US citizen. Academia caters to a specific demographic and socio-economic status that often creates a hostile environment for people who don’t fit that mold. What’s worse is that it often goes unnoticed by people who do fit that mold. Throughout my PhD program I had moments of questioning whether it was worth dealing with each microaggression as it came up and constantly having to defend the importance of equity and inclusion issues to people in power who didn’t have a clue what it meant to be someone like me in that space. All this feeds and adds a layer to the impostor syndrome that affects many underrepresented people in science.
Every time I felt that way, I knew I wanted to work with similarly-minded people to change that culture. I wasn’t the only person with these feelings and that gave me the impetus to reach out and start organizing with people. Some of the most influential of those were Chanda Prescod-Weinstein, Jedidah Isler, and Jorge Moreno who have all been incredibly influential to me with regards to the way in which I engage with these issues and also the way I balance my science work with my advocacy work. The community of scientists who care about these issues have done a tremendous amount of work to ensure the survival of bright, young scientists who would otherwise likely be discouraged from pursuing science. My hope is that in the future the conversation will shift to focus not on how we can survive but rather how we can thrive.
In your opinion, why is it important to have LGBTQIA+ representation in the scientific community?
LGBTQIA+ scientists are often invisible. Work discussions don’t center around that aspect of people’s identity, particularly in astronomy where we talk about stars and galaxies but not so much about gender expression or identity, for instance. Yet, heteronormative and cisnormative culture and expression are everywhere in the scientific community. Having spoken to other queer scientists, I realized that often there was an internalized tendency to assimilate into this world of professional cis-hetero-normativity. This is a big problem. Having openly queer folks in science changes the common perception of what a scientist is and what they should look like. I also want to note that this is absolutely an intersectional issue. It’s critical that movements that seek to advocate for LGBTQIA+ people also do so for black and brown people, people with disabilities, people with lower socio-economic backgrounds, women, and people who are any combination of these identities.
If you could snap your fingers and change one thing about the scientific community as a whole, what would it be?
If I could only choose one thing, it’d be dismantling the top-down hierarchies of power in academia and building new power structures that are more equitable and inclusive.
In my experience, top-down hierarchical power structures enable imbalances in determining who is heard and what action is taken. When this is the case, a few people can make decisions that affect groups of people who have little to no say and who are likely not represented in the decision-making process. This can be devastating for people with less power who need to find support against climate issues ranging from microaggressions, sexual or gender harassment, abuses of power, or any other problems that may arise. There are people in power who have used their positions to advocate for those who need support but this is generally insufficient and unsustainable. If the scientific community wants to become a more inclusive and welcoming space, there needs to be institutional structures in place that allow power to be distributed equitably across all members of the community. This is far from the only change that needs to be made, but I believe that by redistributing power, more voices will be heard and a first step can be taken towards improving the climate in the scientific community.
Want to get to know more about Bryan? Follow him online!