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UW Planetarium Rings in New Year with Information About Aug. 21 Eclipse

December 21, 2016
disc of the sun partially obscured by the moon
This photo shows a zoomed-in camera view of the moon’s progress blocking the sun during the 2009 full eclipse that took place in Shanghai, China. (UW Planetarium Photo)

Next summer will mark a major event -- a total eclipse of the sun -- and Wyoming is expected to be one of the best places to view this once-in-a-lifetime phenomenon.

To better inform the public, the Harry C. Vaughan University of Wyoming Planetarium plans a semester-long “Eclipse 2017” series of programs about the event, which will occur Aug. 21. The first program in the series is scheduled Saturday, Jan. 14.

“At the planetarium, our new year’s resolution is to spread the word on popular astronomy, especially this summer’s big event: ‘The Great American Eclipse,’” says Samantha Ogden, the planetarium’s coordinator. “In January, we will offer regular shows dedicated to giving you everything you need to know about this event and so much more. The sky is not the limit here; it is just the beginning.”

A total solar eclipse is when the moon’s shadow touches the Earth and blankets portions of it in total darkness for a few moments. In essence, the sun, moon and Earth align. A person in the dark part of that shadow, known as the umbra, will see a total eclipse. A person in the light part, called the penumbra, will see a partial eclipse.

UW will help provide a bird’s-eye view and front-row seat to this historic phenomenon. Michael Pierce, a UW associate professor in the Department of Physics and Astronomy, is the Wyoming state coordinator for NASA’s Citizen CATE (Continental-America Telescopic Eclipse) Experiment. Using 61 telescope stations across the country -- including nine in Wyoming spaced approximately 50 miles apart -- the project’s goal is to create a continuous 90-minute movie of the solar corona during the total eclipse. Researchers and scientists hope to gain a better understanding of the sun’s inner corona.

The southern part of Grand Teton National Park will be one of the best places in the entire country to view the eclipse. The park will experience totality for 2:20 beginning at 11:35 a.m. The shadow will then cross Pavillion (at 11:38 a.m.), and Shoshoni and Riverton (at 11:39 a.m.) for about 2:23 before landing squarely on the city of Casper. The centerline will pass right over the intersection of Highway 220 and S. Poplar Street in Casper at 11:42 a.m., and provides viewers there with 2:26 in totality.

Douglas, Glendo, Thermopolis, Lusk and Torrington are other Wyoming towns that will experience a total eclipse. For those who live in or will be visiting Wheatland at that time, they will be right on the southern edge of the eclipse’s path; the eclipse will only last a few seconds. To experience the full length of totality, people there will need to move north.

Friday planetarium shows during January start at 8 p.m., with a STAR Observatory tour scheduled to follow approximately an hour later. Kid-themed shows are scheduled Saturdays at 11 a.m. The month also includes five Tuesday night shows, all beginning at 7 p.m.

Tickets cost $3 for students and $4 for non-students, and can be purchased at the Department of Physics and Astronomy main office, located in Room 204 of the Physical Sciences Building, Monday through Thursday, from 8 a.m.-5 p.m. and Friday from 8 a.m.-noon. Doors open 20 minutes before each show, where tickets will be sold if available. The planetarium, which seats 58, is located in the basement of the Physical Sciences Building.

Since the renovations were finished in November 2014, the full-dome shows now provide immersive 3-D experiences. Traditional star shows have been replaced with far more interactive presentations, similar to an IMAX theater. Laser shows consist of three lasers (red, blue and green) that project graphics on the dome. The lasers are synchronized with music, and pre-programmed graphics and images are displayed.

The January planetarium schedule:

concentric circles of light around a central point

As the Earth spins on its axis, the stars appear to rotate around a point: Polaris, the North Star. This image depicts a time-lapse of the night sky to show the apparent motion of the stars around Polaris. (UW Planetarium Photo)

-- “This Month’s Sky,” Tuesday, Jan. 3, 7 p.m. As the months and seasons change in Wyoming, new and different astronomical events occur in the nighttime sky. No matter what time of year, there always is something to see after the sun goes down. From constellations to meteor showers to visible planets, the program acts as a guide to these events and where to find them.

-- “The Jovian System,” Friday, Jan. 6, 8 p.m. In 1610, Galileo discovered the four largest moons of Jupiter and turned the world of astronomy upside down. And this past Fourth of July, the Juno mission succeeded in falling into orbit around Jupiter. Its mission: to explore the atmosphere of this gas giant and gain clues to the formation of the solar system. For four centuries, man has been observing, exploring and discovering this giant planet. This program will introduce audiences to Jupiter, its many moons and everything there is to explore in this Jovian system. A free STAR Observatory tour (weather dependent) follows at 9 p.m.

-- “The Dark Matter Mystery: Exploring a Cosmic Secret,” Tuesday, Jan. 10, 7 p.m. What keeps galaxies together? What are the building blocks of the universe? Researchers all around the world try to answer questions like these. Today, researchers know that approximately a quarter of the universe is filled with mysterious glue: dark matter. We know it’s out there, but have no idea of what it is made. This full-dome planetarium movie takes the audience on a quest of contemporary astrophysics: solving the dark matter mystery.

-- “Future Skies,” Friday, Jan. 13, 8 p.m. The sun rises and sets each day; constellations change with the seasons; and planets march across the evening and morning skies. These are the motions of the solar system that humans have witnessed over centuries. But, the entire universe is constantly evolving, though on a time scale too long for humans to observe. Starting with the present day and ending billions of years in the future, this program will show the night sky’s evolution and how it will appear from Earth in the distant future. A free STAR Observatory tour (weather dependent) follows at 9 p.m.

-- “Finding the Sun: Eclipse 2017,” Saturday, Jan. 14, 11 a.m. The total eclipse of the sun Aug. 21 will be explored. The “Eclipse 2017 Series” will introduce audiences of all ages to the solar eclipse phenomenon: what it is, when and how to safely view it; why it is so extraordinary; and what astronomers hope to learn from this event. This first show in the series will help visitors learn about the sun, and why it is important to the Earth and to everyday lives. After the program, visitors will have an opportunity to create their own edible model of the sun.

-- “This Month’s Sky,” Tuesday, Jan. 17, 7 p.m. As the months and seasons change in Wyoming, new and different astronomical events occur in the nighttime sky. No matter what time of year, there always is something to see after the sun goes down. From constellations to meteor showers to visible planets, the program acts as a guide to these remarkable events and where to find them.

-- “Greek Mythology,” Friday, Jan. 20, 8 p.m. Ancient civilizations used the night sky as a clock, calendar and story board for their unique mythologies. The 88 constellations that piece the sky together are dominated by ancient Greek mythology and the heroes, villains, gods and men that are featured in Grecian myths. This program will connect the dots to discover the characters that lie in these constellations and help astronomers navigate the night sky. A free STAR Observatory tour (weather dependent) follows at 9 p.m.

-- “The Dark Matter Mystery: Exploring a Cosmic Secret,” Tuesday, Jan. 24, 7 p.m. What keeps galaxies together? What are the building blocks of the universe? Researchers all around the world try to answer questions like these. Today, researchers know that approximately a quarter of the universe is filled with mysterious glue: dark matter. This full-dome planetarium movie takes the audience on the biggest quest of contemporary astrophysics: solving the dark matter mystery.

-- “Jewel of the Solar System,” Friday, Jan. 27, 8 p.m. Thanks to its beautiful rings, Saturn is the most recognizable planet in the solar system. But, there is so much more to this cosmic jewel. For example, did you know that if Saturn was placed in water, it would float? This program covers everything that is known about Saturn, from the remarkable rings to its composition and formation. As Cassini begins the final piece of its mission through Saturn’s system, visitors will discover the most beautiful and interesting planet in the solar system. A free STAR Observatory tour (weather dependent) follows at 9 p.m.

-- “A Look at the Sun, Earth and Moon System,” Saturday, Jan. 28, 11 a.m. The Earth, sun and the moon are perhaps the most important objects in the solar system. The Earth is home; the sun provides light and energy; and the moon is an inspiration for exploration. This program will explore all three cosmic objects and how they interact with each other. From the seasons on Earth to gigantic solar flares from the sun, visitors will see it all. Patrons can stay after the show to head up to the roof and use a sun-safe telescope to view the sun. Visitors may even catch a glimpse of a crescent moon. In the event the weather is too cold for comfortable viewing, visitors will stay inside and build a model of the sun, Earth and moon system.

-- “This Month’s Sky,” Tuesday, Jan. 31, 7 p.m. As the months and seasons change in Wyoming, new and different astronomical events occur in the nighttime sky. No matter what time of year, there always is something to see after the sun goes down. From constellations to meteor showers to visible planets, the program acts as a guide to these remarkable events and where to find them.


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