Is that what we should call a blue moon on the day of a lunar eclipse that also happens to be a supermoon? The moon during the eclipse turns a deep red or, most often, orange- depending on what atmospheric conditions back on Earth are like. And blue and orange make... well, brown.

This Wednesday, January 31st, there will be a weird co-incidence of three events regarding the moon:


The first, and most ordinary, is that the moon will be a "supermoon." Now don't get >too< excited about this. Those in the astronomy biz (and I count myself amongst them) know that the moon, like every other body in the solar system, orbits in an ellipse and is sometimes closer to its parent body and sometimes further away.

A supermoon is simply a full moon that occurs when the moon is relatively close to Earth. So, it appears a bit bigger than usual- about 8-10% bigger than average. That's a difference so minor that, if it weren't pointed out to us, we probably wouldn't notice it. And, if we are being honest with ourselves, even if it >were< pointed out to us, we might not be able to visually detect a difference.

Moreover, they're not rare at all. Supermoons, depending on how you define them, happen a few times a year.

In other words, it's only kinda' cool.

THE (not really) BLUE MOON

The second thing that's happening is a bit rarer. In fact, it occurs only once in a blue moon. Indeed, it >is< a blue moon!

A blue moon has nothing to do with the appearance of the moon. It's a trick of our calendar. It is, simply, a second full moon within a calendar month.

Our month is based loosely on the lunar cycle of phases which takes about 29 and a half days to go from full moon to full moon. Our months (or, should I say, "moonths") are a generally a day or two longer than that because to pad out the year. So, with 30 or 31 days to work with, it is possible, albeit uncommon, for a two full moons to occur within a given calendar month.

In fact, they occur a little more than once every three years on average. And, that is, by my reckoning, about once in a blue moon.

Alas, the moon will probably not turn blue.


For skywatchers, the most exciting of the three coincidental events that occur on January 31 is a Total Lunar Eclipse.

If you happen to be in the right spot on Earth (which, this time around, is the western USA and Canada or in the Pacific) you will see the shadow of the Earth slowly take a bite out of the moon. The bite will grow larger and larger until the moon is covered.

The moon, however, will not totally disappear. From our vantage point on Earth, we will see the as a dimly glowing red or orange ball.

For those of us in the Eastern half of the USA, the sight will not be quite as dramatic. We will catch the start of the eclipse just as the moon sets in the west and the sun is rising in the east. We will miss the deepest eclipse.

Imagine, however, the view from the moon itself. At total eclipse, an observer on the lunar surface would see, when looking back at Earth, a great orange or red ring of fire in the sky- all the sunsets in the world >at the same time< as the sunlight streams through our atmosphere. Everything around that observer would be glowing in the eerie light of this ring.

The sight would be astonishing.

Perhaps someone alive today will witness this sight.

Until then, if you happen to be in the right spot, get up early and have a look... and enjoy the co-incidence!

Image from:

Brad Hoehne
JGAP Measurements Made

With the JGAP under construction, measurements were needed to ensure that the park is oriented to the sky.  

The John Glenn Astronomy Park's plaza has six tall slots designed to catch the rising and setting sun on the first day of each season.   On these days, a shaft of sunlight will pierce the slots and fall upon the plaza's focal point, a model of the Earth at the very center of the circular enclosure.    The northernmost slots catch the sunrise and sunset on the summer Solstice.   The slots to the east and west catch the sunrise and sunset on the equinoxes- the first days of spring and fall.  The final two catch the light of the rising and setting sun on the winter solstice.

Former Columbus Astronomical Society president, and skilled astrophotographer Isaac Cruz, of Reynoldsburg, Ohio assisted with the measurement of location of the slots, to be poured into concrete by Setterlin, the contractor who is charged with constructing the park.

To do this, Isaac, and Brad and Lucia Hoehne set up a high precision telescope and mount at the center of the plaza, exactly in the spot where the sunbeams were to fall.   Then, using a computer, they instructed the telescope to point to the predicted location of the rising and setting sun on the solstices and equinoxes.   Using a laser attached to the telescope, they marked the predicted locations.

Thank you Isaac for your help on this important job!

Isaac Cruz aligns his telescope to the stars at the under-construction JGAP.

Isaac Cruz aligns his telescope to the stars at the under-construction JGAP.

Brad Hoehne
Total Solar Eclipse from Coast to Coast

On August 21, the USA will play host to the most spectacular natural phenomenon that a person can witness: a total solar eclipse, when the sun is completely blocked by the light of the moon.

People in Ohio will experience only a partial eclipse, and, without optical aid, will likely not notice much of a difference.    People who visit the path of Totality, where the sun is briefly blocked by the moon, will experience day turn to night.   

The closest point to the John Glenn Astronomy Park is southern Kentucky.  Be sure to plan ahead, as many others will undoubtedly be making the trek to see this astounding, and fairly rare, event!



The Perseid Meteor Shower Peaks

Around August 12, the "Old Faithful" of meteor showers, the Perseids, will reach its peak.  Observers under dark skies will be able to see between 10 and 100 meteors per hour.

All you need to see this is a lawn chair, perhaps some bug spray, and your own two eyes.   Lay back, enjoy the view, and just look, you're bound to see a few.  

Begin watching for meteors at around 11:00 p.m.  The Earth is pointed most directly into the path of the meteors after midnight.   Note, however, the moon rises at around midnight on the morning of the 13th, washing out the sky somewhat and making the faintest meteors a bit harder to see.   

But, it's still worth it!




Saturn at its Best!

Saturn is easy to find an hour after sunset on mid-August evenings.    At 10:00 p.m it will be about 27 degrees up off the southern horizon.  It appears to the naked eye as a moderately bright, beige-colored "star."

In small telescopes, it blooms into a glorious gem.  This year, the North pole of the planet is tilted as far towards us as they get.  Its enormous rings- which are so big that they would just squeeze in the gap between the Earth and our Moon- are at their best right now. 

if you have a small telescope, why not take a look!

And, next year, be sure to visit the John Glenn Astronomy Park, when our giant telescope is up and running.

Saturn as seen in the southern sky just after 10:00 p.m. during the middle of August.

Saturn as seen in the southern sky just after 10:00 p.m. during the middle of August.

Saturn, as imaged by Columbus Astronomical Society Member  Joe Renzetti  on August 8, 2017.

Saturn, as imaged by Columbus Astronomical Society Member Joe Renzetti on August 8, 2017.

Brad Hoehne