Ian Hewitt of the Raleigh Astronomy Club took this photo of a lunar eclipse in 2008.

Ian Hewitt of the Raleigh Astronomy Club took this photo of a lunar eclipse in 2008.

On Wednesday, Oct. 8, 2014, the Full Moon will pass completely into Earth’s shadow. This total lunar eclipse can be seen from nearly all of the Americas.

In North Carolina, the eclipse is visible during the couple of hours before sunrise on Oct. 8th, while the Moon is setting in the west.

How to view the Oct. 8th lunar eclipse:

1) Check your weather forecast.

Will you have clear (enough) skies? If it’ll be overcast or rainy, you might as well sleep in. As I write this, the forecast looks good for most of North Carolina, including all of the Triangle area.

2) Set an alarm on Tuesday night before you go to bed.

Even if your normal wake-up time on Wednesday will have you up and about during the eclipse, know that the later you wait to head outside after the eclipse begins, the closer the Moon will be to the horizon, and the brighter the sky will be from the approaching dawn.

Here are some important time points (Eastern Daylight Time):

5:15 a.m. – Partial eclipse begins

6:25 a.m. – Total eclipse begins

6:55 a.m. – Moon is at greatest eclipse

7:17 a.m. – Sunrise for Chapel Hill*

7:22 a.m. – Moonset for Chapel Hill*

*Sunrise and moonset times vary depending on your location.

Totality continues until 7:24 a.m. EDT, and the partial eclipse ends at 8:34 a.m. EDT. But once the Moon has set for where you live, your view of the eclipse is definitely over.

3) Find a good western horizon.

That means avoiding hills or obstructions, such as from buildings or nearby trees. For the Eastern U.S., the Moon will be setting in the west during the eclipse. After taking the trouble to be out so early, you’d undoubtedly prefer to see the Moon eclipsed by Earth’s shadow rather than by trees or buildings.

The Moon will only sink lower in the sky as the eclipse progresses, making it harder to see the eclipse. So you may want to get outside early on, fairly soon after the partial eclipse starts at 5:15 a.m. EDT.

For those of us in the Eastern U.S. there’s about a five-minute period (7:17-7:22 a.m. in Chapel Hill) when the Sun and eclipsed Moon are simultaneously above the horizon — a “selenelion.” But good luck seeing it around here. You’ll need true horizons for both the west (where the Moon is setting) and the east (where the Sun is rising) at the same time.

4) Open your eyes.

The Moon is always a lovely sight through binoculars or a telescope, but for viewing lunar eclipses just the unaided eye will generally suffice. If you’re trying to see the selenelion, binoculars will help you pick out the Moon low in the brightening sky (remember: DON’T look at the Sun through binoculars).

You can see a simulation of the eclipse as it would look from Chapel Hill at the Solar System Scope site. During a lunar eclipse, the Moon usually turns an interesting shade of orange or red.

The next lunar eclipse happens April 4, 2015, at roughly similar times, but on a Saturday.

International Observe the Moon Night is Sept. 6, 2014. (Credit: NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center Scientific Visualization Studio)

International Observe the Moon Night is Sept. 6, 2014. (Credit: NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center Scientific Visualization Studio)

Come celebrate International Observe the Moon Night with us on Saturday, September 6, 2014, at Jordan Lake. If the weather permits, Morehead will host a public skywatching session from 8 to 10 p.m. at Ebenezer Church Recreation Area.

While you’re under the moonlight by the water, you might think about this traditional Alutiiq story, “The Girl Who Married the Moon”:

Long ago, a girl and her cousin would sit on the beach and gaze at the Moon for hours as he journeyed across the sky. They both fell in love with the Moon and wanted to marry him.

The Moon said he choose as his wife the girl who was more patient. “Close your eyes,” the Moon said.

He picked up the girls by the ends of their long dark hair and began lifting them toward the sky. One girl couldn’t resist peeking before they arrived and found herself falling back to Earth and landing safely on the beach.

The more patient girl became the Moon’s wife, and she lived happily with him at first. But soon she grew lonely and bored. Her husband was often gone to do his work, and she had little to do.

Eventually, against her husband’s wishes, she entered his storeroom and discovered masks of different shapes, such as crescent, gibbous, and full. When she put on the full moon mask, it stuck to her face. She couldn’t pull it off and hid herself in bed, fearing her husband’s anger.

But when her husband returned home, he gently removed the mask from her face and agreed that from then on, the two of them should share the Moon’s work of lighting the sky. Since then, the man has carried the Moon across the sky during the first half of its cycle, and the woman carries it during the second half.

On Saturday, September 6, 2014, the phase of the Moon will be waxing gibbous, which means the husband is nearing the end of his turn lighting the sky. At the Jordan Lake skywatching session (weather permitting), we’ll provide telescopes where you can see his “mask” in lovely detail.

For a full version of the Alutiiq story, with music and artwork, watch the beautiful telling of “The Girl Who Married the Moon” created by students at Kodiak High School.

Learn more Moon stories at Morehead Planetarium later this year, on Saturday, December 6, 2014, at “Star Families: The Moon.”

The Perseids are named after Perseus, the constellation from which they appear to radiate. (Credit: Stellarium)

The Perseids are named after Perseus, the constellation from which they appear to radiate. (Credit: Stellarium)

The 2014 Perseid meteor shower will peak on the night of August 12/13 (Tuesday evening/Wednesday morning). Tips for viewing the meteors:

1) Adjust your expectations.

In 2014, the peak of the Perseid meteor shower coincides with a waning gibbous Moon. That moonlight will hide the dimmer meteors from your view. This year, you might see around 20 or more Perseids an hour if you look between midnight and dawn on the peak night.

Although that’s fewer than you get to see during a favorable year for the Perseids, a bright meteor every few minutes is still more than you can expect to see on an average night sometime else during the year.

2) Know what you’re actually seeing.

Even though they are sometimes called “shooting stars,” meteors are not falling or dying stars. The streaks of light you see result from cosmic debris interacting with Earth’s atmosphere. In the case of the Perseids, the debris has been left by Comet Swift-Tuttle.

3) Choose a good time to look.

The peak night for the Perseids is expected to be August 12/13, 2014 (Tuesday evening into Wednesday morning). But the Perseid meteor shower is already happening, so if you have a clear sky, you might try looking tonight (Aug. 11/12). You can also try looking for a couple of nights or so after the peak. Just don’t expect to see as many meteors.

To see the most meteors, try viewing after midnight on the peak night. If earlier in the evening is more convenient for you, you may get to see a dramatic “earthgrazing” Perseid that makes a long streak across the sky.

Most important of all: Check your weather forecast. You won’t see Perseids through clouds or rain.

This is what competes with your view of the 2014 Perseid meteors. (Credit: NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center Scientific Visualization Studio)

This is what competes with your view of the 2014 Perseid meteors. (Credit: NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center Scientific Visualization Studio)

4) Choose a good place.

Find a safe dark place (away from unshielded lights) with an open view of the sky.

5) Bring a reclining chair.

Craning your neck to look up at the sky quickly becomes tiring. Consider bringing a reclining lawn chair or sleeping bag.

6) Wear warmer clothes than you think you need to.

Even in summer, it can feel cold when you’re outside for a while in the middle of the night, especially when you’re not moving around.

7) Choose a good direction of the sky to look.

Face away from the Moon (getting it behind trees or a building if possible), and look toward the darkest part of your sky. You don’t need to know how to identify the constellation Perseus, the part of the sky from which the meteors appear to originate. Late at night the Perseids can appear anywhere in the sky.

In 2015, moonlight won’t be a problem for the peak of the Perseids.

[UPDATE, 8/1/14: We've had to cancel the skywatching session for Saturday, Aug. 2, 2014, thanks to the weather forecast.]

If it’s visible in the night sky, the object that generates the most gasps and exclamations of “wow!” from telescope viewers at our skywatching sessions is Saturn.

Saturn is the showpiece of the night sky. If you have never seen this planet through a telescope, you owe it to yourself to put it on your life’s to-do list.

Smile! You’re in this picture. In this image taken by the Cassini spacecraft on July 19, 2013, Earth is a tiny dot in the distance. (Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Space Science Institute)

Of course, in a backyard telescope Saturn won’t look quite like it does in the accompanying image, which was taken by the Cassini spacecraft. But you will be able to see Saturn’s rings.

We hope to glimpse Saturn at our next skywatching session, scheduled for this coming Saturday, August 2, 2014, from 9 to 11 p.m. at Jordan Lake (Ebenezer Church Recreation Area).

Unfortunately, at this writing, the weather forecast looks dismal, and we may need to cancel. Before you head out to this or any other skywatching session, always check Morehead’s website to make sure there isn’t a cancellation notice. We also usually post updates on Facebook and Twitter.

Although poor weather may force us to cancel skywatching this Saturday, we’ll try again at Jordan Lake on Saturday, September 6, 2014. Saturn will still be in the evening sky, and it’s also International Observe the Moon Night.

The runner-up for gasps at the telescopes is the Moon.

Sun's path

The Sun passes higher in the sky in summer than winter. This is roughly how things look from North Carolina. (Credit: United States Naval Observatory)

The temperature in Chapel Hill is 96-but-feels-like-100 as I write this. Astronomically speaking, though, it’s still spring here. Summer arrives to the northern hemisphere at 6:51 a.m. EDT this Saturday.

On that date, June 21, 2014

1) The Sun reaches its most northern point over Earth’s surface relative to the equator.

2) In the southern hemisphere, it’s the first day of winter—not summer. So it’s rather northern-centric of us to call June 21st the summer solstice. Instead, we might call it the June solstice.

3) The Sun rises and sets at its most northern points on the horizon relative to the east and west, respectively – that is, unless you happen to be reading this from north of the Arctic Circle, where the Sun won’t set at all (24 hours of daylight), or from south of the Antarctic Circle, where the Sun won’t rise (24 hours of darkness).

4) It’s the “longest day” (most hours of daylight) in the northern hemisphere (14 hours and 36 minutes in Chapel Hill), but…

5) …we don’t have our earliest sunrise or latest sunset of the year. In Chapel Hill, we’ve already had our earliest sunrises, at 5:59 a.m. And our latest sunsets, at 8:37 p.m., don’t start happening till later next week. Why don’t the earliest sunrise and latest sunset coincide with the summer solstice? Short answer: Because clock time and Sun time are not the same.

6) The Sun reaches its highest point in our midday sky for the year, but…

7) …the Sun does not pass directly overhead for us. For that to ever happen, you have to live in the tropics, between the latitudes of 23½° south and 23½° north. Chapel Hill’s latitude is 36° north.

What can you see in the sky this summer? Find out by attending these programs under the planetarium dome:

  • Star Families: Summer Skies – Saturday, July 12, from 3:30-4:15 p.m. For families with children ages 7-12.
  • Carolina Skies – every Sunday at 3:30 p.m. through August 24, 2014. For adults and for children ages 8 and older.

To view the real night sky, join Morehead for our free skywatching sessions this summer. If the weather permits, we’ll be at Jordan Lake on June 28, August 2, and September 6, 2014. Also join us in Raleigh at Historic Oak View County Park on August 9, 2014.

It certainly can FEEL as if the Sun is directly over North Carolina during the summer.

27 May 2014
A constellation tour at Jordan Lake

People gather for a constellation tour at Jordan Lake. (Credit: Steve Andrews)

A plethora of planets awaits you at Morehead’s next skywatching session at Jordan Lake this Saturday, May 31, 2014. We’ll be at Ebenezer Church Recreation Area from 9-11 p.m. (weather permitting).

Mercury, Jupiter, Mars, and Saturn all currently decorate the evening sky. To catch Mercury, come near the beginning of the session, since it’ll set over the lake around 10 p.m.

You may notice that the 4 planets look as if they’re lined up across the sky. That line (really more of an arc) is called the “ecliptic.” The ecliptic marks the path that the Sun appears to follow in front of the constellations of the zodiac as Earth orbits the Sun over the year.

You can also think of the ecliptic as the plane of Earth’s orbit around the Sun, projected into space. Because the other planets in our solar system orbit the Sun in roughly that same plane, you’ll always see planets near the ecliptic.

A red arc marks the ecliptic in this all-sky view an hour after sunset on May 31, 2014. (Credit: Stellarium)

A red arc marks the ecliptic in this all-sky view an hour after sunset on May 31, 2014. (Credit: Stellarium)

In addition to planets, we’ll be observing the Moon and other celestial objects at the upcoming Jordan Lake skywatching session. Directions and Frequently Asked Questions are available at the Morehead website.

Check the Morehead website before you head out to the lake – just in case we’ve had to cancel because of clouds or rain.

What about Venus? Early birds can see it in the eastern dawn sky.

Credit: Tyler Nordgren

Credit: Tyler Nordgren

On April 4 and 5, 2014, forty sites from the mountains to the coast will host skywatching sessions for the public, as part of North Carolina’s second annual Statewide Star Party. Hosts include astronomy clubs, parks, nature centers, planetariums, observatories, museums, and universities.

What might you do at a star party event?

1) Look through telescopes. Virtually all star party events will offer telescope observing, many of them with the generous help of local astronomy clubs.

2) Observe the Sun. Several sites will host daytime events with safe solar observing, including Catawba Science Center, Crowders Mountain, Howell Woods, Kathleen Clay Edwards Library, Marbles Kids Museum, Medoc Mountain State Park, and Yadkin County Park.

3) See the Moon. The waxing crescent Moon will be up during the afternoon and evening of April 4 and 5.

A skywatching event at Jordan Lake

Credit: Brian Owen

4) View Jupiter and Mars. Through a telescope, you can see up to four of Jupiter’s moons, too.

5) Gaze at the stars. Constellations such as Orion and Leo will decorate the evening sky.

6) Do other activities. Depending on which event you choose, you can hike on a dune, paddle on a lake, design an alien, build a moon phaser, test your astronaut skills, touch a space shuttle tire, check out robot driving races, or participate in a phases of the Moon basketball challenge.

Find a star party event near you at the NC Science Festival website. You can see detailed listings by filtering the online calendar for the event dates April 4 and 5. (Note: A couple of star party events have been re-scheduled for April 11 or April 12.) Most events are free. A few require advance registration.

NC Statewide Star Party events

Find a star party event near you at www.ncsciencefestival.org

Important! Most events are weather permitting. Check with individual sites about any back-up plans they may have in case of clouds or rain.

The NC Science Festival’s annual Statewide Star Party is made possible through the generous support of the NC Space Grant.

US Map stating Nation's First Statewide Science Festival

First again, NC

A few months ago, I challenged our event partners to get weird. They listened. This year’s line-up features some of the most fun and funky science events we’ve ever had. Here are a few (in no particular order)  to whet your appetite for the 17-day science madness that starts THIS FRIDAY.

10.  Cemetery Sleuths: People Are Dying To Try It!

The team at Raleigh’s beautiful and historic Oakwood Cemetery have started doing some incredible public outreach. This event features a science and history scavenger hunt.

9.  Big Toy Day at the Piedmont Triad Farmers Market

This event is my fault. Proudly, I might add. Why? Because A. I have a nephew who, whenever he sees any sort of big truck, completely freaks out and needs to be near it; and B. I attended a meeting where a power company official was saying that with proficiency in STEM, young people can earn $70K/year working on line trucks for utility companies.

By combining A & B, we get a great community outreach event where companies operating STEM trucks can show off what they do and TRUCKS! TRUUUCCKS, UNCLE JON!!!

8.  Mad Scientist Revenge Race

Crossfit fanatics, this one’s for you:  an epic obstacle course team challenge combining science and fitness. Let’s get ready to rumble!

7.  Rational Comedy for an Irrational Planet

Right there on April Fool’s Day, folks, Earth’s premier science comedian takes the stage at the Museum of Natural Sciences.

6. Science of Art Conservation

Like a little art with your science? A little science with your art? This event is being produced by the NC Museum of Art’s Contemporaries group and is a GREAT DATE MOVE. Trust me on that.

Lab kids

Life & Science's Meet a Scientist features bilingual experts (Spanish-English) and hands-on activities

5. Conoce a un(a) Cientifico(a)

Want to meet amazing scientists? Want to speak Spanish? Come do both at this fantastic bilingual event at Durham’s Museum of Life & Science. So grateful and impressed with the team over there!

4.  Terrapin Tally

People of NC, Science NEEDS YOU!  We’re huge fans of citizen science. This event is a training for a big diamondback terrapin count happening in May. If you don’t know what diamondback terrapins looks like, think of the cutest turtles ever. Now add polka dots. So adorable.

3.14. Carowinds Education Days

Thanks to their good work with Discovery Place, our favorite amusement park drops a little roller coaster science on you.

3.  Zucchini 500

It’s like a pinewood derby but with produce. So much fun and so many pun possibilities.

2.78.  SUMOBOTS!

This is like a glimpse of the future when all our sports are handled by our robots. Check out this youtube clip with an epic battle at about the 1 min mark.

2.  Surf-N-Science

Yuri's Night Logo

Yuri's Night: The Worldwide Space Party

Think all you need to surf is a sandy blonde mullet? Well, you’re wrong. You also need to know a little bit about physics.

1. Yuri’s Night

The worldwide space party is going down on April 12. Thanks to some enterprising UNC students, downtown Chapel Hill is in the mix.

And that barely scratches the surface. So many cool events this year. In fact, there are over 400 events that are completely searchable and share-able right from here. Find some near you. And– oh yeah—

The fun starts this Friday!!!


Jonathan Frederick directs the North Carolina Science Festival, an initiative of Morehead Planetarium and Science Center. This year's Festival runs from March 28 - April 13, 2014.

TL;DR version: Yes.

Slightly longer version:

There’s a debate raging behind the scenes in the science education world. Should STEM — traditionally defined as Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics — be expanded to include the Arts (STEAM), or Religion (STREAM), or Health (uhhh…SHTEM)? The question has been met with eye rolls and sighs; meetings filled with derisive laughter, lots of shouting and lukewarm coffee being thrown in people’s faces.

STEM bumper sticker

Strategies That Engage Minds... you betcha.

That last part may be overstated. (The coffee in the face part, that is. I have witnessed firsthand some high-quality eye rolling about the idea of STEAM. What can I say? Science educators have strong opinions. It’s why I love ‘em.)

People who know me know that when it comes to this kind of stuff, I tend to default to my taxonomy metaphor (which gets its own pretty fantastic set of eye rolls…). In taxonomy, you have your lumpers and you have your splitters. Your lumpers are people who want to find similarities in organisms and clump similar ones together. Your splitters on the other hand, like focusing on differences. They want to separate out organisms based on differing traits. They make distinctions for the sake of order and end up with lots of clearly defined categories. Both approaches have merits and make sense.

Which is why, when people ask me about STEAM, or ESTEAM, or STREAM, or SHTEAM, I pretty much say this:

“I don’t care.”

I don’t. Which is not to say I don’t think it’s important to think about. But I honestly don’t care about that as much as I care about interesting events and innovative activities. I want people to be able to attend high quality events that capture their imaginations and make them want to do more, learn more and play more. I don’t see our Science Festival as strictly a science festival. I see it as a celebration carefully crafted to give people access to information and opportunity. It’s about stuff. The world is full of amazing stuff and Science is here to help you navigate that. Art is here to help you navigate that. Religion is here to help you navigate that.

Connecting Science to the Arts, to Religion, to Entrepreneurship, and to Wellness is all great to me. Teaching them as separate and distinct things is fine and dandy, too. I want more of all of it.

Ultimately, we want people to have a fond association with Science however they get connected to it. That’s why I’m personally very excited to see an ESTEAM event on our calendar this year, a STREAM event on our calendar this year, and of course, dozens of fantastic, straight-up STEM events.

Our good friend and head of the SMT Center, Dr. Sam Houston, says it well. Instead of STEM meaning Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics, why don’t we think about it another way? He goes with “Strategies That Engage Minds.”

And that, my friends, is something all of us lumpers and splitters can get behind.

See you out there in a couple of weeks,


Jonathan Frederick directs the North Carolina Science Festival, an initiative of Morehead Planetarium and Science Center. This year's Festival is slated to be our biggest yet, starting on Friday, March 28 and running through April 13. To find events near you, please see: www.ncsciencefestival.org.

That’s right:  towns. Which is probably the hardest thing to wrap your head around when conceptualizing our statewide science festival. Allow me to explain:

The fourth annual North Carolina Science Festival kicks off on Friday, March 28. For 17 straight days there are hundreds of science events happening all over the state. We’re basically putting a big circus tent on top of NC and throwing a big science party.

Map of festival events

Sneak peak at your 2014 NC Science Festival

All sorts of amazing partners are getting in on the act. Museums — not solely science museums, mind you — amusement parks, zoos, colleges, shopping malls, bars & restaurants, breweries (science of beer, anyone?), parks, businesses — you name it, we probably have an event if not in it, then near it.

At last count there are over 700 events on our calendar. (Our calendar… I’ll get back to that in a minute). Some of this year’s highlights include the return of our wildly successful Statewide Star Party, a visit from Mr. Cosmos himself, Neil deGrasse Tyson, a science-themed fitness race, over a dozen science expos (think “street fairs”), an April Fool’s Day science comedy night, and the return of our NC Science Summit. There’s literally something for everyone. And I literally mean literally.

When we started this Festival, we wanted to work hard to put high quality science events near every North Carolinian. This year, I think we’ve achieved our goal thanks to our partners, our sponsors, and the fantastic Morehead team.

I invite you to peruse our calendar and start picking out events to attend. Fair warning: the calendar is gigantic. Don’t let it overwhelm you. Our web team has put together a bunch of different ways to search for events you might like. You can find events by geography, topic, day/time, etc. So narrow it down and go crazy.

It’s Festival time!

Jonathan Frederick directs the North Carolina Science Festival, an initiative of Morehead Planetarium and Science Center.

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