Friday, November 14, 2008


My Astronomical Calendar 2009 arrived the other day. I anticipate its arrival the way some folks wait for the Burpee seed catalog, as a delicious foretaste of things to come.

Guy Ottewell, the wizard behind the Calendar, has a gift for the graphical presentation of all things astronomical. I curl up in a comfy chair and make mental notes of things I don't want to miss.

I will be watching Venus and Mercury during January, February and March, when I am on our tropic island with generally clear horizons in the east and west. I'll be looking at Venus in late January as I go looking for the very young crescent Moon. The Moon and Venus on the 29th should be particularly beautiful. Will I be able to catch the dawn dance of Mercury, Jupiter and Mars during February, low on the horizon as I sip my coffee? Maybe binocs will help, for Mars especially.

With a telescope, it would have been fun to see Saturn's rings disappear in September when they go edge-on for the first time since 1995, but alas the planet is low in the dusk and I'll be in a place with a poor horizon. There will be a brief interval on the night of September 2-3 when Jupiter will have no visible moons; two of the Galilean satellites will be behind the planet, and two in front, a rare event. Why would one want to see Jupiter without a moon? The event itself is not important. It's the witnessing of the event that's neat.

On almost every month of the year the Moon will go crashing through the Pleiades. March 3 and March 30 should be especially favorable occasions to watch the occultations from Exuma.

Not a great year for lunar eclipses. The total solar eclipse of July 22 will be the longest between 1991 and 2132, six-and-a-half minutes of totality. Having much enjoyed recent solar eclipses from the Black Sea and the southern coast of Turkey, we pondered going to Shanghai, but the expense and the prospect of clouds -- not to mention pollution -- dissuaded us. Still, reading Ottewell's blow-by-blow description of what to expect all along the eclipse path is the next best thing to being there.

Don't tell Tom, but I ordered him a copy of the Calendar for Christmas.