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New year will bring notable astronomy events

By PATT KEITH

pkeith@altoonamirror.com

HOLLIDAYSBURG — The new year will bring several notable astronomy events that will be visible for many across the United States, but Saint Francis University astronomer Lanika Ruzhitskaya of Hollidaysburg is most looking forward to NASA’s space probe’s approach of “the primordial building blocks” of the universe on Jan. 1.

The probe, called New Horizons, is exploring the Kuiper Belt and will begin transmitting to Earth information and photos beginning at 12:33 a.m. The data and images will take six hours to reach NASA.

Ruzhitskaya is an assistant professor of physics and astronomy and serves as director of the Science Outreach Center. She said she is most excited to see what NASA’s New Horizons reveals.

“This is the coolest (event) because it is the very first time we will be seeing it,” she said. Called Ultima Thule, scientists don’t know much about these giant rocks, which she called “primordial building blocks” mysterious object on the fringe of the solar system.

NASA awoke the New Horizons craft from hibernation in June and has been making observations, showing that Ultima seems to be an unexpectedly “dark” world. In mid-December, NASA gave the probe the green light to approach the object on its optimal path after months of observations found no sign of any potentially hazardous moons or debris. The probe will provide an up-close look at the most distant object ever visited by a spacecraft, Ruzhitskaya said.

Here are additional astronomy events of 2019, according to AccuWeather:

r Jan. 20-21: Super blood moon eclipse to glow red over United States: The most-viewed astronomy event of the year will take place in the middle of January as the moon turns red during a total lunar eclipse. This will be the only total lunar eclipse of the year, and it will be visible in the skies of all of North and South America, as well as part of Europe and Africa, on the night of Jan. 20 into the early hours of Jan. 21. As the moon passes through the Earth’s shadow, it will gradually turn rusty orange to deep red in color, earning it the nickname of a “blood moon.”

The entire eclipse will last between 9:36 p.m. and 2:48 a.m. However, the total phase when the moon will appear red will only last a little over an hour, between 11:41 p.m. and 12:43 a.m. This will be the last total lunar eclipse visible anywhere in the world until May 26, 2021.

r May 6-7: Halley’s Comet to spark Eta Aquarids meteor shower: One of 2019’s best meteor showers is set to peak this spring as the Eta Aquarid meteor shower, according to NASA. Residents of the Northern Hemisphere can see up to 30 meteors per hour during its peak. While other meteor showers, bring many more meteors per hour, the Eta Aquarids will be one of the few to fall during the new moon phase — the best time for viewing due to the low amount of natural light pollution. This makes it easier to see dimmer meteors that would not be able to be seen during a bright full moon.

r Aug. 12-13: Perseids to impress summer stargazers: Every year, stargazers mark the Perseid meteor shower on their calendars, which peaks this year on the night of Aug. 12 into the early morning of Aug. 13.

This year won’t be the best showing for the Perseids as it falls right before the full moon; however, meteors associated with the Perseids are usually brighter than meteors from other meteor showers so observations of shooting stars should be plentiful.

r Nov. 11: Mercury to track across the face of the Sun: A rare planetary alignment will take place on Nov. 11 and will be visible across much of the world. However, proper equipment — solar filter glasses are needed to protect the eyes from permanent damage caused by looking directly at the sun, Ruzhitskaya warned. Mercury will pass directly between the Earth and the Sun, appearing as a small black dot on the Sun’s surface and will still be difficult to observe. This alignment will not happen again until Nov. 13, 2032. Solar filter glasses are available online from reputable vendors and should be ordered them weeks or months ahead of time.

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To learn more about New Horizons and local astronomy club events, visit: New Horizons: https://www.nasa.gov/mission–pages/newhorizons/main/index.html And, http://pluto.jhuapl.edu/

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