Driftless Dark Skies

Usually this month, I would be sharing a preview of all the public stargazing happening this summer at state parks and with local astronomy clubs. But we’re not quite there yet. I am grateful that stargazing is something we can safely do together apart. And that includes some great events involving our nearest star, our sun. Brief eclipses this spring give a glimpse of even greater eclipses to come. Early risers will be rewarded with rare celestial views.

There is a partial lunar eclipse on May 26. That’s the one where Earth passes between sun and moon and casts a shadow on the Full Moon. Find a spot with a clear horizon and look low in the southwest at 4:44 a.m. as the Full Moon passes into the shadow of the Earth and begins to darken. Enjoy the view until the moon sets around 5:33 just as the sun is rising in the northeast. Be sure to notice how your shadow from the rising sun points to the eclipsed setting moon. Sun, Earth, moon and you are all aligned! There are longer and fuller lunar eclipses coming our way every six months on Nov. 19, 2021, May 15, 2022, and Nov. 8, 2022.

There is a partial solar eclipse on June 10. That’s the one where the moon orbits between sun and Earth and casts a shadow on Earth. Find a spot with a clear horizon and look northeast at 5:21 a.m. as the sun rises. The New Moon will be blocking a little of the lower left side of the sun, and it will look like “something is eating the Sun!” Remember that staring at the sun will cause eye damage. The sunlight passes through more of our atmosphere at sunrise and sunset, and that provides some protection. But best to break out your solar safety glasses from the 2017 Great American Eclipse if you still have them. With them, you should be able to see the eclipse ending at 5:42 a.m. and the sun returning to its familiar roundness. There is a longer partial solar eclipse on Oct. 14, 2023, and then the Great North American Eclipse on April 8, 2024, when viewers along a path from Texas to New England will experience totality.

Hope you are able to greet the dawn this spring as worlds align. And anticipate the view of other worlds such as Venus and Jupiter and Saturn in the summer skies of the Driftless Area where the stars stream above as the rivers flow below. 

John Heasley is an astronomy educator and stargazer who enjoys connecting people with the cosmos. He volunteers with NASA/JPL as a Solar System Ambassador, with the IAU as a Dark Skies Ambassador, and with International Dark-Sky Association as an Advocate. For more information about stargazing in southwest WI, like Driftless Stargazing LLC on Facebook and find out whenever there’s something awesome happening in the skies.