Walsh’s Wonderings — The next eclipse

Robert F. Walsh

Now that we’ve put away those cereal-box sunglasses we somehow paid 15 bucks for and pondered whether those two minutes of low light were worth all the trouble, we can settle into our post-eclipse funk. The next total solar eclipse in North America isn’t until April 8, 2024. Now that our faces are turned to the sky, what’s next to keep us riveted?

Sure, Sept. 5 will see Neptune at opposition, its closest approach to Earth fully illuminated by the Sun. Yes, there’ll be a spectacular conjunction of Venus and Jupiter visible in the evening sky on Nov. 13. None of that is rare enough to clean the house and host a party.

This might be a stretch, but we could throw a Periodical Cicada party in the spring of 2021.  Some species of cicada appear annually, but Periodical Cicadas emerge all at once every 13 to 17 years and are unique to eastern North America. They spend most of their lives below ground until emerging in great numbers for their 4- to 6-week summer lifespan above ground. (You know, like schoolteachers!) Their presence is marked by the combined chorus of their unique mating calls, while their passing is considered the single largest dose of fertilizer in nature. (You know, like schoolteachers!) Come the middle of July, they’re gone. It’s never too early to send out those invitations!

Halley’s Comet always makes for a great viewing party, but that takes around 76 years to make a complete revolution around the Earth. We’ll have to wait until 2061 to grill out for that one. However, the next Orionid meteor shower (debris trails from Halley’s Comet) will be visible locally between Oct. 2 and Nov 7. The best time to view the Orionids is just after midnight and right before dawn, which also happens to be the worst time to view schoolteachers. Plan your guest list accordingly.

Supermoons occur when the moon is closest in orbit to the Earth, appearing up to 14% larger in diameter. The next one occurs on Dec. 3, and approximately every 14th full moon is considered a supermoon, so it won’t have the catchy appeal of an eclipse. The next one to make it on CNN will occur on Dec. 6, 2052, the closest supermoon of the century. I’m sure someone is making goggles out of the word “moon” in anticipation of the event as I write this.

Solar flares occur too regularly to make our list as these eruption events on the surface of the Sun happen several times a day. However, according to NASA, there may be as much as a 12% chance in the next five years of getting hit by a solar superstorm similar to the one that barely missed us on July 23, 2012. It was the strongest flare in over 150 years and emitted the equivalent of almost one billion megatons of TNT. Surely that can get people to show up to a solar superstorm party with a decent bottle of wine. Besides, if the storm is a direct hit, we won’t have to worry about cleanup the next day!

If we look long and hard enough, we can find many reasons to keep our eyes on the sky … it’s certainly a lot prettier up there than down here these days! To my fellow teachers and students, here’s hoping your joy in this new school year is eclipsed only by the wonderful experiences that lay ahead.  

You can read more at RobertFWalsh.com, contact him at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter @RobertFWalsh.

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