This Weekend, Take Time For The Moon

7:23 minutes

a shadowed moon with high enough resolution to see its craters and various shades of gray

This Saturday marks International Observe the Moon Night, a worldwide astronomy education event encouraging people to take time to look at the moon—through a telescope, if possible. Around the world, astronomers will be setting up public telescopes and encouraging passers-by to take a look. 

Dean Regas, astronomer at the Cincinnati Observatory, joins Ira to explain how to get in on the lunar-observation action. They also talk about other astronomical events, including the ongoing Orionid meteor shower and an upcoming partial lunar eclipse on November 19.

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Segment Guests

Dean Regas

Dean Regas is outreach astronomer at the Cincinnati Observatory and co-host of the PBS program Star Gazers in Cincinnati, Ohio.

Segment Transcript

IRA FLATOW: For the rest of the hour, things you can see in the sky this weekend, including a beautiful meteor shower and an International Observe the Moon Night. Here to tell us more is Dean Rigas, astronomer at the Cincinnati Observatory. Always good to have you back, Dean.

DEAN RIGAS: Oh, good to be with you today.

IRA FLATOW: All right, we’re in the midst of a meteor shower now, what is it, how can people see it?

DEAN RIGAS: Well, this is one of those meteor showers that’s not exactly one of the best of the year, that’s for sure. It’s one of those that I don’t know what’s going on but there’s like meteor showers get hyped all over the place and the big ones are usually the Leonids, the Perseids, and then we’ve got the Orionids coming up. Now, the tricky one with the Orionids is that we’re going to have a full moon on the 20th of October so the full moon is kind of going to wash out a lot of the meteors. So I’m kind of rating this one as a, I don’t know if I’m going to get up and stay up late for this one, but the full moon will be out there on the 20th, which is kind of a nice thing to see. So I’d rate the Orionids so-so on my scale of things to do in the night sky.

IRA FLATOW: Well, let’s talk about the moon because Saturday is International Observe the Moon Night, right?

DEAN RIGAS: Oh, yes, absolutely. And this is this worldwide event, it’s basically an education event. All around the world, people will be setting up telescopes in public places. So you might be out walking around on Saturday night, you might see a telescope set up there. And people are given free views of the moon. And this is something that boy, I’ve done so many years, it is so fun to just set up a telescope in the darndest places where people aren’t expecting, and they have such great reactions to seeing the moon in a telescope.

It’s really inspiring to people. And when you can see the light go through the telescope, hit their eyeballs and they just like light up. It really is like the moon hits your eye like a big pizza pie and they like– so it’s this great event that they do all around the world. So check the website for International Observe the Moon Night and see if there’s a viewing spot near you.

IRA FLATOW: Sing it, Dean.

DEAN RIGAS: Oh, you don’t want to hear that.

IRA FLATOW: It’s an old Perry Como song. Is this a good time? Is the moon and the good phase to observe it?

DEAN RIGAS: Absolutely. Because you don’t want to look at the moon when it’s a full moon, that’s too much in a telescope. In fact, you can kind of get like temporarily blinded from that. You look at it, you’re like whoa. So you don’t want to look at a full moon in a telescope. It is yeah, best when it’s halfway lit up or close to first quarter. And so it’s going to be a little past first quarter on Saturday but that’s when you can look along the edge of the Moon called the terminator, that’s where the light meets the dark and that’s where you’d see all these great craters, mountains, valleys, and you get that real feel for the texture of the moon.

IRA FLATOW: Wow, I’m going to get my telescope out on Saturday night. Make sure it’s a dark spot if you can, right? The best way to observe it?

DEAN RIGAS: Absolutely. Yeah the darker the better, but it’s one of those things that the moon is so bright that even viewing in the city is pretty awesome. And most people have never looked through a telescope before and just having that experience is awesome. Plus there’s some sideshows, Jupiter and Saturn are up in the sky right now too, which look awesome in a telescope as well.

IRA FLATOW: This is Science Friday from WNYC Studios. Let’s look ahead to next month because there’s another lunar event in store, right?

DEAN RIGAS: Oh, yes. This is one on my list, a lunar eclipse is happening on the morning of November 19th. It’ll be visible all across the United States from coast-to-coast and it is going to be almost a total lunar eclipse. And so I know this is going to be kind of out there that it’s like, oh, it’ll be a partial lunar eclipse, and when you have a total one it starts to turn those eerie colors, the orange and red and gets that nickname of the blood moon.

So this one’s not going to be quite 100% but it’s going to be pretty darn close. And so I’m expecting to turn a little shade of gray and maybe a little rosy color. So it should be a fun event starting and depends on what part of the country you’re in. For the East Coast it’s after midnight, for the West Coast it starts just before midnight.

IRA FLATOW: Wow, and it’s a good time to get the telescope out then also I’m sure?

DEAN RIGAS: Yeah, that’s a good one to watch. And it’s one of those things where you just kind of kick back and watch. And it’s not real fast, so it takes a couple of hours to go through all the different phases of it. I really like seeing it when it starts, it just starts right on time, and then hang out as long as you can and watch it change colors.

IRA FLATOW: I know you’ve always been a big believer in amateur astronomy but can regular people really make scientific contributions?

DEAN RIGAS: Oh, absolutely. And we’ve been seeing this a lot lately. We just had another amateur astronomer document something running into Jupiter. So this is a meteor, asteroid, comet, something like that that ran into Jupiter. And this is something that amateurs do a lot. They can monitor the planets pretty well compared to even the professionals.

And just recently, was the story that I read about was an eight-year-old girl in Brazil is now the proud discoverer of 18 asteroids. So at eight years old with 18 discoveries and boy, that makes me feel like, what am I doing with my life? I haven’t discovered one, and she’s already up 18 on me.

IRA FLATOW: And now I hear there are rumors abounding that you will be the astronomer in residence at the Grand Canyon. Really?

DEAN RIGAS: Yes, I am so excited. This is a program that they just started to kind of highlight the dark skies. And the national parks are really trying to make this effort to get people out there to do some stargazing. And so I’ll be the second astronomer in residence, which means I get to live at the Grand Canyon right on the rim for a month and show people views of the stars, the planets, and more. So I’ll be bringing some telescopes, I’ll set up right there and do education programs, and Facebook Lives, and videos, and I’ll be there for the lunar eclipse too. So people can tune in as I hopefully have clear skies there in view. And then

I’m going to even do some education, some programs down in the Canyon at Phantom Ranch. So I’ve got to get in some shape Ira and be able to climb down there, and more importantly, climb back up. But I am so excited about this project and the parks are really– just to be able to live at the Grand Canyon for a month is awesome. And the parks are really going out of their way to make the dark skies better for the public.

IRA FLATOW: And people can come out and say hello to you, right?

DEAN RIGAS: Absolutely. Yeah, just say yeah, I heard you on Science Friday. I heard you’re going to be over at the Grand Canyon. Just stop on there, I’ll be at the South Rim, and pretty much any clear night just look for the guy with the glasses by the edge of the Canyon with a telescope.

IRA FLATOW: Huffing and puffing his way up and down.

DEAN RIGAS: Hopefully I get back up. That’s– the down part I hear is easy but anybody has some advice on Midwest training to go to the Grand Canyon, I need some help.

IRA FLATOW: Well, Dean, we wish you all that great luck there, and thank you for all this great advice and good luck at the Grand Canyon.

DEAN RIGAS: Oh, thank you, guys. And everybody out there, keep looking up.

IRA FLATOW: Dean Rigas, astronomer at the Cincinnati Observatory.

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