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5 biggest astronomical events of 2012

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SALT LAKE CITY — Lately, the sky has been smoky, hazy and not necessarily good for viewing the amazing events that are taking place in the sky. Sure, the Autumnal equinox is fun for the novelty of seeing the sun setting in the same exact place on the same date every year (believe it or not, that’s astronomy, too - Stonehenge is a great example). For today, we’re going to take a look at a mix of events. Some can be casually observed, some must be detected with sophisticated instruments and others are but mere calculations. Here are the 5 biggest astronomical events of the year:

The 2012 annular eclipse.
The 2012 annular eclipse.

1. This year, the event that got nearly everyone’s attention in Salt Lake City was the annular solar eclipse on May 20th. The eclipse started late in the afternoon, so as the sun hovered over the horizon before setting, the eclipse was at maximum. Budding astronomers gathered aluminum foil pierced by a needle and projected their images onto a suitable white surface. Others may have noticed the eerie curved and blue double shadows cast by the occluded disk of the sun. At maximum eclipse, the day seemed a tad dimmer, but no less exciting.2. If the annular eclipse wasn’t enough excitement, some people may want to book a cruise to view a total solar eclipse on November 13th. There’s still time, but prices are going up. The upcoming total eclipse will pass over Australia for a fraction of the path and the majority will be over the South Pacific ocean. NASA has a nice table to ease eclipse tracking just in case there is no opening in the schedule for the next eclipse after November.

The 2012 Transit of Venus.
The 2012 Transit of Venus.

3. Who could ever forget the news frenzy around transit of Venus on June 5? The news of the transit seemed to set a trend for a bumper crop of astronomical events this year. The importance of the transit is emphasized by the (in)frequency of these events. Transits of Venus are among the rarest of predictable astronomical events, and they are highly anticipated by astronomers. Each transit occurs in pairs spanning 8 years, but each pair is separated by about 121 years.4. Jupiter takes a hit...from a meteor. On Sept. 10, amateur astronomers captured an image of a bright flash on the face of Jupiter. You can catch a video of the impact here. Although not quite as spectacular as the Shoemaker-Levy comet impact, the latest collision took the astronomy community by surprise. The impact was detected and observed by many amateur astronomers, providing us with many photos and video for all of us to see.

The Voyager 1 spacecraft.
The Voyager 1 spacecraft.

5.Voyager 1left the solar system on Sept. 10. It just so happens that on the way out, Voyager 1 passed by Jupiter in 1979 on a mission to explore the outer planets. It is now the farthest man-made object in space. Voyager continues to transmit data back to earth even though it is 122 astronomical units away from Earth. That’s equivalent to roughly 11 billion miles. Of course, correspondence is pretty slow with a transit time of about 16 hours for the signal to pass from Voyager 1 to Earth, but the guys in Pasadena are really patient keeping tabs on the longest running NASA mission, ever - 35 years.What other events did we miss? If you can think of other astronomical events, feel free to post them in the comments.

Scott C.Dunn is a writer and IT Professional living in the Salt Lake City area.


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