Astronomy Program

Department of Physics & Astronomy

UA 16-inch telescope

Upcoming Celestial Events

    Eclipse information (past and future) may be found at Fred Espenak's eclipse site at NASA Goddard. The next deep eclipse visible from Alabama will be the total lunar eclipse on the night of April 14/15, 2014. Looking farther ahead, a total eclipse path crosses eastern Tennessee and the northeast corner of Georgia on August 21, 2017. Tuscaloosa will be in the path of totality on August 12, 2045, so book your rooms now!

    Mars Odyssey 2001 continues to look for water near the surface of Mars, joined in orbit (on Christmas 2003) by the European Space Agency's Mars Express carrying the (apparently ill-fated) British Beagle-2 lander. For years now, we have been` receiving a stream of spectacular results from NASA's twin Mars Exploration Rover missions, Spirit and Opportunity, searching for evidence of past water on the floor of the crater Gusev, and the high plains at Meridiani. In late 2006 the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter began its mission of studying the Martian surface at unprecedented resolution (think "Google Mars"). A similarly powerful camera, and other instruments, are now closer at hand in NASA's Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter, whose early images not only showed the abandoned Apollo descent stages, but in one case the surface churned up by astronauts setting up equipment. The same booster launched LCROSS, which impacted near the lunar south pole as part of the search for water frozen in dark crater floors near the poles./p>

    Meanwhile, Cassini finally entered orbit around Saturn in July 2004 after a seven-year trip, and was immediately delivering spectacular information about Saturn, rings, and moons. A mission highlight was the release of the Huygens probe, which sort of plopped onto methane-rich mud on the surface of the giant moon Titan in 2005. Saturn's moons are turning out to be a real zoo, with ice volcanos on Enceladus spewing particles out into space, and the remaining mystery of why Iapetus has black and white hemispheres.

    Heading yet deeper into space, the European Space Agency's Rosetta continues toward a rendezvous and sampling of a comet nucleus. NASA's New Horizons probe is on course for a July 2015 flyby of Pluto and its moons. Pluto will probably have recovered from its demotion to a dwarf planet by then and be ready to receive visitors.

    Moving inward in the solar system, MESSENGER continues its detailed mapping of the innermost planet.

    And all the action isn't just in exploring the solar system. Hubble, freshly revitalized by the astronauts of STS-125, continues its epic observations of anything we can think of, complemented by the Chandra X-ray observatory in high Earth orbit. 2002 saw the launch of the last of NASA's quartet of "Great Observatories", the infrared-sensitive Spitzer. And on the ground, there are new results pouring in from such places as the Sloan Digital Sky Survey, international Gemini Observatory, and European Very Large Telescope.

This list includes upcoming events in skywatching and space exploration:

2013 July 19 The Day the Earth Smiled (Cassini shoots a planetary portrait over Saturn's shoulder)
2013 October 9 Juno probe flies by Earth for gravity assist en route to Jupiter
2013 October 18 Penumbral lunar eclipse visible from Tuscaloosa
2013 Nov/Dec Comet ISON reaches perihelion and may become a "Great Comet". Or it may fizzle away.
2014 April 14 Total lunar eclipse visible from Tuscaloosa
2014 October 8 Total lunar eclipse (partly visible at sunrise)
2014 October 23 Partial solar eclipse (38% coverage from Tuscaloosa)
2015 March MESSENGER end of mission and Mercury impact
2015 April 4 Total lunar eclipse (partly visible at sunrise)
2015 July 14 New Horizons flies past Pluto and its moons
2015 September 27 Total lunar eclipse visible from Tuscaloosa
2016 May 9 Transit of Mercury
2017 August 21 total solar eclipse tracking across Kentucky, Tennessee, South Carolina, and Georgia
2019 November 11 Transit of Mercury
2045 August 12 Total solar eclipse tracking across Tuscaloosa

More Skywatching Information (Bill Keel)
Last updated: 3 July 2013