Welcome to SkyTours with Derrick! If you've ever found yourself under the night sky wondering what that thing is, well, you've come to the right place to find out. I'll provide regular postings of just what's available for you to see at this time of this year, including planets, stars, constellations and my favorite - satellites! I'll also welcome your suggestions for what to add to the blog for your information and answer your questions.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

NE US Eclipse Viewers Clouded Out, But…

Planning on viewing today’s eclipse at sunset from somewhere in the northeast? Forgeddabowdit!  You’d better book a flight to Pittsburgh or Atlanta because these are about the only two places where it looks like you’ll have clear skies at sunset.For details about eclipse times, see yesterday's blog entry.

Eclipses are always dependent on the weather. Today the weather in the northeast ranges from rain in New England to overcast across the Delmarva Peninsula. A low-pressure system slowly pulling out to the northeast has brought occasional rain and solid cloud cover expected to last through Thursday night. Clearing should begin tomorrow morning but that’s 12 hours after the eclipse has passed.

Fortunately, there are 5 webcast options for viewing the eclipse online as seen from locations where the sky is expected to be clear today. Most begin their coverage at 5p EDT. You should be able to find good weather at one of them. 

Good Luck! Let me know which one worked best for you.

Slooh Community Observatory - http://live.slooh.com/

Lupica Observatory, Torrance, CA - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ocuc2TP0hoU

McMath Solar Telescope, Kitt Peak, AZ - https://sites.google.com/site/mcmathpierceeclipse/

University of Arizona’s Sky Center - http://www.lpl.arizona.edu/css/eclipse/

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Total Solar Eclipse Visible Across North America Oct. 23rd

ASTRO ALERT            ASTRO ALERT            ASTRO ALERT           

THURSDAY, OCT. 23rd, 2014


A partial solar eclipse occurs tomorrow, Thursday Oct. 23rd, across North America. The eclipse is visible from the mid-Atlantic region south into Florida and Mexico, west out into the Pacific Ocean, north into Canada. For details about visibility in your area check out this link.

For the PHILADELPHIA AREA, the eclipse begins at 5:51 pm, reaching its maximum of less than 20% coverage at 6:08 pm. Unfortunately, sunset occurs at 6:10 pm. We will not see very much because only a small portion of the sun will be covered by the moon. No effects typically associated with eclipses will occur because the eclipse is so minimal.

Solar eclipses occur when the moon passes between the sun and the earth and the moon’s shadow fall onto the earth. In this case, the moon will not completely block the sun’s light as seen from the earth, so only a portion of the sun will appear covered by the moon.

For us, the eclipse begins 19 minutes before sunset, when the sun is very low in the western sky. Maximum eclipse occurs just two minutes before sunset. Viewers in this region will need a completely unobstructed view of the western horizon and clear skies in the west. The sun will set as the eclipse is in progress.

Viewers further west will see more of the eclipse before sunset occurs for them. No one on the planet will see a total solar eclipse because the Sun-Moon-Earth positioning isn’t correct for that.

To safely view the eclipse you’ll need either a pinhole camera-like device like this or this one , something with lots of holes like this or a piece of pegboard. You can also view the event directly IF you have the correct filter material like these kids do.

Weather is the most important factor: if the sky isn’t clear, we won’t have any opportunity to see anything. In case of cloudy weather, the eclipse will be broadcast live here.

There are two solar eclipses next year, neither visible from our area. The next visible for us is August 21, 2017, a total solar eclipse visible for the Carolinas!

- Compiled by D.H. Pitts, Chief Astronomer, Franklin Institute Science Museum, dpitts@fi.edu, 215 448 1234, 10/22/14.

Monday, September 29, 2014

New Planetarium Show's a Winner!

IPS/MIFF 2014 Best 3D Show Award Trophy

The Franklin Institute’s most recent planetarium show co-production, “To Space and Back”, received two more film festival awards this past June. The International Planetarium Society/Macao International Fulldome Festival selected TSAB as the best 3D planetarium show and the best 8K show over nearly 60 other entrants at the 2014 festival held in Macao, China. This brings the total number of awards to five since the show was released in March 2013. Co-produced by TFI and Sky-Skan, Inc., world leader in planetarium projection equipment, the show was written by Sky-Skan producer Annette Sotheran-Barnett and TFI Chief Astronomer Dr. Derrick Pitts. The other awards are:

-       First Prize – First International Fulldome Festival in Russia, 2013
-       First Prize Audience Choice – Imiloa Fulldome Film Festival, 2013
-       Honorable Mention – Jena/Zeiss Fulldome Film Festival, 2013
And this year:
-       Best 3D Show – IPS/Macao International Fulldome Festival
-       Best 8K Show – IPS/Macao International Fulldome Festival

Created to help viewers, particularly teen viewers, better understand how space exploration and satellite communications shapes their lives, TSAB uses innovative production and composition techniques to entertain viewers as they are drawn deeper into the story of their connection to space technologies every day.

While the show is produced in standard formats of 2K and 4K resolutions, show producer Sotheran-Barnett pushed the envelope on fulldome capability by building some of the most difficult and complex CGI models ever made for planetariums. Several scenes show the highest resolution fulldome projected images ever produced – 8K. To make these scenes most stunning, the show runs at 60 frames per second – twice the frame rate of the most sophisticated Hollywood films. The most advanced version presents the show in 8K resolution, at 60 frames per second, and in 3D! Because this version places such a high demand on playback computers and projectors, only the newest theaters with the most advanced playback equipment can run it – right now just two theaters in the world, Macao Science Center Planetarium and Beijing Planetarium – where the show premiered this past June.  TSAB currently plays in 30 theaters and on every continent except Antarctica.

The show runs 25 minutes and has two versions; one narrated by BBC Top Gear host James May, the other voiced by Pitts. The decision to add Pitts as a narrator came when the National Air and Space Museum’s Einstein Theater included that request for Pitts’ voice as part of their contract to run the show in Washington. The show opened at NASM in September.

Longtime Fels Planetarium show producer Pitts is very pleased with the success of what is currently the most technologically advanced and highly awarded planetarium show on the planet; “Right where a Fels Planetarium show should be,” he says. TFI and Sky-Skan plan to co-produce another fulldome blockbuster soon.

- 9/2014, by Derrick Pitts, Chief Astronomer, Franklin Institute Science Museum, dpitts@fi.edu, 215 448 1234.