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Spring, April 14/15 Lunar Eclipse and Mars

(April 7, 2014)

Spring is defined by astronomers to begin when the Sun rises exactly due east and sets due west, splitting the 24 hour day into equal 12-hour parts of daytime and nighttime. Because the Sun's position in the sky is governed by Earth's rotation and its position along its orbit around the Sun, the start-date of Spring is known as precisely as clockwork. But the amount of sunlight that reaches the Earth's surface is governed by the transparency of Earth's atmosphere. And the amount of heat contained in the air is largely influenced by local and global wind patterns. So, although astronomy tells us that Spring officially arrived two weeks ago, it's the local and global weather that determines how quickly the ground and air warms up to finally make it feel like Spring.

image of Lunar Eclipse in March 1997 from DDO This spring, we have the first of four total lunar eclipses in 2014-15, part of a rare series called a "lunar tetrad". At precisely 1:58 EDT early in the morning of Tuesday April 15th (i.e.- Monday night), residence of Richmond Hill, Canada and most of North and South America will see (weather permitting) the full Moon begin passing into the dark inner core of Earth's shadow. The effect will be as if some giant invisible monster begins taking growing bites out of the full Moon until 3:07 EDT when the Moon will be near totally "consumed" in darkness. All that will remain will be a faint glow of reddish light illuminating what was just an hour earlier the brilliant white Moon. You can see how our pre-astronomy ancestors might have become a bit distressed, especially given that these total lunar eclipses don't happen often (certainly not at every full Moon).

link to Lunar Eclipse star chart While out admiring the Moon, be sure to look at the rest of the nighttime sky. Spica is the bright star just one degree away to the Moon's lower right. This is the brightest star in the constellation Virgo (Goddess of the Harvest). And shining ten times brighter than Spica, look for a brilliant reddish-hued "star" nine degrees to the upper-right (northwest) of the Moon. This is the planet Mars, now at its closest to the Earth. Viewed through even a modest-size telescope, you should be able to see it as a tiny disk. But don't expect to see much of any detail on Mars' surface. You might be able to discern a bright spot near one edge that is its north polar ice cap. But even using a large ground-based telescope, it requires excellent weather and patience to capture good views of more subtle surface features on Mars.

By 4:24 EDT, totallity will give way to a steady restoration of the Moon's original luster as the Moon continues along its orbit and moves out of the Earth's shadow. The last clear evidence of the eclipse disappears at 5:33 EDT, with the Moon just 10 degrees above the WSW horizon an hour before sunrise in the GTA.

Clear skies,

--Ian Shelton, DDOD's Vice Chair & Resident Astronomer

The David Dunlap Observatory lies nestled in the heart of Richmond Hill, Ontario, a city of 200,000 just north of Canada's largest city, Toronto. The 190-acre oasis of mature forests, pastures and springs is home to two distinct deer herds and an abundance of other wildlife, including a coyote pack, foxes, voles, rabbits, honey bees, many species of butterflies, and birds including hawks, owls, doves, crows and songbirds. The property represents the last and largest urban open green space in southern Richmond Hill.

Originally deeded to the University of Toronto by the philanthropist Jessie Donalda Dunlap in memory of her husband David, the Dunlap Observatory opened on May 31st, 1935. Its magnificent 74-inch telescope was the second largest in the world at that time and has been used through seven decades to conduct much groundbreaking research, including the discovery of the first known black hole, Cygnus X-1.

In 2007, the University of Toronto wrested control of the land from Jessie Dunlap's heirs through a protracted legal case spanning 4 years. They then broke the public covenant that the land would remain a park and a research and outreach centre in perpetuity by selling the property to a developer intent on replacing most of the greenspace with hundreds of houses.

The DDO Defenders have been working hard to represent the public and inform all levels of government about what will be lost if the developer is allowed to proceed.

On April 12th, 2012, after six long and anxiety-ridden months of Ontario Municipal Board (OMB) mandated mediation following a four year hard-fought and very public battle, an agreement was reached in March between the mediation parties to the David Dunlap Observatory Lands OMB case.

Minutes of Settlement were drawn up for signing by all parties to the mediation -- the landowner, Corsica Development Inc. (a subsidiary of MetrusDevelopments Inc.), the Town of Richmond Hill, the Region of York, the Toronto and Area Conservation Authority (TRCA), and the David Dunlap Observatory Defenders (DDO Defenders) Inc. This historic document was ratified by Richmond Hill Town Council on Thursday, April 12th. All mediation parties had been sworn to absolute secrecy under a strict gag order until Council signed off on the agreement, but now the silence has finally been broken and the details of the settlement agreement can be made public. (read more)

For further information or to offer support, please contact:

The Minutes of Settlement is posted at the Town of Richmond Hill - DDO webpage.

Please support our Community Advocacy

The DDO Defenders are deeply committed to preserving the David Dunlap Observatory, surrounding Lands and the Dunlap Legacy. Our mandate is to ensure that the campus continues to operate as a world-class astronomical and astrophysical research facility and a centre of excellence in public Outreach, Education and Experiential Learning regarding all aspects of the Scientific, Physical and Natural World.

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Please make your cheque or money order payable to "DDO Defenders Legal Defense Fund" and send it to:

DDO Defenders
18 Harding Avenue
Unit 902 Richmond Hill ON
Canada L4C 0T3.

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Capture the Lunar Eclipse using your own camera


View the eclipse on the internet if it's too cloudy where you are.