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Astronomy April Fools
Mercury has a moon? The Jovian-Plutonian Gravitational Effect will give you a floating feeling? The Space Station has an alien visitor? Virgin Galactic has bought Pluto and has plans for getting it reinstated as a planet? Nope. These are a examples of April Fool hoaxes and jokes.
*Some fools don't wait until April*
This week's article relates a famous April Fool joke played in 1976 by the late Patrick Moore. But it's resurfaced on the Internet as a [supposedly] serious story. Phil Plait says that he debunked it earlier in the year and it's already back again! I think it's been back more than once. The version I've seen can't even manage to do its foolery for April 1. The story begins, “It has been revealed by the British astronomer Patrick Moore that, on the morning of April 4th 2014, an extraordinary astronomical event will occur.”
I like the “it has been revealed by” business. Good grief! The man's been dead since the end of 2012. When did this revelation come? That's apart from the fact that it was not only a joke, but one that made fun of the “Jupiter effect” which was popular in the media in the late 70s, though not with Moore. He wanted to make the point that the gravity of distant planets doesn't have radical effects on the Earth. Gravitational strength drops off rapidly with distance.
*First photo of the Sun*
French physicists Louis Fizeau and Leon Foucault made the first successful photograph of the Sun on April 2, 1845. The original image, taken with an exposure of 1/60th of a second, was about 4.7 inches (12 centimeters) in diameter and captured several sunspots. You can see a reproduction of the daguerreotype here: http://www.pinterest.com/pin/250090585532229439/ Read more about photography and progress in astronomy in "Photography and the Birth of Astrophysics" at: http://www.bellaonline.com/articles/art19545.asp
*Two weeks to a lunar eclipse*
A total lunar eclipse occurs on April 14-15. If you're in North America or western South America, you'll be well-placed to see the whole show. Alas, in most of Europe, Asia or Africa, you won't see anything at all. Many people who can't see total eclipse will still get a partial eclipse. Here's a map showing the eclipse visibility: http://www.pinterest.com/pin/250090585532228499/
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I wish you clear skies.
Mona Evans, Astronomy Editor
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