Wayne Wooten

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Stargazers are in for a treat this month, for the first “Transit of Mercury,” in three and a half years, and the last one to be seen here for the next three decades.

Just what is a “Transit of Mercury?” We asked retired Pensacola State College astronomer Wayne Wooten.

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Americans across all 50 United States will get a treat from Mother Nature on Monday -- the first total solar eclipse visible nationwide in 38 years.

While the entire nation will experience some level of eclipse, the path of the “umbra” – where the eclipse is total – will be only about 100 miles wide and stretch from Oregon to South Carolina.

“We’re about 400 miles south of the center line, where they’ll see totality,” said Dr. Wayne Wooten, an astronomer who recently retired from Pensacola State College.

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The second of three “Supermoons” will grace the skies on Monday, and will break some records in its proximity to the Earth.

The first supermoon occurred on October 16, and the year’s third is December 14. The next supermoon will be in August, 2034.

And just what is a “Supermoon?” For that we turn to Wayne Wooten, an astronomer at Pensacola State College who says for starters, the moon’s orbit around Earth is not circular.

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  Mars and Earth are getting a bit chummier this month, as the Red Planet moves to its closest distance in more than a decade. 

Mars’ position – just under 47 million miles from Earth – is called “opposition” That’s when the sun, Earth and Mars are in a straight line with Mars rising in the east just as the sun sets in the west.   

“Opposition is the same thing as a full moon,” said Pensacola State College astronomer Wayne Wooten. But, because of Earth’s slightly elliptical orbit, Earth is still getting even a little closer to Mars.

Photo via Flickr// Marc West / https://flic.kr/p/9HbSJi

If you’re up a little before dawn over the next month, you may want to go outside and view another celestial treat, compliments of most of the solar system.

Five planets will span the sky together in the early morning hours: Mercury, Venus, Saturn, Mars, and Jupiter will all be visible to the naked eye from January 20 to February 20.

Photo via Flickr// Jeff Smallwood / https://flic.kr/p/dBeF91

This week marks the annual return of the Geminids meteor shower, which is visible from the Florida Panhandle, weather permitting.

The shower actually began earlier this month, with only a few meteors visible overnight. But Wayne Wooten, an astronomer at Pensacola State College, says things should ramp up by the start of next week. 

“The Geminids have been the best meteor shower of the year on average,” Wooten said. “The peak’s early Monday morning with maybe two meteors per minute coming out of the direction of the constellation Gemini.”

Photo via Flickr// Freedom II Andres / https://flic.kr/p/9rxes5

On Sunday evening and early Monday morning, the moon will provide stargazers a triple helping of thrills.

First, it will be the fourth “blood moon” in the past year and a half. The eclipse is said to be the last of a "tetrad," four consecutive total lunar eclipses. The others were in April and October of 2014, and last April.

“Look outside – the sky is beautifully blue [Friday]. Little bitty dust motes are scattering little bitty light waves; the blues, the violets,” said Wayne Wooten, an astronomer at Pensacola State College.

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After traveling across three billion miles of space the past decade, New Horizons is ready for its close-up – of Pluto.

If all goes according to plan, the probe will pass to within about 8,000 miles of Pluto’s surface, completing Man’s snapshots of the nine planets of our solar system. This mission is one of many firsts – the fastest spacecraft ever launched; the farthest destination ever explored, the first mission to Pluto in a binary planetary system, and the first mission in NASA’s New Frontiers program.

Photo via Flickr// Doug Jones / https://flic.kr/p/n8mPDx

Residents along the Gulf Coast will join much of the rest of North America, in viewing the first of two “blood moons” in 2015. This eclipse eerily falls on Easter and Passover weekend.

The event is also the third in a sequence of four blood moons called a tetrad, which occur in six-month intervals. Blood moons were seen last April and October. The two this year occur on Saturday and in September. But what makes it a “blood moon"?

Photo via Flickr//David Yu

Residents along the Gulf Coast will join much of the rest of North America early Wednesday, in viewing another “blood moon.” 

The event is the second in a sequence of four blood moons called a tetrad, which occur in six-month intervals. The first blood moon was last April 15. The last two will happen in 2015, on April 4 and September 28. The color of a "Blood Moon" comes from the refraction of the sun’s light through Earth’s atmosphere.

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North and South America are gearing up for the first eclipses of the year. But you’ll have to either stay up late or get up early to view it.

Wayne Wooten, an astronomer at Pensacola State College, says the moon will be eclipsed by Earth's shadow early Tuesday morning and will be visible here -- if the weather cooperates.