Alaska Digest

Posted: Sunday, December 23, 2007

Astronomers prepare for moon-Mars event

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FAIRBANKS - Alaskans can witness an astronomical phenomenon today even without a telescope.

If skies are clear, they can see Mars slip behind the moon for nearly an hour before popping out again, an astronomical peek-a-boo called an occultation.

The lunar occultation of Mars will take place from 4:52 p.m. to 5:43 p.m., according to local astronomer Martin Gutoski, president of the Fairbanks Astronomical Unit. The club will have telescopes set up at Creamer's Field, Gutoski said.

But no telescope is needed.

"It's pretty much a naked-eye thing," Gutoski said. "You can see the moon heading right toward it.

"You'll see it come and go," he said. "It'll be cool."

An occultation is a fancy name for an eclipse, where one object bigger than another blocks out the smaller object, Gutoski said. A lunar occultation occurs when the moon, which moves across the sky at a rate of roughly 13.5 degrees a day, passes in front of a star or planet.

The occultation will take place 16 degrees above the horizon, he said. If skies are clear and no mountains are in the way, all Alaskans should be able to see it, he said.

"Even though this one will be a full moon event and not be a grazer for Fairbanks, just seeing a planet slip behind the moon is somewhat rare," Gutoski said.

Ferry Stikine outuntil at least Jan. 7

KETCHIKAN - The Southeast Alaska ferry Stikine is out of service until at least Jan. 7 because a propeller control system malfunctioned.

The Prince of Wales - the Inter-Island Ferry Authority's other vessel - has replaced the Stikine on the Hollis to Ketchikan route.

Ferry authority manager Bruce Jones says the Prince of Wales carries fewer passengers than the Stikine. But he says the change isn't expected to affect passengers with reservations and tickets for travel between Hollis and Ketchikan.

The Stikine was taken out of service Wednesday morning.

Jones says technicians will be brought in after the new year to check the ferry.

5.9 and 6.1 quakes hit Aleutian Islands

ANCHORAGE - Two significant earthquakes shook Alaska's seismically active Aleutian Islands on Thursday, but there were no immediate reports of any damages or injuries.

A scientist with the West Coast and Alaska Tsunami Warning Center said there was no tsunami warning expected.

"There were two tonight and that was very unusual," said geophysicist Paul Huang. "We're going to study this a little more closely."

The magnitude 5.9 and 6.1 quakes struck about one minute apart starting at 9:23 p.m. on Thursday. Both were centered about 100 miles west of Adak in the island chain, according to a preliminary report by the U.S. Geological Survey.

On Tuesday, a magnitude-7.2 quake hit the chain about 125 miles west of Adak.

The earth's most active seismic feature, the circum-Pacific seismic belt, brushes Alaska and the Aleutian Islands, where more earthquakes occur than in the other 49 States combined.

House burns after attempt to thaw pipes

ANCHORAGE - A home in Anchorage's Fairview neighborhood burned in a fire apparently started in an attempt to thaw frozen pipes.

Fire officials say the fire was confined mostly inside the walls and crawl spaces.

Flames were hardly visible, but thick black smoke rolled out of the house Thursday night, blanketing the neighborhood.

No one was injured, but the house is expected to be a total loss.

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