Stratospheric Exercise for Moonatics

The moon setting behind the US Capitol Building, Washington, DC

If you’re going to chase the moon (or the sun), there are problems that you need to solve.  Here are some exercises to hone your sun and moon chasing skills so you can turn the chasing into catching.  The questions get progressively harder.  Those who have taken our Catching the Moon Webinar will find the answers and much more detail on the private course materials page.  The tools you will need to solve the problems include

You might also want to read some of our past articles on the topic, especially part 1 and part 2.

The Stratosphere Tower, Las Vegas, Nevada

I’ve picked a place that I hope few people are intimately familiar with.  Many of use have been to Las Vegas, Nevada and know that there is one of the worlds tallest towers there. I’ve even had the thrill of hopping on the “Big Shot” ride – the tallest ride in the world.  The Stratosphere Tower is second in the Americas in height only to the CN Tower in Toronto.  The Stratophere’s height above relatively flat surroundings makes it an easier target for catching a sun or moon set or rise from a distance far enough to make the tower seem small.  Even though the Stratosphere is tall, there are complications – including surrounding buildings and surrounding mountains. The farther you move away from the tower, the more significant those obstructions and potential obstructions become.

If you have never seen the tower, above is a relatively close up shot captured from Google Street View. Take note of the height of the mast above the “bulge” in the tower – that’s where you find the ride “Big Shot.” To my thinking it would not be terribly interesting to get an alignment with the sun or moon behind the mast of the tower. On the other hand, if the moon/sun diameter is not as large or larger than the bulge, the shot may not be all that interesting either.

On to the questions, starting from the basic data you need to collect, and on through to solving a “real life” alignment problem.

  1. What is is the correct GPS location for the Stratosphere Tower in Las Vegas, Nevada?
  2. The base of the Stratosphere Tower is at what elevation?
  3. Looking west from the base of the Stratosphere Tower, what is the azimuth and altitude of the tallest natural obstruction in the range of West, south west, to west north west (235 to 295 degrees)?
  4. From the tower at ground level: sunset on Tuesday, August 28, 2012 occurs in line with which of these natural features:
    1. La Madre Mountain
    2. Griffith Peak
    3. Lone Mountain
    4. Frenchman Mountain
    5. Mt Charleston
  5. On what day in August, 2012 will the sun appear to set on (not behind) La Madre Mountain peak?
  6. How far is the summit of La Madre Mountain from the base of the Stratosphere Tower?
  7. Can the Stratosphere Tower be seen from the intersection of Boulder Hwy (Nevada Route 582,aka Fremont Street) and East Sahara Avenue?
  8. If the tower is visible from the above intersection, which part of the intersection provides the least obstructed view?
    1. East
    2. North
    3. South
    4. West
  9. How tall is the Stratosphere Tower (excluding the antenna/mast on top)?
  10. How far is the Stratosphere Tower from the Fremont Street/East Sahara avenue intersection?
  11. What is the difference in altitude between ground level at the Stratosphere, and the ground level at the intersection?
    1. The intersection is 279 feet lower
    2. The Stratosphere is 279 feet lower
    3. No change
    4. The Stratosphere is 1,402 feet higher
  12. What is the altitude (angle above ground) from the intersection to the tip of the mast of the Stratosphere?
  13. On Wednesday, December 19, 2012 from the intersection, the moon will pass closest to the Stratosphere tower at what time:
  14. From the intersection the apparent moon size is about:
    1. Equal to the tower height, excluding the mast
    2. Half the height of the tower, excluding the mast
    3. 1/6 the height of the tower, excluding the mast
    4. Twice the height of the tower, including the mast
  15. On Wednesday, December 19, 2012 at the time calculated in question 13 the moon will:
    1. Pass just under the bulge in the tower
    2. Pass just over the bulge in the tower
    3. Pass behind the bulge of the tower
    4. Pass through the mast of the tower
  16. As seen from the intersection: what is the first day after June 13, 2012 when a nearly full moon (at least 95% illuminated) will appear to set behind the Stratosphere Tower?
  17. What is the NEXT day after the date found in the previous calculation that a nearly full moon will appear to set behind the Stratosphere Tower? (Hint: it’s more than a year later than the previous event).
  18. You want to catch Venus crossing the face of the sun as the sun sets behind the Stratosphere tower on June 5, 2012. In what publicly accessible location would you stand, and at what time so that:
    1. The sun is as large as possible relative to the tower (i.e. you’re standing as far away as practical).
    2. You are confident there is a visible line of sight to the tower.
    3. There are as few obstructions as possible in your line of sight.
    4. There is no mountain, hill or other building behind the tower along the sightline.
    5. You have at least a little bit of room to move to correct for misalignments in your calculations (e.g. standing on a manhole cover in the middle of the freeway is not advisable!)

Good luck!

PS If you’re stumped, I recommend our Catching the Moon (and Sun) Webinar.

NOTE: You are free to ask or answer any of the questions in comments, but those comments will remain private so that those who come along later won’t be tempted to cheat!

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