Ancient Annular: Dating Joshua’s Eclipse

Annular Eclipse
Annular Eclipse
The May 2012 annular eclipse low to the horizon. Image credit and copyright: Jared Bowens.

Astronomy turns up in fascinating junctures in history. Besides just the romantic angle, we can actually pin down contextual events in ancient history if we can tie them in with a spectacle witnessed in the heavens. A recent look at the story of ‘Joshua’s eclipse’ is one such possible tale.

Lunar and solar eclipses are especially dramatic events, something that would have really made the ancients stop and take notice. A recent study published in an edition of the Beit Mikra Journal (in Hebrew) by researchers from Ben Gurion University may have pinpointed a keypoint in biblical history: the date of the Battle of Gibeon.

This study first came to our attention via the Yahoo! SEML eclipse message board and a recent Times of Israel article. The article makes mention of NASA eclipse data, which is free for anyone to peruse looking over the five millennium canon of solar and lunar eclipses… hey, it’s what we do for fun.

We did obtain a look at a translation of the abstract from the paper, which ends with the following:

“In the period between 1500-1000 BCE which is the relevant time for the biblical story, there were only three eclipses seen from Jerusalem, one total eclipse and two annular eclipses. We show that the most appropriate one is the annular solar eclipse that occurred on October 30 in 1206 BCE at sunset, an appropriate date for the time of conquest and the early settlement period, at the time of Marneptah’ rule in Egypt.”

The path of the eclipse of October 30th, 1206 BC. Credit: NASA/GSFC/Espenak/Meeus.

Joshua 10:12 reads: “Sun, stand still upon Gibeon; and you, Moon, in the valley of Ayalon.”

According to tradition, Joshua commanded the Sun to stand still long enough to defeat the Canaanite kings. Of course, the Sun and the Moon still move during an eclipse be it lunar or solar, though its mostly our planet that’s doing the moving. Still, the actual biblical term “-dom” is open to interpretation, and the researchers chose the Hebrew “to become dark” instead of the King James translation of “to stand still,” or “stationary”.

If this Bible verse sounds familiar, that’s because it turns up in astronomical history again in medieval Europe, when Church proponents used it as supposed proof of geocentricism.

Mid eclipse
Mid-eclipse over central Israel at sunset on October 30th, 1206 BC. Credit: Stellarium.

It’s tough to predict eclipses in distant time. The rotation of the Earth is not entirely smooth, and the minute change in the length of the day (known as Delta T) accumulates to the point that a leap second must be inserted on occasion to keep observed time in sync with reckoned terrestrial time. Braking action by the Sun and Moon, tectonic activity, and even global warming all cause small changes in the Earth’s rotation that slowly build up over time. This means that it’s tough to predict eclipses more than a few thousand years out, where at best we can only judge which continent they might have or will fall on.

“Not everyone likes the idea of using physics to prove things from the Bible,” said researcher Hezi Yitzhak to the Israeli news site Haaretz. “We do not claim that everything written in the Bible is true or took place… but there is also a grain of historical truth that has archaeological evidence behind it.”

The eclipse in question occurred on October 30th, 1206 BC. This was an annular eclipse, crossing the Atlantic and the Mediterranean and ending over Israel and Jordan at sunset. Researchers pegged this suspect eclipse because of its fit for historical context and visibility. Annularity for the eclipse was 86% obscuration and started at an altitude of nine degrees above the western horizon, and would have still been in progress during its final phases at sunset.

path
The end of the eclipse path over modern day Israel and Jordan. Credit: NASA/GSFC data.

Lots of eclipses turn up in history. A partial lunar eclipse preceded the fall of Constantinople in 1453, seeming to fulfill prophecy. Solar and lunar eclipses made a showing at lots of battles, including the Second Battle of Syracuse on August 28th, 412 BC and during the Zulu War on January 22nd, 1879. A solar eclipse on June 15th, 762 BC mentioned in Assyrian texts pinpoints a crucial time in ancient history, giving us a benchmark for later dates. It’s worth noting that prior to modern times, it seems that battles were the only thing worth writing down…

Still, it’s interesting to imagine the scene as ancient armies clash, only to stop and gaze at the wondrous sight on the horizon: a pair of glowing horns, hanging low in the pre-dusk sky. We caught the 1994 annular eclipse from the Sandusky, Ohio on the shores of Lake Erie and can attest that even a 98% eclipsed Sun is still pretty bright, giving even a clear day a deep steely blue tint. Lower to the horizon though, an annular eclipse is more readily visible to the unaided eye.

You have to be careful when attempting to read ancient texts as astronomical guide books. Great minds, including Kepler and Newton, expended lots of mental juice on attempting to link biblical accounts such as Ezekiel’s Wheel and the Star of Bethlehem with actual astronomical events. We’ll probably never know for sure if a coincidental conjunction graced the sky over the manger in Bethlehem, or if Ezekiel saw the breakup of a brilliant comet, but it’s always fun to imagine and wonder. Then, there’s the inevitable embellishment that accompanies stories that may have been first sparked by meteor showers or sundogs, centuries ago. We don’t, for example, see flaming swords or banners emblazoned with Latin inscriptions across the sky today, though if you can believe medieval accounts, they seemed common back in the day.

And don’t forget: we’ve got our very own history making eclipse (hopefully sans battlefields) this coming August 21st, 2017 crossing the United States from coast-to-coast.

Though far from conclusive, the results of the study concerning Joshua’s eclipse and the battle of Gideon are interesting to consider. Most likely we’ll never truly know what happened that ancient afternoon, unless, of course, we perfect time travel. What other events remain hidden and lost to time, ready for some historical astro-sleuth to uncover them?

-Can’t get enough of eclipses, historical or otherwise? Check out our original eclipse-fueled sci-fi tales Exeligmos, Peak Season and Class Field Trip.

One Year to the 2017 Total Solar Eclipse

https://www.flickr.com/photos/auraluu/7085004603/in/photolist-bN5v2M-dufbuU-pzUHQi-nZQkxQ-6KdhJ7-9TLjD4-dtvX13-pidJNx-dtvUxY-dxAA8r-n8uzjn-hx1CzU-du9zKv-c4eHhw-F1szSh-hx2yTc-dv7Y5W-dubgHK-du9zB6-FvPkNQ-drNyGZ-Eg3Msj-F4kfHb-zpuHFU-yUCmvN-yuSXP5-DqsCRp-zfU1bR-zbbFV9-FrtBYE-hdVRQm-rkh8fd-dufbHG-6KGxbK-dufbmf-du9zQe-ryZmAb-FtsHpn-EAUwcK-Ct6Fma-6KLF1b-FiThUB-EEgQjh-E8uHFM-yUC28b-rqtfQ3-yTR8jt-tsa14t-rHcxrz-rXwEhJ

One. More. Year. Quick; where will you be this time next year on August 21st, 2017? We’re now just one year out this weekend from a fine total solar eclipse gracing the United States from coast to coast. If you think one year out is too early to start planning, well, umbraphiles (those who chase the shadow of the Moon worldwide) have been planning to catch this one now for over a decade.

The shadow of the March 9th, 2016 solar eclipse as seen from the Himawari-8 Earth-observing satellite. image credit: JAXA/JMA/Himawari/CIMSS
The shadow of the March 9th, 2016 solar eclipse (the dark spot on the right) as seen from the Himawari-8 Earth-observing satellite. Image credit: JAXA/JMA/Himawari/CIMSS.

Get set for the Great American Eclipse. The last time a total solar eclipse made landfall over a U.S. state was Hawaii on July 11th, 1991, and the path of totality hasn’t touched down over the contiguous ‘Lower 48’ United States since February 26th, 1979. And you have to go all the way back over nearly a century to June 8th, 1918 to find an eclipse that exclusively crossed the United States from the Pacific to the Atlantic Coast.

The path of the 2017 total solar eclipse across the U.S. image credit and copyright: Michael Zeiler/The GreatAmercianEclipse
The path of the 2017 total solar eclipse across the U.S. Image credit and copyright: Michael Zeiler/The GreatAmercianEclipse

Totality for the August 21st, 2017 eclipse crosses over many major cities, including Columbia South Carolina, Nashville, St. Louis and Salem, Oregon. The inner shadow of the Moon touches on 15 states as it races across the U.S. in just over an hour and a half. The length of totality is about 2 minutes in duration as the shadow makes landfall near Lincoln City, Oregon, reaches a maximum duration of 2 minutes, 42 seconds very near Carbondale, Illinois, and shrinks back down to 2 minutes and 35 seconds as the shadow heads back out to sea over Charleston, South Carolina.

The eclipse will be a late morning affair in the northwest, occurring at high noon over western Nebraska, and early afternoon to the east. ‘Getting your ass to totality,’ is a must. “But I’ve seen a partial solar eclipse,” is a common refrain, “aren’t they all the same?”

An animation of the 2017 eclipse.
An animation of the 2017 eclipse.

Nope. We witnessed the May 10th, 1994 annular eclipse from the shores of Lake Erie, and can tell you that even less than 1% of the Sun’s intensity is still pretty bright, a steely blue luminosity equivalent to a cloudy day.

We crisscrossed the United States along the eclipse path back in 2014, chronicling preparations in towns such as Columbia and Hopkinsville, Kentucky. Last minute accommodation is already tough to come by, even one year out. Cabins in the Land Between the Lakes region near Paducah, Kentucky, for example, were booked full as soon as the August 21st date became available. Think Mardi Gras and DragonCon, rolled into one. Hopkinsville also has an annual Roswell-style UFO-fest on the same date, celebrating the 1955 Kelly-Hopkinsville UFO incident.

Will it be ‘umbraphiles versus aliens?’

Out west, enticing locales include the Grand Teton National Park and Jackson Hole, Wyoming and the northern edge of the Craters of the Moon National Monument site in Idaho. It’s also worth noting that the western United States is a better bet cloud cover-wise, as afternoon summer thundershowers tend to be the norm for the southeast during late August.

Millions live within an easy day drive of the eclipse path, and it happens during prime camping season, to boot. The annual Sturgess motorcycle rally held near Rapid City, South Dakota is just one week prior to totality, and bikers returning from the pilgrimage southward could easily stop to greet the Earth’s shadow on the road home.

2017 Eclipse Panorama from Michael Zeiler on Vimeo.

There’s been talk that Cosmoquest may mount an eclipse expedition based out of Nashville, Tennessee (more to come on that).

Maintaining mobility is the best bet. Our master plan is to return to the States a week or so prior, rent a camper van from Vegas, and head northward. Like millions of Americans, this will be our first total solar eclipse, and the event promises to spark a whole new generation of umbraphiles. And stick around just seven more years, and totality will again cross the United States on August 8th, 2024 from the southwest to the northeast. The Illinois, Missouri and Kentucky tri-state region sees this eclipse as well. This one is special for us, as it crosses over our hometown of Presque Isle, Maine. I remember looking up the next total solar eclipse over northern Maine as a kid, way back when, and figuring out just how old I would be. The top of Mount Katahdin and selected sites along the Maine Solar System model would all be choice locales to view this one. Check out this great old vid of the aforementioned 1979 eclipse over the U.S.:

We also plan on taking the veteran eclipse-chaser’s mantra of ‘experience your first eclipse; but photograph your second one.’ to heart. Lots of fascinating projects are afoot leading up to the 2017 total solar eclipse, including The Eclipse MegaMovie Project to produce a complete video documentary of the eclipse path, plans by a student group to fly and observe the eclipse from balloons during totality, proposals to replicate famous eclipse experiments and more. It’s also worth noting that the bright star Regulus will sit just one degree from the Sun during totality… perhaps someone will manage to measure its deflection via General Relativity in a manner similar to Sir Arthur Eddington’s famous 1919 observation?

Unlike the paths of most eclipses, which seem to have an affinity for wind-swept tundra or remote swaths of desert, this one is sure to draw in the ‘astronomy-curious’ and may just be the most witnessed total solar eclipse in history.

Here’s some eclipse tales and facts to ponder leading up to totality. If you caught the August 11th, 1999 eclipse across Europe, then you saw the last eclipse in the same saros series 145. If you caught the eclipse before that in the same series on July 31st, 1981 across northeast Asia, then you’ll complete a 54 year long triple-saros period after seeing next summer’s eclipse, known as an exeligmos. This cycle also brings the eclipse path very nearly back around to the same longitude.

Stellarium
Regulus near the  eclipsed Sun next August. Credit: Stellarium.

The Sun is about 400 times larger than the Moon in diameter, but the Moon is 400 times closer. We’ve actually heard this fact tossed out as evidence for intelligent design, though it’s just a happy celestial circumstance of our present era. In fact, annular eclipses are now slightly more common than totals in our current epoch, and will continue to become more so as the Moon slowly recedes from the Earth. Just under a billion years ago, the very first annular eclipse of the Sun as seen from the Earth occurred, and 1.4 billion years hence, the Earth will witness one last brief total eclipse.

But you won’t have to wait that long. Don’t miss the greatest show in the universe next August!

-Check out Michael Zeiler’s (@EclipseMaps) 10-foot long strip map of the entire eclipse path.

-Eclipses, both lunar and solar have played a role in history as well.

-Curious about eclipses in time and space? Read our eclipse-fueled sci-fi tales, Exeligmos, The Syzygy Gambit and Shadowfall, with more to come!

A Thousand Days ‘Til Totality: Anticipating the 2017 Solar Eclipse

Where will YOU be on August 21st, 2017?

Astronomy is all about humility and thinking big in terms of space and time. It’s routine for astronomers to talk of comets on thousand year orbits, or stars with life spans measured in billions of years…

Yup, the lifespan of your average humanoid is indeed fleeting, and pales in comparison to the universe, that’s for sure. But one astronomical series that you can hope to live through is the cycle of eclipses.

I remember reading about the total solar eclipse of February 26th, 1979 as a kid. Carter was in the White House, KISS was mounting yet another comeback, and Voyager 1 was wowing us with images of Jupiter. That was also the last total solar eclipse to grace mainland United States in the 20th century.

But the ongoing “eclipse-drought” is about to be broken.

The path
The path of totality across the United States on August 21st, 2017. Credit: Great American Eclipse.com.

One thousand days from this coming Monday, November 24th on August 21st 2017, the shadow of the Moon will touch down off of the Oregon coast and sweep eastward across the U.S. heartland before heading out to the Atlantic off of the coast of South Carolina. Millions live within a days’ drive of the 115 kilometre wide path, and the eclipse has the added plus of occurring at the tail end of summer vacation season. This also means that lots of folks will be camping and otherwise mobile with their RVs and able to journey to the event.

The Great American Eclipse of 2017 from Michael Zeiler on Vimeo.

This is also the last total solar eclipse to pass over any of the 50 United States since July 11th, 1991, and the first eclipse to cross the  contiguous United States from “sea to shining sea” since way back on June 8th, 1918.

Think it’s too early to prepare?  Towns across the path, including Hopkinsville, Kentucky and towns in Kansas and Nebraska are already laying plans for eclipse day. Other major U.S. cities, such as Nashville, Idaho Falls, and Columbia, South Carolina also lie along the path of totality, and the spectacle promises to spawn a whole new generation of “umbraphiles” or eclipse chasers.

A total solar eclipse is an unforgettable sight. But unlike a total lunar eclipse, which can be viewed from the moonward-facing hemisphere of the Earth, one generally has to journey to the narrow path of totality to see a total solar eclipse. Totality rarely comes to you.

Viewing
The Zeilers view the November 2013 eclipse from Africa. Credit: Michael Zeiler.

And don’t settle for a 99% partial eclipse just outside the path. “There’s no comparison between partial and total solar eclipses when it comes to sheer grandeur and beauty,” Michael Zeiler, longtime eclipse chaser and creator of the Great American Eclipse website told Universe Today. We witnessed the 1994 annular solar eclipse of the Sun from the shores of Lake Erie, and can attest that a 99% partial eclipse is still pretty darned bright!

There are two total solar eclipses remaining worldwide up until 2017: One on March 20th, 2015 crossing the high Arctic, and another on March 9th 2016 over Southeast Asia. The 2017 eclipse offers a maximum of 2 minutes and 41 seconds of totality, and weather prospects for the eclipse in late August favors viewers along the northwestern portion of the track.

And though an armada of cameras will be prepared to capture the eclipse along its trek across the U.S., many veteran eclipse chasers suggest that first time viewers merely sit back and take in the moment. The onset of totality sees a bizarre sort of twilight fall across the landscape, as shadow bands skip across the countryside, temperatures drop, and wildlife is fooled into thinking that nightfall has come early.

And then, all too soon, the second set of blinding diamond rings burst through the lunar valleys, the eclipse glasses go back on, and totality is over. Which always raises the question heard throughout the crowd post-eclipse:

When’s the next one?

Well, the good news is, the United States will host a second total solar eclipse on April 8th, 2024, just seven years later! This path will run from the U.S. Southwest to New England, and crisscross the 2017 path right around Carbondale, Illinois.

Will the woo that surfaced around the approach of Comet ISON and the lunar tetrad of “blood Moon eclipses” rear its head in 2017? Ah, eclipses and comets seem to bring ‘em out of the woodwork, and 2017 will likely see a spike in the talking-head gloom and doom videos ala YouTube. Some will no doubt cite the “perfection” seen during total solar eclipses as proof of divine inspiration, though this is actually just a product of our vantage point in time and space. In fact, annular eclipses are slightly more common than total solars in our current epoch, and will become more so as the Moon slowly recedes from the Earth. And we recently noted in our post on the mutual phenomena of Jupiter’s moons that solar eclipses very similar to those seen from the Earth can also be spied from Callisto.

Heads up to any future interplanetary eclipse resort developer: Callisto is prime real estate.

Forget Mars... "Get your ass to totality!"
Forget Mars… “Get your ass to totality!” Credit: Great American Eclipse.

The 2017 total solar eclipse across America will be one for the history books, that’s for sure.

So get those eclipse safety glasses now, and be sure to keep ‘em handy through 2017 and onward to 2024!

-Read Dave Dickinson’s eclipse-fueled science fiction tales Shadowfall and Exeligmos.

Remembering the “World War I Eclipse”

The paths of total solar eclipses care not for political borders or conflicts, often crossing over war-torn lands.

Such was the case a century ago this week on August 21st, 1914 when a total solar eclipse crossed over Eastern Europe shortly after the outbreak of World War I.

Known as the “War to End All Wars,” — which, of course, it didn’t — World War I would introduce humanity to the horrors of modern warfare, including the introduction of armored tanks, aerial bombing and poison gas. And then there was the terror of trench warfare, with Allied and Central Powers slugging it out for years with little gain.

Eclipse
The path of the total solar eclipse of August 21st, 1914 laid out across modern day Europe. Credit: Google Maps/Fred Espenak/NASA/GSFC.

But ironically, the same early 20th century science that was hard at work producing mustard gas and a better machine gun was also pushing back the bounds of astronomy. Einstein’s Annus Mirabilis or “miracle year” occurred less than a decade earlier on 1905. And just a decade later in 1924, Edwin Hubble would expand our universe a million-fold with the revelation that “spiral nebulae” were in fact, island universes or galaxies in their own right.

Indeed, it’s tough to imagine that many of these discoveries are less than a century in our past. It was against this backdrop that the total solar eclipse of August 21st, 1914 crossed the eastern European front embroiled in conflict.

Solar eclipses have graced the field of battle before. An annular solar eclipse occurred during the Battle of Isandlwana in 1879 during the Zulu Wars, and a total solar eclipse in 585 B.C. during the Battle of Thales actually stopped the fighting between the Lydians and the Medes.

img537
A photograph of an “eclipse camp” in the Crimea in 1914. Credit: University of Cambridge DSpace.

But unfortunately, no celestial spectacle, however grand, would save Europe from the conflagration war. In fact, several British eclipse expeditions were already en route to parts of Russia, the Baltic, and Crimea when the war broke out less than two months prior to the eclipse with the assassination of Archduke Ferdinand on June 28th, 1914. Teams arrived to a Russia already mobilized for war, and Britain followed suit on August 4th, 1914 and entered the war when Germany invaded Belgium.

You can see an ominous depiction of the path of totality from a newspaper of the day, provided from the collection of Michael Zeiler:

1914_August_22_TSE_The_Graphic_1
An illustration of the 1914 total solar eclipse “scorching” a war-ravaged Europe. Credit: From the collection of Michael Zeiler. Used with permission.

Note that the graphic depicts a Europe aflame and adds in the foreboding description of Omen faustum, inferring that the eclipse might be an “auspicious omen…” eclipses have never shaken their superstitious trappings in the eyes of man, which persists even with today’s fears of a “Blood Moon.”

A race was also afoot against the wartime backdrop to get an expedition to a solar eclipse to prove or disprove Einstein’s newly minted theory of general relativity. One testable prediction of this theory is that gravity bends light, and astronomers soon realized that the best time to catch this in action would be to measure the position of a star near the limb of the Sun — the most massive light bending object in our solar system — during a total solar eclipse. The advent of World War I would scrub attempts to observe this effect during the 1914 and 1916 eclipses over Europe.

An expedition led by astronomer Arthur Eddington to observe an eclipse from the island of Principe off of the western coast of Africa in 1919 declared success in observing this tiny deflection, measuring in less than two seconds of arc. And it was thus that a British expedition vindicated a German physicist in the aftermath of the most destructive war up to that date.

The total solar eclipse of August 21st 1914 was a member of saros cycle 124, and was eclipse number 49 of 73 in that particular series. Eclipses in the same saros come back around to nearly the same circumstances once every triple saros period of 3 times 18 years and 11.3 days, or about every 54+ years, and there was an eclipse with similar circumstances slightly east of the 1914 eclipse in 1968 — the last total eclipse of saros 124 — and a partial eclipse from the same saros will occur again on October 25th, 2022.

All historical evidence we’ve been able to track down suggests that observers that did make it into the path of totality were clouded out at show time, or at very least, no images of the August 21st 1914 eclipse exist today. Can any astute reader prove us wrong? We’d love to see some images of this historical eclipse unearthed!

Starry Night
A simulation of the total solar eclipse of August 21st 1914 as seen from Latvia. Created using Starry Night Education software.

And, as with all things eclipse related, the biggest question is always: when’s the next one? Well, we’ve got another of total lunar eclipse coming right up on October 8th, 2014, again favoring North America. The next total solar eclipse occurs on March 20th, 2015 but is only visible along a path covering the Faroe and Svalbard Islands, with a path crossing the Norwegian Sea.

But, by happy coincidence, we’re also only now three years out this week from the total solar eclipse of August 21st, 2017 that spans the contiguous “Lower 48” of the United States. The shadow of the Moon will race from the northwest and make landfall off of the Pacific coast of Oregon before reaching a maximum duration for totality at 2 minutes and 40 seconds across Missouri, southern Illinois and Kentucky and will then head towards the southeastern U.S. to depart land off of the coast of South Carolina. Millions will witness this event, and it will be the first total solar eclipse for many. A total solar eclipse hasn’t crossed the contiguous United States since 1979, so you could say that we’re “due”!

Credit
The path of the 2017 total solar eclipse across the United States. Credit: Eclipse-Maps.

Already, towns in Kentucky to Nebraska have laid plans to host this event. The eclipse occurs towards the afternoon for residents of the eastern U.S., which typically sees afternoon thunderstorms popping up in the sultry August summer heat. Eclipse cartographer Michael Zeiler states that the best strategy for eclipse chasers three years hence is to “go west, young man…”

It’s fascinating to ponder tales of eclipses past, present, and future and the role that they play in human history… where will you be on August 21st, 2017?

–      Check out Michael Zeiler’s  new site, GreatAmericanEclipse.com

–      Eclipses pop up in science fiction on occasion as well… check out our history spanning eclipse tale Exeligmos.

Our Guide to the Bizarre April 29th Solar Eclipse

Will anyone see next week’s solar eclipse? On April 29th, an annular solar eclipse occurs over a small D-shaped 500 kilometre wide region of Antarctica. This will be the second eclipse for 2014 — the first was the April 15th total lunar eclipse — and the first solar eclipse of the year, marking the end of the first eclipse season. 2014 has the minimum number of eclipses possible in one year, with four: two partial solars and two total lunars. This month’s solar eclipse is also a rarity in that it’s a non-central eclipse with one limit. That is, the center of the Moon’s shadow — known as the antumbra during an annular eclipse — will juuuust miss the Earth and instead pass scant kilometres above the Antarctic continent.

The "footprint" of the April 29th solar eclipse. Credit:
The “footprint” of the April 29th solar eclipse. Credit: Eclipse predictions by Fred Espenak, NASA/GSFC.

A solar eclipse is termed “non-central with one limit” when the center of the Moon’s umbra or antumbra just misses the Earth and grazes it on one edge. Jean Meeus and Fred Espenak note that out of 3,956 annular eclipses occurring from 2000 BCE to 3000 AD, only 68 (1.7%) are of the non-central variety. An annular eclipse occurs when the Moon is too distant to cover the disk of the Sun, resulting in a bright “annulus” or “ring-of-fire” eclipse. A fine example of just such an eclipse occurred over Australia last year on May 10th, 2013. An annular eclipse crossed the United States on May 10th, 1994 and will next be seen from the continental U.S. on October 14th 2023. But of course, we’ll see an end the “total solar eclipse drought” long before that, when a total solar eclipse crosses the U.S. on August 21st, 2017!

An animated .gif of the April 29th eclipse. Credit: NASA/GSFC/A.T. Sinclair.
An animated .gif of the April 29th eclipse. Credit: NASA/GSFC/A.T. Sinclair.

The “centrality” of a solar eclipse or how close a solar eclipse comes to crossing the central disk of the Earth is defined as its “gamma,” with 0 being a central eclipse, and 1 as the center of the Moon’s shadow passing 1 Earth radii away from central. All exclusively partial eclipses have a gamma greater than 1. The April 29th eclipse is also unique in that its gamma is very nearly 1.000… in fact, combing the 5,000 year catalog of eclipses reveals that no solar eclipse from a period of 2000 B.C. to 3000 A.D. comes closer to this value. The solar eclipses of October 3rd, 2043 and March 18th, 1950 are, however very similar in their geometry. Guy Ottewell notes in his 2014 Astronomical Calendar that the eclipses of August 29th, 1486 and January 8th, 2141 also come close to a gamma of 1.000. On the other end of the scale, the solar eclipse of July 11th 1991 had a gamma of nearly zero. This eclipse is part of saros series 148 and is member 21 of 75. This series began in 1653 and plays out until 2987 AD. This saros will also produce one more annular eclipse on May 9th 2032 before transitioning to a hybrid and then producing its first total solar eclipse on May 31st, 2068. But enough eclipse-geekery. Do not despair, as several southern Indian Ocean islands and all of Australia will still witness a fine partial solar eclipse from this event. Antarctica has the best circumstances as the Sun brushes the horizon, but again, the tiny sliver of “annularity” touches down over an uninhabited area between the Dumont d’Urville and Concordia  stations currently occupied by France… and it just misses both! And remember, its astronomical fall headed towards winter “down under,” another strike against anyone witnessing it from the polar continent. A scattering of islands in the southern Indian Ocean will see a 55% eclipsed Sun. Circumstances for Australia are slightly better, with Perth seeing a 55% eclipsed Sun and Sydney seeing a 50% partial eclipse.

The view of the eclipse from multiple locations across the Australian continent at 7:00 UT on April 29th. Created by the author using Stellarium.
The view of the eclipse from multiple locations across the Australian continent at 7:00 UT on April 29th. Created by the author using Stellarium.

Darwin,  Bali Indonesia and surrounding islands will see the Moon just nick the Sun and take a less than 20% “bite” out of it. Observers in Sydney and eastern Australia also take note: the eclipse occurs low to the horizon to the west at sunset, and will offer photographers the opportunity to grab the eclipse with foreground objects. Viewing a partial solar eclipse requires proper eye protection throughout all phases. The safest method to view a partial solar eclipse is via projection, and this can be done using a telescope (note that Schmidt-Cassegrain scopes are bad choice for this method, as they can heat up quickly!) or nothing more sophisticated than a spaghetti strainer to create hundreds of little “pinhole projectors.”

A simulation of the view that no one will see: the annular eclipse one kilometre above latitude 71S longitude 131E above the Antarctic. Created using Stellarium.
A simulation of the view that no one will see: the annular eclipse as seen hovering one kilometre above the Antarctic at latitude 71S longitude 131E . Created using Stellarium.

And although no human eyes may witness the annular portion of this eclipse, some orbiting automated ones just might. We ran some simulations using updated elements, and the European Space Agency’s Sun observing Proba-2 and the joint NASA/JAXA Hinode mission might just “thread the keyhole” and will witness a brief central eclipse for a few seconds on April 29th: And though there’ll be few webcasts of this remote eclipse, the ever-dependable Slooh is expected to carry the eclipse on April 29th. Planning an ad hoc broadcast of the eclipse? Let us know! As the eclipse draws near, we’ll be looking at the prospects for ISS transits and more. Follow us as @Astroguyz as we look at these and other possibilities and tell our usual “tales of the saros”. And although this event marks the end of eclipse season, its only one of two such spans for 2014… tune in this October, when North America will be treated to another total lunar eclipse on the 8th and a partial solar eclipse on the 23rd… more to come! Send in those eclipse pics to the Universe Today Flickr community… you just might find yourself featured in this space!