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!

An Awesome Annular Eclipse! Images and Videos from Earth and Space

A spectacular annular eclipse of the Sun was witnessed across Australia and the southern Pacific region early today. Morning dawned mostly clear across the Australian continent, and those who journeyed out to meet the antumbra of the Moon as the Sun rose across the Great Sandy Desert and the Cape York Peninsula were not disappointed. The rest of us watched worldwide on as Slooh and a scattering of other ad-hoc broadcasts delivered the celestial event to us via the web.

This was a challenging one. Although partial phases of the eclipse was visible across the entirety of Australia, Hawaii, and as far north as the Philippines and as far south as New Zealand, the track of annularity passed over some very remote locales. Stable Internet connections were scarce, and many photos and videos are still trickling in as die-hard eclipse chasers return “from the Bush.”

One lucky witness to the eclipse was Druce Horton (Xylopia on flickr) who caught the eclipse from Kuranda, Australia just north of Cairns. “It was completely clouded over here in Kuranda and I didn’t even bother going to a place where I could get a clear view.” Druce told Universe Today. “I then noticed the sky lightening a little and I rushed out with the camera and desperately tried to set an appropriate exposure and frame it while avoiding getting an eyeful of sunlight and/or a tree branch in the way.”

As seen by Druce Horton near Kurunda, Australia.
A rising crescent eclipse as seen by Druce Horton near Kurunda, Australia. (Credit and Copyright: Druce Horton. Used with Permission).

As pointed out the us by Michael Zeiler (@EclipseMaps) earlier this week, the town of Newman and surrounding regions in Western Australia were a great place to witness the rising annular eclipse. Geoffrey Sims ventured out and did just that:

The rising annular eclipse. (Credit: Geoff Sims).

Note how the atmospheric haze is distorting the solar annulus into a flattened ring… pure magic! Mr. Sims got some truly stunning pictures of the eclipse, and was one of the first to manage to get them out onto the Internet, though he stated on Twitter that it “will likely take weeks to sort through the images!”

All get reasons to keep a close eye on Mr. Sims’ Facebook page

Mr. Joerg Schoppmeyer also ventured about 70 kilometres south of Newman to catch the rising “Ring of Fire”:

Annularity just moments after internal contact of the antumbra. Credit:
Annularity just moments after internal contact of the antumbra. Credit: Joerg Schoppmeyer).

We also mentioned earlier this week how you can use the “strainer effect” to create a flock of crescent Suns during a partial solar eclipse.

Amanda Bauer (@astropixie) of Sydney, Australia did just this to create her name in “eclipse pacmans”:

An Astropixie Eclipse… (Credit: Amanda Bauer).

And speaking of which, eclipse crescents can turn up in the most bizarre of places, such as a lens flare caught by a webcam based at the Canberra Deep Space Network:

Credit: NASA
A lens flare eclipse. (Credit: CDSCC/NASA).

Trevor Sellman (@tsellman) based in northern Melbourne preferred to catch sight of the partial phase of the eclipse “the old fashioned way,” via a simple pinhole projection onto a white sheet of paper:

A pinhole eclipse. (Credit: Trevor Sellman).

In addition to Slooh, the Mead West Vaco Observatory in conjunction with the Columbus State University’s Coca-Cola Space Science Center provided an excellent webcast of the full phases of the eclipse, and in multiple wavelengths to boot:

The solar annulus as seen near mid-eclipse in hydrogen alpha. (Credit: the CCSSC).

And they also provided a view in Calcium-K:

Screen cap in Cal-K
A screen capture of the final stage of the eclipse as seen in Cal-K. (Credit: the CCSSC).

But Earth bound-observers weren’t the only ones on hand to witness this eclipse. Roskosmos also released a video animation of the antumba of the Moon crossing the Earth as seen from the Elektro-L satellite:

“These images interest Russian space enthusiasts because we asked  Roskosmos to optimize (the) work of satellite for best pictures of eclipse,” Vitaliy Egorov told Universe Today.

There’s no word as of yet if the NASA/JAXA spacecraft Hinode or if ESA’s Proba-2 caught the eclipse, although they were positioned to take advantage of the opportunity.

There were also some active sunspot regions on the Earthward face of the Sun, as captured by Monty Leventhal in this outstanding white-light filtered image:


Another fine video animation of the eclipse turned up courtesy of Steve Swayne of Maleny in Queensland, Australia;

And finally, Vanessa Hill caught the partial stage of the eclipse while observing from the CSIRO Astrophysics & Space Sciences viewing event:

A partially eclipsed Sun. (Credit: @nessyhill).

Partial stages of the eclipse were also captured by Carey Johnson (@TheTelescopeGuy) from Hawaii and can be viewed on his flickr page.

If this eclipse left you jonesin’ for more, there’s a hybrid solar eclipse across the Atlantic and central Africa on November 3rd 2013. Maximum totality for this eclipse is 1 minute and 40 seconds. Unfortunately, after two solar eclipses in 6 months, another total solar eclipse doesn’t grace the Australian continent until July 22nd, 2028!

But such are the ways of the cosmos and celestial mechanics… hey, be glad we occupy a position in space and time where solar eclipses can occur.

Thanks to all who sent in photos… if you’ve got a picture of today’s eclipse, an anecdote, or just a tale of triumph and/or eclipse chasing tribulations drop us a line & share those pics up to the Universe Today flickr group. See you next syzygy, and may all your eclipse paths be clear!



How to Catch This Week’s ‘Ring of Fire’ Annular Eclipse

The first solar eclipse of 2013 is upon us this week, with the May 10th annular eclipse crossing northern Australia and the Pacific.

2013 is an off year for eclipses. There are five eclipses this year, three lunars and two solars. Last month’s very shallow partial lunar eclipse set us up for the annular that occurs this week. In fact, the theoretical mid-point for the first of two eclipse seasons for 2013 occurs on May 7th at 7:00 UT/ 3:00 EDT when the longitude of the Sun equals the descending node where the Moon’s path crosses the ecliptic. This further sets us up for the third and weakest eclipse of the year, a grazing penumbral on May 25th.

Animation of the path of this week's annular solar eclipse. (Credit: NASA/GSFC/A.T. Sinclair).
Animation of the path of this week’s annular solar eclipse. (Credit: NASA/GSFC/A.T. Sinclair).

An annular eclipse occurs when the Moon eclipses the Sun while near apogee and is hence visually too small to entirely cover the Sun.

The Moon reaches apogee on May 13th at 13:32 UT/9:32AM EDT at 405,826 kilometres from Earth, just 3 days and 13 hours past New.

Annulars are currently more common than total solar eclipses, occurring 33.2% of the time in our current 5,000 year epoch versus 26.7% for total solar eclipses. The remainders are hybrid and partial eclipses. Annulars will become even more common as our Moon recedes from us at a current rate of about 3.8 centimetres a year. In about 1.4 billion years, the final brief total solar eclipse as seen from the Earth will occur. Likewise, somewhere back about 900 million years ago, the very first annular eclipse as seen from the Earth occurred.

Solar viewing with a properly  fitted glass white light filter over the aperture of a Schmidt-Cassegrain telescope. (Photo by Author).
Solar viewing with a properly fitted glass white light filter over the aperture of a Schmidt-Cassegrain telescope. (Photo by Author).

Safety is paramount while viewing an annular solar eclipse. As mentioned above, an annular eclipse throughout all phases is much brighter than you’d expect. Thus precautions to protect your eyes MUST be taken throughout ALL phases of the eclipse. Permanent eye damage can result from staring at the Sun without proper protection, and this can be near instantaneous when done through an unfiltered telescope!

We witnessed the 1994 annular eclipse from the shores of Lake Erie, and can tell you that 5% of the Sun is still extremely bright. You wouldn’t even know an annular eclipse was underway at midday unless you were looking for it. Use only filters approved for eclipse viewing that fit snugly over the FRONT of your optics. Throw those old eyepiece screw-on filters away, as they can heat up and crack!

Check filters before use and never leave a telescope aimed at the Sun unattended. Projecting the Sun is another option via a telescope or “Sun Gun,” but again, never leave such a rig unattended, and keep finderscopes covered at all times. Also, telescopes with folded optical paths such as Schmidt-Cassegrains can heat up to dangerous levels and should not be used for projecting the Sun.

The path of the May 9th/10th annular eclipse across Australia & the Pacific. (Map courtesy of Michael Zeiler at Eclipse Maps, click to enlarge).
The path of the May 9th/10th annular eclipse across Australia & the Pacific. (Map courtesy of Michael Zeiler at Eclipse Maps, click to enlarge).

This eclipse has a magnitude rating of 0.9544, meaning that 95.44% of the diameter of the Sun will be eclipsed at its maximum. Keep in mind, this leaves about 8.9% percent of the Sun, or about 1/11th of its visual area exposed. This translates to only a 2.5 magnitude drop in brightness. Thus, the brightness of the Sun will drop from magnitude -27 to -24.5, still well over 25,000 times brighter than the Full Moon!

Note that this one crosses the International dateline as well.

The action for this eclipse begins as the partial phases touch down over Western Australia at sunrise at 21:25 UT on May 9th (The morning of May 10th in Australia). The annulus makes its appearance at 22:30 UT over western Australia, with its 172 kilometre wide track racing to the northeast over Tennant Creek in the Northern Territories and crossing the Cape York peninsula as it crisscrosses the path of last November’s total solar eclipse just north of Cairns.

A closeup of the path of the annular eclipse across Australia, click to enlarge. (Courtesy of Miichael Zeiler at Eclipse Maps).
A closeup of the path of the annular eclipse across Australia, click to enlarge. (Courtesy of Miichael Zeiler at Eclipse Maps).

Note that the eclipse will be 80% partial near Alice Springs and Uluru (Ayers Rock), presenting an excellent photo op. Michael Zeiler at Eclipse Maps also points out that the area near the town of Newman in Western Australia will see an amazing sunrise annular eclipse. The path of the annular eclipse will then traverse the Coral Sea crossing over islands in eastern Papua New Guiana, the Solomon Islands and Kiribati before reaching greatest annularity with a duration of 6 minutes and 3 seconds at latitude 2° 13’ north and longitude 175° 28’ east. The path of annularity crosses over Bairiki Atoll and makes last landfall over Fanning Island north of Kiribati. Note that most of Australia, New Zealand, Indonesia and the Philippines will see partial phases of the eclipse. The islands of Hawaii across the dateline will also see a 40-50% partial eclipse on May 9th before the event ends in the eastern Pacific at 03:25:23 UT.

Weather prospects for the eclipse look to be best along the track through Australia with less than 20% chance of cloud cover then getting progressively worse as the eclipse path tracks northeastward out to sea. The Solomon Islands region can expect cloud cover in the 60% range, while in Hawaii prospects are about 70%. Eclipser maintains a site dedicated to weather prospects for upcoming eclipses.

Solar activity is currently moderate, with several sunspot groups currently turned Earthward making for a photogenic Sun on eclipse day;

Sunspot activity as of May 5th. (Photo by Author).
Sunspot activity as of May 5th. (Photo by Author).

This eclipse belongs to saros series 138 and is number 31 of 70. This saros started with a 2% partial solar eclipse on June 6th, 1472 and will end with a 12% partial on July 11th,2716 AD having produced 3 total, 1 hybrid, 16 partial and 50 annular eclipses.

Fans of this saros may remember the last annular in this series which crossed South America on April 29th, 1995.

A sequence of eclipse pictures taken from Huntington Beach, California on May 20th, 2012. (Credit: jimnista/Universe Today flickr gallery).
A sequence of eclipse pictures taken from Huntington Beach, California on May 20th, 2012. (Credit: jimnista/Universe Today flickr gallery).

Catching a rising annular eclipse can also make for a stunning photograph. To catch the eclipse and the foreground horizon in silhouette, a DSLR with a 400mm lens running at 1/500th of a second shutter speed or faster is a good combination. Remember, you’ll have to aim this via projection. DO NOT look through the camera at the Sun! Exposures slower than 1/200th of a second are also out of the question, as you can damage the camera sensor at slow exposures.

Another cool effect to watch for is the appearance of tiny little “crescent Suns” littering the ground as sunlight streams through gaps in the tree leaves. This occurs because the gaps act like tiny little pinhole cameras.  A spaghetti strainer is also a highly scientific apparatus that can be used to mimic this effect!

Several solar observing satellites, including Hinode and the European Space Agency’s Proba-2 are poised to catch multiple partial solar eclipses on May 9th and 10th. We ran simulations of these this weekend:

Finally, if you’re like 99.99% of humanity, you’ll be watching this eclipse online. Slooh will be broadcasting this eclipse live.

Also, the eclipse will be broadcast live via the Coca-Cola Space Science Center starting at 5PM ET.

Amateur astronomer Geoff Sims @beyond_beneath will be tweeting near real time images of the eclipse from the path of annularity. Colin Legg (@colinleggphoto) will also be observing the event. Also check out:

-Australian observer Gerard Lazarus’s live feed of the eclipse.

3News in New Zealand and Sky News Australia for eclipse coverage.

Got an ad hoc eclipse broadcast planned? Let us know and we’ll include it!

The next and final solar eclipse for 2013 is a hybrid (annular along one section of the path and total along another) on November 3rd across the mid-Atlantic and central Africa. Another annular eclipse doesn’t occur until April 29th 2014, and the next total solar eclipse occurs on March 20th, 2015.

If you’re in the region be sure to catch this rare celestial event in person, or watch the action worldwide online!