Amazing Views of Today’s Total Solar Eclipse From Earth… and Space

There’s an old Robert Heinlein saying that goes “climate is what you expect, weather is what you get,” And the weather certainly kept folks guessing right up until the start of today’s eclipse. And though much of the UK and tracks along the Faroe Islands were clouded out, folks who made the trek up to Svalbard were treated to a fine view of totality, while observers across Europe caught stages of the eclipse through its partial phases. Many more managed to capture glimpses of the eclipse thanks to our good friends over at Slooh and the Virtual Telescope project.

Here’s a quick sampling of images that have come our way thus far… we’ll be dropping in more as they become available from far flung corners of the globe and beyond:

Totality! Captured from the (thankfully sunny) Svalbard Islands. Credit and Copyright: Tony Hoffman.
Totality! Captured from the (thankfully sunny) Svalbard Islands. Credit and Copyright: Tony Hoffman.
Credit and copyright: @johnmason1971
Practicing solar eclipse observing safety… Credit and copyright: @johnmason1971

Though the live feed from the International Space Station was unavailable as the astros flirted with the Moon’s umbra, the crew did manage to get some quick shots of the eclipse from low Earth orbit:

They caught it! The eclipse captured from the International Space Station courtesy of @astrosamantha.
They caught it! The eclipse captured from the International Space Station courtesy of @astrosamantha.
The umbra touches down at the start of the total solar eclipse as seen from the ISS. Credit: @Astrosamantha
The umbra touches down at the start of the total solar eclipse as seen from the ISS. Credit: @Astrosamantha

And while the fake “eclipse seen from SPACE!!!” image made its predictable rounds, ESA’s solar observing Proba-2 spaccraft caught the eclipse from space for real:

No word yet if anyone caught the ‘money shot’ of the International Space Station transiting the Sun during the eclipse as seen from southern Spain.

UPDATE: Scratch that… Theirry Legault did indeed capture the ISS transiting the partially eclipsed Sun:

Awesome!

Totality from a balloon (!) over Svalbard. Courtesy and Credit: zero2infinity.
Totality from a balloon (!) over Svalbard. The team also has an exciting indiegogo project and hopes to make a film of the eclipse. Courtesy and Credit: @flyabloon/zero2infinity.

And while many observers and events were clouded out, many still noted the drop in ambient light levels.

Credit and Copyright:
Credit and Copyright: TheMagster3.

The Sun was relatively blank during the eclipse, with one lone sunspot group currently turned Earthward saving us from spotlessness.

Credit and copyright: @DavidBflower
Credit and copyright: @DavidBflower

As of this writing, more eclipse pics are still pouring in. Watch this space, as many eclipse chasers —especially those who traveled to distant Svalbard to witness totality in person — are still making their way in from the field and are no doubt hunting for stable internet connections as we speak.

Credit and copyright: @Whereisyvette
Awaiting clear skies on the roof of the Anton Pannekoek Institute for Astronomy at the University of Amsterdam in the Netherlands. Credit and copyright: @Whereisyvette

And as always, the big question after every eclipse is: when’s the next one? Well, the next total solar occurs over Southeast Asia on March 9th, 2016, and the very next solar eclipse is a partial over South Africa on Sept 13 2015. And North America gets to see another total lunar eclipse in the ongoing tetrad in just two weeks on April 4th, 2015… and we’re well inside two years away now from the total solar eclipse spanning the continental united States on August 21st 2017!

Credit and copyright
An Iphone capture of the eclipse. Credit and copyright: @zubenelganubi

Let the first of two eclipse seasons for 2015 begin!

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

Update: although it was cloudy, Marco Langbroek did indeed catch the drop in light levels over the Netherlands:

And check out this amazing Vine of the dark umbra of the Moon crossing the North Atlantic courtesy of Meteosat-9:

Wowsa!

And sometimes, the simplest shots are the easiest to get out over social media immediately, be it at a rocket launch or during a solar eclipse:

A back of the camera shot of the eclipse as seen from northern Scotland. Credit: Edwin Quail.
A back of the camera shot of the eclipse as seen from northern Scotland. Credit: Edwin Quail.

There also been no word as of yet how Germany’s solar power grid fared during the eclipse, though it will be interesting to see what possible data was generated during the partial phases for future planning.

Partial phases of the solar eclipse today as seen from the United Kingdom. Credit and copyright: Sarah and Simon Fisher.
Partial phases of the solar eclipse today as seen from the United Kingdom. Credit and copyright: Sarah and Simon Fisher.

It was truly inspiring to see how many folks captured images and filled our feeds this morning with pictures of today’s eclipse.

The partial eclipse peeks out from behind the clouds over the Greek Embassy . Credit and copyright: clausdm @cldm_ish
The partial eclipse peeks out from behind the clouds over the Greek Embassy . Credit and copyright: clausdm @cldm_ish

Can’t wait til 2017? NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft is set give us a total solar eclipse from the edge of the solar system this July when it flies through the shadows of Pluto and its giant moon, Charon:

An artist's concept of New Horizons in the shadow on Pluto. Credit: NASA/JPL.
An artist’s concept of New Horizons in the shadow on Pluto. Credit: NASA/JPL.

Hey, maybe if we colonize Pluto by 2017 AD, we could witness said eclipses… in person, once every 6 days:

“Pluto One,” anyone?

Parallax in action: the view from Lahore Pakistan vs Slooh's view shortly before totality. Credit:  Roshaan. Lahore Astronomical Society, Pakistan.
Parallax in action: the view from Lahore Pakistan vs Slooh’s view shortly before totality. Credit: Roshaan.
Lahore Astronomical Society, Pakistan.
A 6% partial solar eclipse as seen from Israel. Credit and copyright: Gadi Eidelheit.
A 6% partial solar eclipse as seen from Israel. Credit and copyright: Gadi Eidelheit.
The March 20, 2015 solar eclipse taken from Malta with a PST solar telescope  in H-alpha. Credit and copyright: Leonard Mercer.
The March 20, 2015 solar eclipse taken from Malta with a PST solar telescope in H-alpha. Credit and copyright: Leonard Mercer.

Will the March 20th Total Solar Eclipse Impact Europe’s Solar Energy Grid?

The first eclipse of 2015 is coming right up on Friday, March 20th, and may provide a unique challenge for solar energy production across Europe.

Sure, we’ve been skeptical about many of the websites touting a ‘blackout’ and Y2K-like doom pertaining to the March 20th total solar eclipse as of late. And while it’s true that comets and eclipses really do bring out the ‘End of the World of the Week’ -types across ye ole web, there’s actually a fascinating story of science at the core of next week’s eclipse and the challenge it poses to energy production.

But first, a brief recap of the eclipse itself. Dubbed the “Equinox Eclipse,” totality only occurs over a swath of the North Atlantic and passes over distant Faroe and Svalbard Islands. Germany and central Europe can expect an approximately 80% partially obscured Sun at the eclipse’s maximum.

Credit
The magnitude of the March 20th solar eclipse across Europe. Credit: Michael Zeiler/GreatAmericanEclipse.com

We wrote a full guide with the specifics for observing this eclipse yesterday. But is there a cause for concern when it comes to energy production?

A power grid is a huge balancing act.  As power production decreases from one source, other sources must be brought online to compensate. This is a major challenge — especially in terms of solar energy production.

Residential solar panels in Germany. Credit: Wikimedia Commons/ Sideka Solartechnik.
Residential solar panels in Germany. Credit: Wikimedia Commons/ Sideka Solartechnik.

Germany currently stands at the forefront of solar energy technology, representing a whopping quarter of all solar energy capacity installed worldwide. Germany now relies of solar power for almost 7% of its annual electricity production, and during the sunniest hours, has used solar panels to satisfy up to 50% of the country’s power demand.

We recently caught up with Barry Fischer to discuss the issue. Fischer is the Head Writer at Opower, a software company that uses data to help electric and gas utilities improve their customer experience. Based on Opower’s partnerships with nearly 100 utilities worldwide, the company has amassed  the world’s largest energy dataset of its kind which documents energy consumption patterns across more than 55 million households around the globe.

A study published last week by Opower highlights data from the partial solar eclipse last October over the western United States. There’s little historical precedent for the impact that an eclipse could have on the solar energy grid. For example, during the August 11th, 1999 total solar eclipse which crossed directly over Europe, less than 0.1% of utility electricity was generated using solar power.

Credit:
Looking at the drop in power production during the October 2014 solar eclipse. Credit: Opower.

What they found was intriguing. Although the 2014 partial solar eclipse only obscured 30 to 50% of the Sun, solar electric production dropped over an afternoon span of nearly three hours before returning to a normal pattern.

Examining data from 5,000 solar-powered homes in the western United States, Opower found that during the eclipse those homes sent 41% less electricity back to the grid than normal. Along with a nearly 1,000 megawatt decline in utility-scale solar power production, these drop-offs were compensated for by grid operators ramping up traditional thermal power plants that were most likely fueled by natural gas.

No serious problems were experienced during the October 23rd, 2014 partial solar eclipse in terms of solar electricity production in the southwestern United States, though it is interesting to note that the impact of the eclipse on solar energy production could be readily detected and measured.

Credit
The projected effect of the March 20th eclipse on solar power production. Credit: Opower.

How does the drop and surge in solar power output anticipated for the March 20th eclipse differ from, say, the kind presented by the onset of night, or a cloudy day? “The impact of an eclipse can register broadly – and unusually rapidly – across an entire region,” Fischer told Universe Today. On a small scale, one area many be cloudy, while on a larger regional scale, other areas of clear or partly sunny skies can compensate. An eclipse — even a partial one — is fundamentally different, because the sudden onset and the conclusion are relatively uniform over a large region.

The March 20th event offers an unprecedented chance to study the effects of an eclipse on large-scale solar production up close. A study (in German) by the University of Applied Sciences in Berlin suggests that solar power production will fall at a rate 2.7 times faster than usual as the eclipse progresses over a span of 75 minutes. This is the equivalent of switching off one medium-sized power plant per minute.

The anticipated slingshot might be just as challenging, as  18 gigawatts of power comes back online at the conclusion of the eclipse in just over an hour. And as opposed to the 2014 eclipse over the U.S. which ended towards sunset, the key rebound period for the March 20th eclipse will be around local noon and during a peak production time.

Fischer also noted that “the second half of the partial solar eclipse will also pose a notable challenge” for the grid, as it is flooded with solar power production 3.5 times faster than normal. This phenomenon could also serve as a great model for what could occur daily on a grid that’s increasingly solar power reliant in the future, as energy production ramps up daily at sunrise. Such a reality may be only 15 years away, as Germany projects installed solar capacity to top 66 gigawatts by 2030.

Credit:
The Crescent Dunes Solar Energy Project outside of Tonopah, Nevada. Credit:  Wikimedia Commons/Amble. Licensed under a CC BY-SA 4.0 license.

What’s the anticipated impact projected for a future eclipse such as, say, the 2017 and 2024 total solar eclipses over the U.S.?

This eclipse may serve as a great dry run for modeling what could occur as reliance on solar energy production grows.

Such is the modern technical society we live in. It’s fascinating to think that eclipses aren’t only a marvelous celestial spectacle, but their effects on power production may actually serve as a model for the smart grids of tomorrow.