A Hybrid Solar Eclipse Seen From Earth… and Space

The final eclipse for 2013 was a grand event, witnessed across the Atlantic and the heart of Africa this past Sunday. Like so many other photographers along the North American east coast, we were at the ready to greet the partially eclipsed Sun at dawn. And as the shadow of the Moon touched down, teams on land, air and sea were ready to meet with the fleeting umbra as it raced eastward towards sunset over the Horn of Africa region.

But a fleet of spacecraft were also on hand to witness the rare spectacle as well. Turned earthward and sunward, these spacecraft documented not only the passage of the Moon’s shadow over the Earth, but recorded multiple partial solar eclipses from orbit as well.

The first view comes from the Roscosmos Electro-L satellite based in a geostationary orbit over the Indian Ocean:

Electro-L had captured such a view before, during the annular eclipse over Australia earlier this year in May. Roscosmos increased the frame capture rate of Electro-L to twice its usual speed for the sequence. As you watch the Earth pass from a waning gibbous to crescent phase, you can just see the umbra, or central shadow of the Moon, slide into view and come into contact with the sunset terminator over eastern Africa. You can also see the cloud cover that marks the dust storms that plagued eclipse-chasers based around the Lake Turkana region in Kenya.

One of the first public pictures of the umbra of the Moon as seen from space was taken from the Mir space station during a total solar eclipse in 1999. To our knowledge, such a feat has yet to be duplicated aboard the International Space Station. The phase angle of the ISS’s orbit during the eclipse was nearly perpendicular to the Sun-Moon-Earth syzygy, and unfavorable for this particular eclipse.

Thanks to the Russian journalist Vitaliy Egorov for bringing the Electro-L eclipse sequence to the attention of Universe Today!

Next up is a sequence of images from NASA’s Aqua satellite:

Sunday's eclipse and the Moon's umbra as seen from the Aqua satellite. (Credit: NASA/GSFC/Jeff Schmaltz/MODIS Land Rapid Response Team).
Sunday’s eclipse and the Moon’s umbra off of the west coast of Africa as seen from the Aqua satellite. (Credit: NASA/GSFC/Jeff Schmaltz/MODIS Land Rapid Response Team).

Launched in 2002, Aqua is part of the “A-train” (as in “Afternoon”) constellation of Earth-observing satellites. Perched in a low-Earth Sun-synchronous orbit, Aqua caught sight of the umbra of the Moon at around 14:45 UT on Sunday, November 3rd as it raced to make first landfall over the nation of Gabon and awaiting eclipse chasers.

Some Sun observing spacecraft caught sight of the eclipse as well. The European Space Agency’s Proba-2 nabbed three partial solar eclipses from its vantage point in low Earth orbit:

PROBA-2 used its SWAP imager to grab the sequences. Orbiting the Earth once every 99 minutes or 14.5 time a day, these “orbital eclipses” are quick, lasting about 10 minutes each in duration.

Finally, EUMETSAT’s MeteoSat-10 meteorological satellite based in a geostationary orbit over Africa captured an outstanding sequence, showing nearly the entire trek of the umbra across the entire path of the eclipse:

The sequence runs from 7:30 to 18:30 UT on November 3rd. Note how the video shows the shadow fade in and sharpen as the eclipse touches down off of the US East Coast and intensifies from an annular to total along the first 15 seconds of its track, only to speed up and flatten towards sunset over Africa. And all in six seconds!

And back here on Earth, we couldn’t resist stitching together the bounty from our own minor eclipse expedition for a stop-motion view of the partially eclipsed Sun rising over the Vehicle Assembly Building at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida:

We’d like to also mention a photo that isn’t a “solar eclipse seen from space…” Y’know the one, which shows the Earth, the Moon’s shadow, and a totally-eclipsed Sun, against a star dappled Milky Way. We won’t dignify it with a link. This has already been debunked by Bad Astronomer himself Phil Plait, but the bogus pic now seems to make its rounds across ye’ ole Web now during every eclipse. Seriously? Do we all crave “link juice” that bad? There are lots of real awesome eclipse photos out there, from Earth & beyond! Please, do your part to tell that well meaning friend/coworker/relative/stranger on Twitter that this “ultimate eclipse photo…” isn’t.

How rare are hybrid solar eclipses? Well, the next solar eclipse that is both annular and total along its track occurs over southeast Asia on April 20th, 2023. It’s interesting to note that this past weekend’s eclipse may have been the first sunrise solar eclipse over the VAB since it was built in 1966. Eclipses in the same 18 years and 11 days- long saros cycle repeat, but move about 120 degrees westward. Thus, follow an eclipse cycle through a “triple saros”— known as an “Exeligmos,” an ultimate scrabble word if you can land it on a triple word score! —and an eclipse’s geometry will roughly line back up over a 54 year 33 day long span. Saros 143 produced a an eclipse crossing a similar path on October 2nd, 1959 (before the VAB was built!) and will repeat its Atlantic sunrise performance on December 6th, 2067! Let’s see, by then I’ll be…

Watch Live: Sunday’s “Hybrid Solar Eclipse”

The chase is on. On Sunday, November 3rd, the shadow of the Moon will cross the Earth for one last time in 2013. We recently wrote about the prospects for viewing this “hybrid” annular-total solar eclipse as it crosses the Atlantic and central Africa. Viewers from northern South America across the U.S. Eastern Seaboard up into the Canadian Maritimes will also be treated to a brilliant rising partial eclipse over the Atlantic at sunrise. Tickets are already in hand for many, as umbraphiles wing their way (cue Indiana Jones music) to dusty and exotic far off locales to stand briefly in the shadow of our Moon…

But what if it’s cloudy?

Once the bane of eclipse-chasers, you can now thwart our sometimes murky atmosphere by catching the solar eclipse online.

I remember our first experience with eclipse-chasing on the internet, trying to catch an eclipse broadcast on ye ole dial up modem from an internet café (remember internet cafes?) way back in the late 90s. This was pre-You Tube, pre-UStream. Needless to say, the tenuous connection afforded nary a frozen glimpse of the partially eclipsed Sun, and crashed all together at the onset of totality.

Fast forward to 2013, when ginormous data packets routinely fly around the globe.

True, this eclipse presents a challenge, as it crosses some pretty wild and unconnected terrain. But one standby that we can expect is the good people at Slooh, who have dispatched a broadcast team to the African nations of Gabon and Kenya:

As of this writing, Slooh looks to be going live at around 11:45 UT on Sunday November 3rd. This is 6:45 AM EST, which takes into account our “falling back” one hour to UT -5 hours on Sunday morning. Astronomer Brian Cox will be broadcasting live from Kenya, and the broadcast starts just over two hours prior to the first landfall of totality at just before 14:00 UT. From Gabon, Maximum totality will be a brief 1 minute and 5 seconds, and will dwindle to an even briefer 14 seconds over Lake Turkana in Kenya before ending as a brilliant sunset eclipse over Somalia and Ethiopia. A backup broadcast of the partial phases of the eclipse is also planned from Slooh’s home base site in the Canary Islands.

Another fascinating potential broadcast may come our way from the BRCK organization basing their observations of the eclipse from the shores of Lake Turkana in Kenya.  Billed as “Your Backup Generator for the Internet,” BRCK’s mission is to bring broadband access internet to people in remote regions of the world. This weekend’s eclipse certainly qualifies. As of writing this on Halloween, October 31st, the BRCK team had gone into the field to “stress test” their webcasting capability onsite; follow them on Twitter as @brcknet for the latest updates. As of yet, there’s no embed for the broadcast, though we’ll be sure to drop it in if it surfaces!

There’s also some interesting science afoot during this eclipse as well. A recent press release out from Williams College notes that Field Memorial Professor of Astronomy and chair of the International Astronomical Union’s Working Group on Eclipses Jay Pasachoff will observe the eclipse, along with a student and tourist expedition from Gabon. A veteran eclipse chaser, Pasachoff will be working in concert with Dr. Vojtech Rusin of the Astronomical Institute of Slovakia, solar researchers Aris Voulgaris and Robert Lucas and William College students to study the ethereal solar corona.  Satellite-based coronagraphs, such as the one employed by SOHO, can create an “artificial eclipse” of the Sun to study the corona, but also face the challenge of scattered light via a phenomenon known as Fresnel-diffraction. Pasachoff and team hope to combine their observations with those being routinely carried out by NASA, the European Space Agency and the Royal Observatory in Belgium to characterize the solar corona and improve our understanding of the space weather environment. Pasachoff’s expedition is being assisted via support from the South African Astronomical Observatory, Nommo Astronomia, the Gabon Astronomy Society and the Gabon Space Agency. Veteran eclipse chaser and historian Michael Zeiler (@EclipseMaps) has also joined up with Pasachoff’s group in Gabon.

In space, the NASA/JAXA joint solar observing Hinode spacecraft and ESA’s Sun watching Proba-2 will also catch several partial eclipses from their respective perches in low Earth orbit. Expect to see these pics in the days following Sunday’s eclipse.

We’ll be dropping in more broadcasts as they come to our attention this weekend here at Universe Today. Planning an ad-hoc webcast of the eclipse? Let us know in the comments below! Even if it’s just a brief view of the rising partially eclipsed Sun from the beach, its worth the effort. Just remember that you’ll need a fairly long focal length (in the range of 200mm or longer) and a proper solar filter for the Sun to appear like anything more than a washed out dot in the broadcast. And always run a test of your rig beforehand!

Good luck, happy eclipse chasing, and don’t forget to send those eclipse pics to Universe Today!

 

Rare ‘Hybrid’ Solar Eclipse on November 3, 2013: How to See It

It’s almost upon us. The final eclipse of 2013 occurs this coming weekend on Sunday, November 3rd. This will be the fifth eclipse overall, and the second solar eclipse of 2013. This will also be the only eclipse this year that features a glimpse of totality.

This eclipse is of the rare hybrid variety— that is, it will be an annular eclipse along the very first 15 seconds of its track before transitioning to a total as the Moon’s shadow sweeps just close enough to the Earth to cover the disk of the Sun along the remainder of its track.

An animation of the path of the November 3rd hybrid solar eclipse. (Credit: NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center).
An animation of the path of the November 3rd hybrid solar eclipse. (Credit: NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center).

How rare are hybrid solar eclipse? Of the 11,898 solar eclipses listed over a 5,000 year span from 1999 BC to 3000 AD in Fred Espenak’s Five Millennium Catalog of Solar Eclipses, only 569, or 4.8% are hybrids.

Who can see this eclipse?

People from northern South America, across the U.S. Eastern Seaboard and up through the Canadian Maritimes will see a brief partial solar eclipse finishing up around 30 minutes after local sunrise. The brief annular “ring of fire” portion of the eclipse begins at sunrise just ~1,000 kilometres east of Jacksonville, Florida, as it races eastward across the Atlantic. See our timeline, below.

Eclipse prospects for the US East Coast. (Courtesy of Michael Zeiler @EclipseMaps)
Eclipse prospects for the US East Coast. (Courtesy of Michael Zeiler @EclipseMaps)

Nearly all of Africa and the southern Mediterranean region including Spain will see partial phases of the eclipse, while greatest totality occurs just off of the coast of Liberia and heads for first landfall on the African continent over Wonga Wongue Reserve in Gabon. At this point, the duration of totality will already have shrunk back down to 1 minute and 7 seconds. The shadow of the Moon will then cross central Africa, headed for a short but brilliant sunset total eclipse over Uganda, Ethiopia, Kenya and Somalia.

The global path of this weekends eclipse-click to enlarge. (Credit: Michael Zeiler, @EclipseMaps).
The global path of this weekends eclipse-click to enlarge. (Credit: Michael Zeiler, @EclipseMaps).

This particular eclipse part of saros series 143 and is member 23 of the 72 eclipses in the cycle. The first eclipse in this saros occurred on March 7th, 1617, and the last one will occur on April 23rd, 2897.

Saros 143 also has a checkered place in  eclipse history. The last eclipse in this series crossed south eastern Asia on October 24th, 1995.

The first detailed picture of a solar eclipse was also taken of a saros 143 member on July 28, 1851. And one saros later, a total solar eclipse on August 7th, 1869 may have saved the butt of astronomer and explorer George Davidson while traversing the wilds of Alaska. And one more saros period later,  Dmitri Mendeleev (he of the modern periodic table) observed the total solar eclipse of August 19th, 1887 from a balloon.

A daguerreotype image of the 1851 eclipse captured by Berkowski of the  Royal Observatory in Königsberg, Prussia. (Public domain image).
A daguerreotype image of the 1851 eclipse captured by Berkowski of the Royal Observatory in Königsberg, Prussia. (Public domain image).

We’ve compiled a brief worldwide timeline for the November 3rd hybrid eclipse. Keep in mind, the shift back off of Daylight Saving Time occurs on the same morning as the eclipse for North America, putting the U.S. East Coast  once again back to -5 hours off of Universal Time (UT):

10:04 UT: The partial phases of the eclipse begin.

11:05:17 UT: annular phases of the eclipse begin.

11:05:36 UT: The eclipse transitions from an annular to a total along its track.

12:46: The point of greatest eclipse, occurring off of the SW coast of Liberia along the coast of Africa. The path will be 57 kilometres wide at this point with a maximum duration for totality at 1 minute & 40 seconds.

14:27 UT: The total phases of the eclipse end.

15:28 UT: Partial phases end.

Remember that solar safety is paramount while observing an eclipse during all partial phases. This is especially critical, as millions of viewers along the U.S. East Coast are poised to catch the eclipse at sunrise over the Atlantic on Sunday. Use only glasses designed specifically for eclipse viewing or welder’s glass #14. One project headed by Astronomers Without Borders is also working to provide eclipse glasses to schools in Africa.

Students in Tanzania demonstrating proper eclipse viewing safety. (Credit: Astronomers Without Borders).
Students in Tanzania demonstrating proper eclipse viewing safety. (Credit: Astronomers Without Borders).

Projecting the Sun onto a wall or a piece of paper is also a safe method to observe the eclipse. Construction of a Sun Gun, a pinhole projector, or even using a spaghetti strainer or colander to project the partially eclipsed sun are all fun projects to try.

Shooting pictures of the rising eclipse is also possible using a DSLR. To capture the disk of the Sun plus an outline of the foreground, you’ll want to use a combination of low ISO 100 and a fast shutter speed (1/4000 or faster) and a zoom lens of at least 200mm or greater. Keep in mind, DO NOT look at the Sun through the camera’s view finder— simply set the focus to infinity and aim via projection. It’s worth practicing your technique a morning or two prior to the main event!

As the partial phase of the eclipse progresses, keep an eye out for “tiny crescents” that may litter the ground. These are caused by gaps in things such as leaves, latticework, etc that may act as natural “pinhole projectors”. Those lucky enough to stand in the path of totality may snare a look at shadow bands sweeping across the landscape as totality approaches, as well as catch a brief glimpse of Baily’s Beads and the pearly white corona of the Sun.

Totality will last less than a minute across most of central Africa, giving viewers a very hurried view before partial phases commence once more. Venus will be easily visible at magnitude -4.4 just 47 degrees east of the Sun. Unfortunately, prospects aren’t great for air or seaborne viewers in the mid-Atlantic to catch sight of comet ISON during the frenzied moments of totality, which will sit 50 degrees from the Sun between magnitude +7 & +8.

The sky over Gabon during mid-eclipse. (Created by the author using Starry Nite).
The sky over Gabon during mid-eclipse. (Created by the author using Starry Nite).

Weather prospects are an all-important consideration when planning for an eclipse. Jay Anderson maintains an outstanding site with projections tailor-made for each eclipse. For the U.S. East Coast, clear skies right down to the crucial eastern horizon will be key!

A recent surge in piracy off of the West Coast of Africa may also factor into travel considerations for eclipse chasers. You can actually monitor such activities on the high seas now in near real time. Perhaps one could take a page from Mark Twain’s A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court, and impress any would-be-brigands with the glory of an impending solar eclipse…

Unfortunately, the International Space Station will have an orbit nearly perpendicular to the Earth-Moon-Sun syzygy, and won’t lend itself to any great prospects of a transit during the partial phases of the eclipse. ESA’s Proba-2 and JAXA’s Hinode will, however, see several partial eclipses from orbit:

Sunspot activity has also been on the upswing as of late, making for a photogenic Sun heading into the partial phases of the eclipse. A well-placed, naked eye Coronal Mass Ejection on the solar limb also isn’t out of the question. Eclipse historian and expert Michael Zeiler notes that a CME last occurred during a total solar eclipse way back in 1860.

Sunspot activity as of October 28th... will it stay active until this weekend's eclipse? (Photo by author).
Sunspot activity as of October 28th… will it stay active until this weekend’s eclipse? (Photo by author).

Totality for this eclipse passes over some wild and largely wifi free areas; few plans to broadcast the eclipse live have surfaced thus far.

Slooh plans a broadcast, as did a proposed Indiegogo project whose current status is unclear. BRCK also plans to broadcast the eclipse live from the shores of Lake Turkana, Kenya.  Got plans to webcast even the partial phases of the eclipse? Let us know!

And speaking of eclipse chasing, we plan on heading to the Florida Space Coast Sunday morning at o’dark thirty to nab the partial sunrise eclipse over the Atlantic.

And as always, the question posed immediately after totality is: when’s the next one? Well, the next annular eclipse graces Australia on April 29th, 2014. The U.S. will also see a partial solar eclipse on October 23rd next year… but totality will not touch the surface of our fair planet until a high Arctic eclipse on March 20th, 2015.

Good luck, clear skies, and safe journeys to all who are chasing after this one near and far, and don’t forget to post those pics to Universe Today’s Flickr page!

-See more of Michael Zeiler’s work at Eclipse Maps.

-Simulations were created using Starry Night Education Software.