Catch Monday Morning’s Subtle Lunar Eclipse


A penumbral lunar eclipse in the early morning hours of November 30th marks the start of the last eclipse season for 2020.

Howling at the Moon Sunday night? Sunday night into Monday morning November 30th features not only the penultimate Full Moon for 2020, but the final lunar eclipse of the year, with a penumbral eclipse of the Moon.

Continue reading “Catch Monday Morning’s Subtle Lunar Eclipse”

Our Guide to this Friday’s Penumbral Lunar Eclipse

Penumbral Eclipse
A subtle penumbral lunar eclipse from 2016. Image credit and copyright: Dave Walker.

Ready for the very first lunar eclipse of the year? The first eclipse season of 2020 comes to an end Friday, with a penumbral lunar eclipse. This season overlaps with 2019, when it kicked off with the Boxing Day annular solar eclipse of December 26th, 2019.

Continue reading “Our Guide to this Friday’s Penumbral Lunar Eclipse”

Watch the Moon Make a Pass at Earth’s Shadow, Then Kiss Regulus This Valentine’s Weekend

Regulus Occultion
The Moon occults Regulus of January 15th, 2017. Image credit and copyright: Lucca Ruggiero

Regulus Occultion
The Moon occults Regulus of January 15th, 2017. Image credit and copyright: Lucca Ruggiero

In the southern hemisphere this weekend in the ‘Land of Oz?’ Are you missing out on the passage of Comet 45/P Honda-Mrkos-Pajdušáková, and the penumbral lunar eclipse? Fear not, there’s an astronomical event designed just for you, as the Moon occults (passes in front of) the bright star Regulus on the evening of Saturday, January 11th.

The entire event is custom made for the continent of Australia and New Zealand, occurring under dark skies. Now for the bad news: the waning gibbous Moon will be less than 14 hours past Full during the event, meaning that the ingress (disappearance) of Regulus will occur along its bright leading limb and egress (reappearance) will occur on the dark limb. We prefer occultations during waxing phase, as the star winks out on the dark limb and seems to slowly fade back in on the bright limb.

The footprint for the February 11th occultation of Regulus by the Moon. Image credit: Occult 4.2 software

The International Occultation Timing Association has a complete list of precise ingress/egress times for cities located across the continent. An especially interesting region to catch the event lies along the northern graze line across the sparsely populated Cape York peninsula, just north of Cairns.

The northern grazeline for the February 11th occultation of Regulus by the Moon. Graphic by author.

The Moon occults Aldebaran and then Regulus six days later during every lunation in 2017. This is occultation number three in a cycle of 19 running from December 18, 2016 to April 24, 2018. The Moon occults Regulus 214 times in the 21st century, and Regulus is currently the closest bright star to the ecliptic plane, just 27′ away.

We’ve also got a very special event just under 14 hours prior, as a penumbral lunar eclipse occurs, visible on all continents… except Australia. Mid-eclipse occurs at 00:45 Universal Time (UT, Saturday morning on February 11th), or 7:45 PM Eastern Standard Time (EST) on the evening of Friday, February 10th, when observers may note a dusky shading on the northern limb of the Moon as the Moon just misses passing through the dark edge of the Earth’s inner umbral shadow. Regulus will sit less than seven degrees off of the lunar limb at mid-eclipse Friday night.

How often does an eclipsed Moon occult a bright star? Well, stick around until over four centuries from now on February 22nd, 2445, and observers based around the Indian Ocean region can watch just such an event, as the eclipsed Moon also occults Regulus. Let’s see, I should have my consciousness downloaded into my second android body by then…

A graphic study of the simultaneous lunar eclipse and occultation of Regulus in 2445. Credit: NASA/GSFC/Fred Espenak/Occult 4.2/Stellarium.

We’ll be streaming the Friday night eclipse live from Astroguyz HQ here in Spring Hill, Florida starting at 7:30 PM EST/00:30 UT, wifi-willing. Astronomer Gianluca Masi of the Virtual Telescope Project will also carry the eclipse live starting at 22:15 UT on the night of Friday, February 10th.

This eclipse also marks the start of eclipse season one of two, which climaxes with an annular eclipse crossing southern Africa and South America on February 26th. The second and final eclipse season of 2017 starts with a partial lunar eclipse on August 7th, which sets us up for the Great American Eclipse crossing the United States from coast to coast on August 21st, 2017.

A lunar occultation of Regulus also provides a shot at a unique scientific opportunity. Spectroscopic measurements suggest that the primary main sequence star possesses a small white dwarf companion, a partner which has never been directly observed. This unseen white dwarf may – depending on the unknown orientation of its orbit – make a brief appearance during ingress or egress for a fleeting split second, when the dark limb of the Moon has covered dazzling Regulus. High speed video might just nab a double step occlusion, as the white dwarf companion is probably about 10,000 times fainter than Regulus at magnitude +11 at the very brightest. Regulus is located 79 light years distant.

Our best results for capturing an occultation of a star or planet by the Moon have always been with a video camera aimed straight through our 8” Schmidt-Cassegrain telescope. The trick is always to keep the star visible in the frame near the brilliant Full Moon. Cropping the Moon out of the field as much as possible can help somewhat. Set up early, to work the bugs out of focusing, alignment, etc. We also run WWV radio in the background for an audible time hack on the video.

The January 15th, 2017 occultation of Regulus by the Moon. Image credit and copyright: Lucca Ruggiero.

The best occultation of Regulus by the Moon for North America in 2017 occurs on October 15th, when the Moon is at waning crescent phase. Unfortunately, the occultation of Regulus by asteroid 163 Erigone back in 2014 was clouded out, though the planet Venus occults the star on October 1st, 2044. Let’s see, by then I’ll be…

Comets and eclipses and occultations, oh my. It’s a busy weekend for observational astronomy, for sure. Consider it an early Valentine’s Day weekend gift from the Universe.

Webcasting the eclipse or the occultation this weekend? Let us know, and send those images of either event to Universe Today’s Flickr forum.

Read about eclipses, occultations and more tales of astronomy in our yearly guide 101 Astronomical Events For 2017, free from Universe Today.

Weekly Space Hangout – Sept 16, 2016: Universe Sandbox

Host: Fraser Cain (@fcain)

Special Guests:
This week’s guests will be the Universe Sandbox Developers Dan Dixon (Project Lead & Creator) and Jenn Seiler (Astrophysicist & Developer).


Morgan Rehnberg ( / @MorganRehnberg)
Dave Dickinson ( / @astroguyz)
Kimberly Cartier ( / @AstroKimCartier )
Paul M. Sutter ( / @PaulMattSutter)
Nicole Gugliucci ( / @noisyastronomer)
Yoav Landsman (@MasaCritit)

Their stories this week:

What’s the deal with Proxima b?

dark matter galaxy

Enterprise nebula

Unexpected gas reservoirs around large stars

Juno’s first pass at Jupiter

Next Week’s Penumbral Eclipse

Two stars, three planets in an unusual system

Overview of OSIRIS-REx after launch

Status of the Israeli Space Program following the SpaceX Static Fire Test “anomaly”

Is Pluto the source of Charon’s red poles?

China launches its second space station

We’ve had an abundance of news stories for the past few months, and not enough time to get to them all. So we are now using a tool called Trello to submit and vote on stories we would like to see covered each week, and then Fraser will be selecting the stories from there. Here is the link to the Trello WSH page (, which you can see without logging in. If you’d like to vote, just create a login and help us decide what to cover!

We record the Weekly Space Hangout every Friday at 12:00 pm Pacific / 3:00 pm Eastern. You can watch us live on Universe Today, or the Universe Today YouTube page.

An Impalpable Penumbral Eclipse

penumbral eclipse
The March 2016 penumbral lunar eclipse seen from Calliope, Australia. Image credit and copyright: Teale Britstra.

Hey, how ’bout that annular eclipse last week? Some great images flooded in to Universe Today, as the final solar eclipse for 2016 graced the African continent. This not only marked the start of the second and final eclipse season for 2016, but it also set us up for the final eclipse of the year next week.

The path of next week's penumbral eclipse through the Earth's shadow. Adapted from NASA/GSFC/F. Espenak.
The path of next week’s penumbral eclipse through the Earth’s shadow. Adapted from NASA/GSFC/F. Espenak.

We’re talking about the penumbral lunar eclipse coming up next week on September 16th, 2016. this sort of eclipse occurs when the Moon just misses the dark inner core (umbra) of the Earth’s shadow, and instead, drifts through its relatively bright outer cone, known as the penumbra. Though not the grandest show as eclipses go, astute observers should notice a subtle light tea-colored shading of the Full Moon, and perhaps the ragged dark edge of the umbra on the northwestern limb of the Moon as it brushes by around mid-eclipse.

The visibility map for next week's eclipse. Image credit: NASA/GSFC/Fred Espenak.
The visibility map for next week’s eclipse. Image credit: NASA/GSFC/Fred Espenak.

The entirety of the eclipse will be visible from the region surrounding the Indian Ocean on the evening of Friday, September 6th. Viewers in Australia, New Zealand and Japan will see the eclipse transpire at moonset, and the eclipse will get underway at moonrise for observers in western Africa and Europe.

The eclipse runs from first contact at 16:55 Universal Time (UT) to 20:54 UT when the Moon quits the Earth’s shadow almost four hours later. Mid-eclipse occurs at 18:55 UT, with the Moon 91% immersed in the Earth’s outer shadow.

Tales of the Saros

This particular eclipse is member 9 of the 71 lunar eclipses in saros series 147. This saros began on July 2nd 1890 and runs through to the final eclipse in the cycle on May 1st 2990. It will produce its very first partial eclipse next time around on September 28th 2034, and its first total lunar eclipse on June 6th, 2449.

Why penumbrals? Aren’t they the ultimate non-event when it comes to eclipses? Like with much of observational astronomy, a penumbral lunar eclipse pushes our skills as a visual athlete to the limit. Check out the waxing gibbous Moon the night before the eclipse, then the Moon the night of the event. If you didn’t know any better, could you tell the difference from one night to the next? Often, the camera can see what the eye can’t. Photographing the Moon before, during and after a penumbral eclipse will often bring out the subtle shading on post-comparison. You’ll want to photograph the Moon when its high in the sky and free of atmospheric distortion low to the horizon, which tends to discolor the Moon. Such a high-flying Moon during mid-eclipse favors the Indian Subcontinent this time around. We’ve yet to see a good convincing time-lapse documenting a penumbral eclipse, though such a feat is certainly possible.

See anything... shady going on? Here's the penumbral lunar eclipse from this past March. Image credit and copyright: Neeraj Ladia
See anything… shady going on? Here’s the penumbral lunar eclipse from this past March. Image credit and copyright: Neeraj Ladia

When is an eclipse… not an eclipse? By some accounts, the Moon underwent a very shallow penumbral one cycle ago on August 18th, 2016, though the brush past the shadow was so slight that many lists, including the NASA’s GSFC eclipse page omitted it. Three eclipses (a lunar partial and a penumbral, or two penumbrals and one solar) can occur in one eclipse season, if the nodes of the Moon’s orbit where it intersects the ecliptic fall just right. This last occurred in 2013, and will happen again in 2020.

And when there’s a lunar eclipse, there’s also a Full Moon. The September Full Moon is the Harvest Moon, providing a few extra hours of illumination to get the crops in. This year, the Harvest Moon falls just six days from the equinox on September 22nd, marking the start of astronomical Fall in the northern hemisphere and Spring in the southern. The relative ecliptic angle also ensures that moonrise only slides back by a slight amount each evening for observers in mid-northern latitudes around the Harvest Moon.

Can’t wait til the next eclipse? Well, 2017 has four of ’em: an annular on February 26th favoring South America, two lunars (another penumbral on February 11th and a partial on August 7th) and oh yeah, there’s a total solar eclipse crossing the United States on August 21st. And the next total lunar eclipse? The dry spell is broken on January 31st, 2018, when a total lunar eclipse favoring the Pacific Rim occurs. Yeah, we got spoiled with four back-to-back lunar eclipses during the Blood Moon tetrad of 2014-2015…

Read Dave Dickinson’s eclipse-fueled sci-fi tales Exeligmos, Shadowfall, The Syzygy Gambit and Peak Season.

See All Five Naked Eye Planets in the Dusk Sky at Once

Solar System
An Iphone solar system family portrait. Image credit and copyright: Andrew Symes (@Failedprotostar)

Hosting an evening star party this summer? You’re in for a treat. Starting later this week, all five naked eye planets (Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter and Saturn) are visible in the evening sky at dusk for a brief few weeks. We had a similar lineup in the dawn sky earlier in 2016, as the Earth had all the inner planets in its forward-facing view — now, we see these same planets in our collective rear view mirror, as we lap Mars, Jupiter and Saturn on the inner track, while Mercury and Venus race to catch up with us.

Dusk on the evening of August 8th. Image credit: Stellarium.
Dusk on the evening of August 8th, looking to the southwest. Image credit: Stellarium.

At their narrowest, the planets from Saturn to Mercury fit within a span just 75 degrees wide in the last half of August. A wide field all-sky shot should catch ’em all in the same frame at once. This isn’t a ‘grand conjunction’ in a strict sense. To have all five planets visible, you need the slowest and outermost of the five — Jupiter and Saturn, with orbital periods of 11.9 and 29.5 years respectively — in the same general swath of sky. Both are headed towards conjunction on December 21st, 2020, making such groupings more frequent as they race past the other three. The next true quintuple grand conjunction occurs on September 8th, 2040, when all 5 planets span just 9.3 degrees of the sky… the closest span since September 18th, 1186!

Can you see 'em? Five planets from Monte Mario in Rome on February 2nd, 2016. Image credit: Gianluca Masi/The Virtual Telescope project.
Can you see ’em? Five planets from Monte Mario in Rome on February 2nd, 2016. Image credit: Gianluca Masi/The Virtual Telescope project.

There’s  a lot to watch out for in the next few weeks. Here’s a who’s who of planets this July and August, from east to west:

Saturn: shining at magnitude +0.4 in the constellation Ophiuchus, Saturn is fresh off of opposition on June 3rd. Riding high in the southeast at dawn, Saturn makes a close 4.4 degree pass near Mars on August 24th, and the pair makes a straight line completed by the bright star Antares on the same date.

Mars: High to the south in the constellation Libra at dusk, Mars begins its slow dive into the dusk during the last half of 2016. Currently shining at a respectable magnitude -0.9, Mars passed opposition on May 22nd and is headed towards a grand opposition in 2018, nearly as close as the historic close pass of 2003.

Jupiter: Sitting in the constellation Leo, Jupiter shines at magnitude -1.6 and is about 20-30 degrees above the southwestern horizon at dusk. Jupiter passed quadrature 90 degrees east of the Sun on June 4th and opposition for 2016 on March 8th.

Venus: The bashful planet of the group, Venus is slowly appearing from behind the Sun low in the dusk and headed for a brilliant dusk apparition later in 2016 and early 2017. Currently 3 degrees east of the Sun on July 31st, Venus reaches greatest elongation 47 degrees east of the Sun on January 12th, 2017. We’ve just been able to begin spying Venus using binocs last week from the rooftop of our Casablanca Air BnB. Follow that planet, as Venus makes a close 6′ pass near Jupiter on August 27th.

Mercury: And the innermost planet makes five, as Mercury reaches greatest elongation 27 degrees east of the Sun on August 16th. When can you first catch sight of Mercury, completing the fivesome? Jupiter and Venus actually make great bookends in the hunt, as +0.5 magnitude Mercury wanders between them through early August. It’s too bad dusk twilight obscured the view this past weekend, as both Mercury and Venus photobombed the Beehive Cluster M44 in Cancer. Mercury also passes 20′ from the bright star Regulus on July 30th.

Looking west on the evening of July 19th, 2016. Credit Starry Night Education Software.
Looking west on the evening of July 19th, 2016. Credit Starry Night Education Software.

But wait, there’s more. The Moon passes New on August 2nd, entering back into the dusk sky. The one day old Moon will pass the grouping of Venus, Regulus and Mercury on the evening of August 4th, actually occulting (passing in front of) Mercury for the southernmost tip of South America. The Moon then moves on to occult Jupiter for good measure on August 6th for the South Pacific and southeast Asia in the daytime. Finally, the waxing gibbous Moon makes a wide pass near Mars, Antares and Saturn on the evening of August 12th, on the same evening that the 2016 Perseids are due to occur.

The footprint of the August 4th occultation of Mercury by the Moon. Image credit: Occult 4.2 software.
The footprint of the August 4th occultation of Mercury by the Moon. Image credit: Occult 4.2 software.

The Moon also reaches the nearest apogee (think ‘closest far point’) of the year, at 404,265 kilometers from the Earth on August 10th and reaches Full on August 18th, featuring a subtle penumbral eclipse and the start of eclipse season 2 of 2 for 2016.

More on all of these events in the coming weeks. So, if you find yourself out hunting Pokémon G0 creatures ’til the late dusk hours this summer, don’t forget to look up at the greatest show in the solar system!

A Penumbral Lunar Eclipse Leads the Way to Easter Weekend

Chuck Manges
Can you see it? A penumbral eclipse from 2013. Image credit and copyright: Chuck Manges

Ready for Easter? The first of two lunar eclipses for 2016 occurs this week, though it’s an event so subtle, you might not notice it at first glance. We’re talking about Wednesday evening’s (morning for North America) penumbral lunar eclipse. If a total solar eclipse such as the one that crossed Indonesia and the Pacific Ocean earlier this month is the ultimate astronomical experience, then a penumbral lunar eclipse is at the other end of the spectrum, a ghostly shading on the Moon that is barely noticeable. Continue reading “A Penumbral Lunar Eclipse Leads the Way to Easter Weekend”

This Week’s Penumbral Lunar Eclipse and the Astronomy of Columbus

(Photo by Author)

You can always count on an eclipse to get you out of a delicate situation. Today is Columbus Day in the United States and Thanksgiving north of the border in Canada. Later this week also marks the start of the second eclipse season for 2013. Today, we thought we’d take a look at the circumstances for the first eclipse of the season kicking off this coming Friday night, October 18, as well as the fascinating role that eclipses played in the life and times of Christopher Columbus.

Friday’s event is a penumbral lunar eclipse, meaning that the Full Moon will only pass through the outer bright rim of the Earth’s shadow. Such events are subtle affairs, as opposed to total and partial lunar eclipses, which occur when the Moon enters the dark inner core, or umbra, of the Earth’s shadow. Still, you may just be able to notice a slight dusky shading on the lower southern limb of the Moon as it flirts with the umbra, barely missing it around the time of central eclipse at 23:51 Universal Time/ 7:51 PM Eastern Daylight Saving Time. Friday night’s penumbral is 3 hours and 59 minutes in duration, and 76.5% of the disk of the Moon will be immersed in the penumbra at maximum eclipse.

The visibility footprint and circumstances of this week’s penumbral lunar eclipse. (Credit: Fred Espenak/NASA/GSFC).

Key Events occurring on Friday, October 18th:

21:50UT/5:50PM EDT: 1st contact with the Earth’s shadow.

23:51UT/7:51PM EDT: Mid-eclipse.

01:49UT(Oct 19th)/9:49PM EDT: Last contact. Eclipse ends.

The eclipse will be underway at moonrise for North and South America and occur at moonset for central Asia— Africa and Europe will see the entire eclipse. Standing on Earth’s Moon, an observer on the nearside would see a partial solar eclipse.

A simulation of Friday's lunar eclipse, looking back from Earth Moon at mid-eclipse. (Credit:
A simulation of Friday’s lunar eclipse, looking back from Moon at mid-eclipse. (Wikimedia Commons graphic in the Public Domain).

This eclipse is the 3rd and final lunar eclipse of 2013, and the 5th overall. It’s also the first in a series of four descending node eclipses, including the total lunar eclipse of October 8th next year.   It’s also the 52nd eclipse of 72 in the lunar saros series 117, which started on April 3rd, 1094 and will end with a final lunar eclipse on May 15th, 2356. Saros 117 produced its last total lunar eclipse in 1815 and its final partial in 1941.

Though penumbrals are slight events, we’ve been able to notice an appreciable difference before, during and after the eclipse photographically:

Penumbral I
Can you spy the difference? The May 18th, 2002 penumbral lunar eclipse before (left) and during mid-eclipse (right). Photos by Author.

Be sure to use identical exposure settings to catch this effect. Locations where the Moon rides high in the sky also stand the best chance of imaging the faint penumbral shading, as the Moon will be above the discoloring effects of the thicker air mass low to the horizon.

The Moon reaches descending node along the ecliptic about 20 hours after the end of the eclipse, and reaches apogee just over six days later on October 25th. The October Full Moon is also known as the Hunter’s Moon, providing a bit of extra illumination on the Fall hunt.

And this sets us up for the second eclipse of the season the next time the Moon crosses an ecliptic node, a hybrid (annular-total) solar eclipse spanning the Atlantic and Africa on November 3rd. More to come on that big ticket event soon!

In Columbus’s day, the Moon was often used to get a rough fix of a ship’s longitude at sea. Columbus was especially intrigued with the idea of using lunar eclipses to determine longitude. If you can note the position of the Moon in the sky from one location versus a known longitude during an event— such as first contact of the Moon with the Earth’s umbra during an eclipse —you can gauge your relative longitude east or west of the point. The sky moves 15 degrees, or one hour of right ascension overhead as we rotate under it. One of the earliest records of this method comes to us from Ptolemy, who deduced Alexander the Great’s position 30 degrees (2 hours) east of Carthage during the lunar eclipse of September 20th, 331 B.C. Alexander noted that the eclipse began two hours after sunset from his locale, while in Carthage it was recorded that the eclipse began at sunset.

A Jacob's crossstaff, a simple tool for measuring angles in the sky. (Photo by Author).
A Jacob’s cross staff, a simple tool for measuring angles in the sky. (Charles Towne Landing Historic Site Museum, Photo by Author).

Columbus was a student of Ptolemy, and used this method during voyages to and from the New World during the lunar eclipses of September 14th, 1494 and February 29, 1504. Of course, such a method is only approximate. The umbra of the Earth often appears ragged and indistinct on the edge of the lunar disk at the start of an eclipse, making it tough to judge the actual beginning of an eclipse by more than ten of minutes or so. And remember, you’re often watching from the pitching deck of a ship to boot!

Another problem also plagued Columbus’s navigation efforts: he favored a smaller Earth than we now know is reality. Had he listened to another Greek astronomer by the name of Eratosthenes, he would’ve gotten his measurements pretty darned close.

An eclipse also saved Columbus’s butt on one occasion. The story goes that tensions had come to a head between the locals and Columbus’s crew while stranded on the island of Jamaica in 1504. Noting that a lunar eclipse was about to occur on March 1st  (the evening of February 29th for North America), Columbus told the local leader that the Moon would rise “inflamed with wrath,” as indeed it did that night, right on schedule. Columbus then made a great show of pretending to pray for heavenly intersession, after which the Moon returned to its rightful color.  This kept a conniving Columbus and his crew stocked in supplies until a rescue ship arrived in June of that year.

A depiction of the 1504 lunar eclipse from the 1879 text Astronomie Populare by Camille Flammarion.
A depiction of the 1504 lunar eclipse from the 1879 text Astronomie Populare by Camille Flammarion.

Be sure to check out this Friday’s penumbral eclipse, and amaze your friends with the prediction of the next total lunar eclipse which occurs on U.S. Tax Day next year on April 15th, 2014. Can you do a better job of predicting your longitude than Columbus?

A Wacky Distorted View of the Recent Solar Eclipse

A three image sequence of the rising annular eclipse. Credit: Geoff Sims. (@beyond_beneath)

Just when we’d thought that we’ve seen every possible type of eclipse image, we’re happily surprised by the Universe.

If you’re like me, you watch the original Star Wars film and wonder what kind of eclipses could be seen from the surface of Tatooine.  Maybe you even wonder what things would look like if an extra sun and moon were to be thrown into the mix. How often, if ever, would such a bizarre alignment sync up?

Astrophotographer Geoff Sims provided us with just such a bizarre view this past weekend.

Geoff was one of a handful of intrepid photographers that braved the wilds of the Australian Outback to deliver us some stunning views of last week’s rising annular eclipse. We wrote of how to observe this celestial wonder late last month on Universe Today, and documented the efforts of photographers, both Earthbound and otherwise, the day of the eclipse this past Friday.

For this amazing image, Geoff positioned himself along the track of annularity in the Great Sandy Desert in Western Australia. Even the name of the site, the Plutonic Gold Mine outside of Newman, Australia couldn’t be beat!

The series is a composite of three exposures which were taken about three minutes apart. Mr. Simms relates how he accomplished this unforgettable image on his Facebook page:

“The lower image shows a flattened and distorted Sun perched right on the horizon, just seconds before the annular eclipse began. The middle image shows the annular phase, while the upper image shows the Sun some minutes after annularity.”

Mr. Sims used a Canon Mark III DSLR camera with a 500mm lens shooting at 1/1,000th of a second exposures at a focal ratio of f/8 and an ISO setting of 100.

Amazingly, other photographers positioned very near the eclipse graze line caught sight of what are known as Bailey’s Beads as well. More commonly seen during a total solar eclipse, these are caused by sunlight streaming through ridges and valleys on the limb of the Moon. This can also cause the brilliant diamond ring effect seen during a total solar eclipse. In the case of an annular eclipse, this manifests as a ragged broken edge where the disk of the Sun meets the Moon:

Bailey's Beads captured very briefly during last week's annular eclipse. (Credit: Geoff Sims).
Bailey’s Beads captured very briefly during last week’s annular eclipse. (Credit: Geoff Sims).

An annular eclipse occurs when the Moon eclipses the Sun near apogee, or its most distant point in its orbit and is hence visually too small to cover the Sun as seen from the Earth. A similar eclipse occurred over the Pacific and the western U.S. last year on May 20th, leading to a series of “horned sunset” photos taken across Texas and New Mexico.

But what is the most astonishing aspect of the eclipse sequence is the extreme distortion occurring across the very bottom image sitting on the horizon. When you’re looking low to the horizon, you’re viewing objects through a thicker cross-section of the atmosphere. This is what is termed as a higher air mass, and most astro-imagers avoid it entirely, preferring to catch objects with as little distortion as possible as they transit across the local meridian. This distortion can be extreme enough to result in atmospheric refraction of rising and setting objects like the Sun, Moon or planets, causing them to appear moments before or after they actually rose or set over the local horizon. In the case of the bottom image, the lower limb of the solar annulus (the technical name for what folks call the “ring of fire” seen during an annular eclipse) is actually distorted enough to appear along the rim of the local horizon!

To our knowledge, such an extremely distorted eclipse has never been documented before. One also wonders if a “green flash” could be captured by a properly positioned observer on a mountaintop or out to sea during a sunset or sunrise annular or total solar eclipse.

Newsflash: the green flash was indeed captured during last week’s annular eclipse… check out this amazing animation:

Ring of Fire – May 10 2013 Annular Solar Eclipse, Pilbara, Western Australia from Colin Legg on Vimeo.


2013 will offer one more chance to try to repeat this feat. On November 3rd, a hybrid solar eclipse will race across the Atlantic Ocean and central Africa. This is an eclipse that is literally an annular across a portion of its track and a total across another. The eclipse will begin at sunrise just south of Bermuda and end at sunset in eastern Africa. The maximum period of totality is 1 minute and 40 seconds off of the coast of Liberia, and the southern regions of Ethiopia offer the best shot at a sunset eclipse. Tantalizingly, the Florida Space Coast will get a rising partial eclipse only a few percent in magnitude.

Kudos to Mr. Sims for providing us with an unforgettable view of this rare cosmic spectacle. Australia won’t see another total solar eclipse until July 22nd, 2028, and another purely annular eclipse won’t occur until April 29th, 2014 across a very small section of the Antarctic.

And next week, we’ll have a very shallow penumbral eclipse on May 25th, and event is so subtle that few if any will notice it. Still, it is from such humble beginnings that great things are made, as we witness the birth of a new lunar saros… stay tuned!