Watch as the Jovian moons perform a spectacular celestial dance in 2021.
Wondering where all the planets have gone? With the the exception of Mars high in the dusk sky, all of the other naked eye planets (Mercury, Venus, Jupiter and Saturn) are currently hiding low in the dawn… but that’s about to change.
2020 closes out with the final total solar eclipse of the decade, as totality crosses the southern tip of South America on December 14th.
Did you happen to catch last Monday’s slight penumbral lunar eclipse? Sure, a penumbral may be the most anti-climatic of all of the varieties of eclipses… but this event also sets us up for the ultimate in astronomical events, as a total solar eclipse crosses South America on December 14th, 2020.
You couldn’t order up a geekier solar eclipse from the cosmos. Next Tuesday on July 2nd, the second of three eclipse seasons begins for 2019, with the only total solar eclipse of the year spanning the southern tip of South America, including the nations of Chile and Argentina. As an extra-special part of the spectacle, however, the path of totality for the eclipse passes right over the La Silla observatory complex in the Atacama Desert.
The first film of a total solar eclipse has been restored by specialists at the British Film Institute (BFI) and made available for viewing. The film was taken in North Caroline in 1900 by Nevil Maskelyne. Maskelyne was a British man who was a magician turned film-maker. He took the film as part of a Royal Astronomical Society (RAS) expedition.
Holy moly, that was awesome! Incredible, fantastic, amazing…there just aren’t the words to describe what it is like to experience totality. While I’m trying to come down to Earth and figure out how to explain how wonderful this was, enjoy the beautiful images captured by our readers from across the US and those from across the world who traveled to capture one of nature’s most spectacular events: a total solar eclipse.
The images from those seeing partial eclipses are wonderful, as well, and we’ll keep adding them as they come in (update, we just got some from Europe too). Great job everyone!
It’s hard to believe: we’re now just one short weekend away from the big ticket astronomical event for 2017, as a total solar eclipse is set to cross over the contiguous United States on Monday, August 21st.
Celestial mechanics is a sure thing in this Universe, a certainty along with death and taxes that you can bet on. But there are still a few key question marks leading up to eclipse day, things that we can now finally make intelligent assumptions about a few days out.
First up is solar activity. If you’re like us, you’ll be showing off the Sun in both visible and hydrogen alpha as the Moon begins making its slow hour long creep across the disk of Sol. First, the good news: sunspot active region AR 2671 made its Earthward debut on Tuesday August 15th, and will most likely stick around until eclipse day. The bad news is, it most likely won’t have lots of friends, as solar cycle #24 begins its long slow ebb towards the solar minimum in 2019-2020. Likewise, I wouldn’t expect to see any magnificent sprouting red prominences in the solar chromosphere in the seconds bracketing totality, though we could always be pleasantly surprised.
How will the white hot corona appear during totality? This is the signature climax of any total solar eclipse: veteran umbraphiles can actually glance at a photo of totality and tell you which eclipse it was from, just on the shape of the corona. The National Solar Observatory released a model of what that Sun’s magnetosphere was doing one Carrington rotation (27 days) prior to the eclipse on July 25th, a pretty good predictor of the corona might look like during those fleeting moments of totality:
NASA will be chasing the umbra of the Moon with two converted W-57 aircraft during the eclipse, hoping to unlock the “coronal heating paradox,” image Mercury in the infrared, and hunt for elusive Vulcanoid asteroids near the eclipsed Sun.
The corona is about twice as bright as a Full Moon, and its interface with the solar wind extends out past the Earth. The very onset of totality is like the footstep of a giant passing over the landscape, as the door of reality is suddenly ripped open, revealing the span of the glittering solar system at midday. Keep your eyes peeled for Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter and twinkling Regulus tangled up in the corona, just a degree from the Sun-Moon pair:
Also, be sure to scan the local horizon for a strange 360 degree sunset as you stand in the umbra of the Moon. An “eclipse wind” may kick up, as temperatures plummet and nature is fooled by the false dawn, causing chickens to come home to roost and nocturnal animals to awaken. I dare you to blink. Totality can affect the human heart as well, causing tears to cries of surprise.
Here’s an interesting, though remote, possibility. Could a sungrazing “eclipse comet” photo bomb the show? Karl Battams (@SungrazerComets) raises this question on a recent Planetary Society blog post. Battams works with the Solar Heliospheric Observatory (SOHO), which has discovered an amazing 3,358 comets crossing the field of view of its LASCO imagers since 1995. Comets have been discovered during eclipses before, most notably in 1882 and 1948. To be sure, it’s a remote possibility this late in the game, but Battams promises to give us one last quick look via SOHO the morning of the eclipse on his Twitter feed to see if any cometary interlopers are afoot.
Now, on to the biggest question mark going into this eclipse weekend: what’s the weather going to be like during the eclipse? This is the ever-dominating factor on everyone’s mind leading up to eclipse day. Keep in mind, the partial phases are long; even a partly cloudy sky will afford occasional glimpses of the Sun during the partial phases of an eclipse. Totality, however, is fleeting – 2 minutes and 40 seconds near Hopkinsville, Kentucky and less for most – meaning even a solitary cumulus cloud drifting across the Sun at the wrong moment can spoil the view. No weather model can predict the view of the sky to that refined a level. And while best bets are still out west, lingering forest fires in Oregon are a concern, along early morning fog on the western side of the Cascade Mountains. Michael Zeiler over at The Great American Eclipse has been providing ESRI models of the cloud cover over the eclipse path for Monday… here’s the outlook as of Thursday, August 17th:
Computer models should begin to come into agreement this weekend, a good sign that we know what the weather is going to do Monday. Needless to say, a deviation from the standard climate models could send lots of folks scrambling down the path at the last minute… I’ve heard of folks with up to 5 (!) separate reservations along the path of totality, no lie…
The NOAA also has a fine site dedicated to weather and cloud coverage across the path come eclipse day, and Skippy Sky is another great resource aimed at sky viewing and cloud cover.
Clouded out? The good folks at the Virtual Telescope have got you covered, with a webcast for the total solar eclipse starting at 17:00 UT/1:00 PM EDT:
Of course, you’ll need to use proper solar viewing methods during all partial phases of the eclipse. This means either using a telescope with a filter specifically designed to look at the Sun, a pin hole projector, or certified ISO 12312-2 eclipse glasses. If you’ve got an extra pair, why not convert them into a safe filter for those binoculars or a small telescope as well:
Also be wary of heatstroke, standing out showing folks the partially eclipsed Sun for an hour or more. It is August, and heat exhaustion can come on in a hurry. Be sure you have access to shade and stay cool and hydrated in the summer Sun.
Finally, eyes from space will be watching the eclipse from the International Space Station as well. Looking out at Monday, the ISS will pass through the penumbra of the Moon and see partial phases of the eclipse three times centered on 16:32, 18:20, and 20:00 Universal Time. The center time is particularly intriguing, as astros have a chance to see the dark umbral shadow of the Moon crossing the central U.S. This also means that eclipse viewers on planet Earth around southern Illinois might want to glance northward briefly, to spy the ISS during totality. Also, viewers along a line along southern central Canada will have a chance to catch an ISS transit across the face of the partially eclipsed Sun around the same time. Check CALSky for details.
We’ll be at the Pisgah Astronomical Research Institute in southwestern North Carolina, for a glorious 104 seconds of totality. We expect to be out of wifi range come eclipse day, but we’ll tweet out key eclipse milestones as @Astroguyz. We also plan on writing up the eclipse experience with state-by-state testimonials post eclipse.
If you are looking forward to the August 21 solar eclipse as much as we are, you’ll want to check out a new series on CuriosityStream called “Eclipse Across America.”
The four-part series takes an inside preview at this highly anticipated event. NASA experts, an international group of astronomers and seasoned eclipse chasers reveal secret viewing spots and tips on how to safely view what could be for millions of people a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to see one of the most spectacular sights in nature: a total solar eclipse.
Our friend and Astronomy Cast co-host Dr. Pamela Gay, who is also the Director of Technology at the Astronomical Society of the Pacific, is part of the all-star “astronomy cast” (pun intended) of experts, and she talked with us about her part in the show.
“I get to talk about the really cool parts of an eclipse, where you can experience totality and actually feel the temperature change,” she said. Using state-of-the-art special effects, Pamela gets to show off what the eclipse will likely look like at spots around her location in the St. Louis, MO area. “There’s the fickleness of it, where some buildings will see totality and another won’t,” she said. “Of course, the closer you get to the centerline the longer totality will be, and there are some beautiful locations where you can see it.”
The really fun part of this particular eclipse is that it takes a path across the entire continental U.S. I asked Pamela if, given the rather divisive political and social climate these days in this country, could this total solar eclipse become a possible unifying moment?
“I think that during the event there will be a lot of overwhelming experiences that people sometimes have of being in a crowd – such as will there be enough bathrooms,” she said. “But afterwards, I think it will be this shared ‘do you remember when’ moment that we’ll have for the rest of our lives. We all have certain moments that we remember and currently here in the US a lot of those memories are ‘where were you when 911 happened? Or where were you when we started bombing Iraq.’ This will be ‘where you when the sun was eclipsed,’ and that is so much better than ‘where were you when the towers fell down.’”
If you already have a CuriosityStream account, you can watch the series starting with Episode One here. If you don’t, you can take advantage of a 7-day free trial in order to watch this series, and all the other great science offerings available, such as Stephen Hawking’s Universe, Brian Cox’s Wonders of Life, and other topics from astronomy observing tips to info about various missions to theoretical physics. Check it out. If you’re interested in continuing after your free trial, the ad-free streaming service costs $2.99, $5.99 and $11.99 per month for standard definition, high definition, and ultra high definition 4K respectively.
A partial lunar eclipse occurs when the Moon just nicks the inner dark core of the Earth’s shadow, known as the umbra. This eclipse is centered on the Indian Ocean region, with the event occurring at moonrise for the United Kingdom, Europe and western Africa and moonset/sunrise for New Zealand and Japan. Western Australia, southern Asia and eastern Africa will see the entire eclipse.
The penumbral phase of the eclipse begins on August 7th at 15:50 Universal Time (UT), though you probably won’t notice a slight tea colored shading on the face of the Moon until about half an hour in. The partial phases begin at 17:23 UT, when the ragged edge of the umbra becomes apparent on the southeastern limb of the Moon. The deepest partial eclipse occurs at 18:22 UT with 25% of the Moon submerged in the umbra. Partial phase lasts 116 minutes in duration, and the entire eclipse is about five hours long.
This also marks the start of the second and final eclipse season for 2017. Four eclipses occur this year: a penumbral lunar eclipse and annular solar eclipse this past February, and this month’s partial lunar and total solar eclipse.
Eclipses always occur in pairs, or very rarely triplets with an alternating lunar-solar pattern. This is because the tilt of the Moon’s orbit is inclined five degrees relative to the ecliptic, the plane of the Earth’s orbit around the Sun. The Moon therefore misses the 30′ wide disk of the Sun and the 80′ – 85′ wide inner shadow of the Earth on most passes.
Fun fact: at the Moon’s 240,000 mile distance from the Earth, the ratio of the apparent size of the Moon and the shadow is approximately equivalent to a basketball and a hoop.
When celestial bodies come into alignment, however, things can get interesting. For an eclipse to occur, the nodes – the point where the Moon’s orbit intersects the ecliptic – need to align with the position of the Moon and the Sun. There are two nodes, one descending with the Moon crossing the ecliptic from north to south, and one ascending. The time it takes for the Moon to return to the same node (27.2 days) is a draconitic month. Moreover, the nodes are moving around the Earth due to drag on the Moon’s orbit mainly by the Sun, and move all the way around the zodiac once every 18.6 years.
Got all that? Let’s put it into practice with this month’s eclipses. First, the Moon crosses its descending node at 10:56 UT on August 8th, just over 16 hours after Monday’s partial eclipse. Two weeks later, however, the Moon crosses ascending node just under eight hours from the central conjunction with the Sun, and a total solar eclipse occurs.
Tales of the Saros
The August 7th lunar eclipse is member number 62 of the 83 lunar eclipses in saros series 119, which started on October 14th, 935 AD and will end with a final shallow penumbral eclipse on March 25th, 2396 AD. If you witnessed the lunar eclipse of July 28th, 1999, then you saw the last lunar eclipse in the same saros. Saros 119 produced its last total lunar eclipse on June 15th, 1927.
The next lunar eclipse, a total occurs on January 31st, 2018, favoring the Pacific rim regions.
Partial lunar eclipses have occasionally work their way into history, usually as bad omens. One famous example is the partial lunar eclipse of May 22nd, 1453 which preceded the Fall of Constantinople to the Ottoman Turks by a week. Apparently, a long standing legend claimed that a lunar eclipse would be the harbinger of the fall of Byzantium, and the partially eclipsed Moon rising over the besieged city ramparts seemed to fulfill the prophecy.
In our more enlightened age, we can simply enjoy Monday’s partial lunar eclipse as a fine celestial spectacle. You don’t need any special equipment to enjoy a lunar eclipse, just a view from the correct Moonward facing hemisphere of the Earth, and reasonably clear skies.
See the curve of the Earth’s shadow? This is one of the very few times that you can see that the Earth is indeed round (sorry, Flat Earthers) with your own eyes. And this curve is true for observers watching the Moon on the horizon, or high overhead near the zenith.
This month’s lunar eclipse occurs in the astronomical constellation of Capricornus. The Moon will also occult the +5th magnitude star 29 Capricorni for southern India, Madagascar and South Africa shortly after the eclipse.
Finally, anyone out there planning on carrying the partial lunar eclipse live, let us know… curiously, even Slooh seems to be sitting this one out.
Update: we have one possible broadcast, via Shahrin Ahmad (@shahgazer on Twitter). Updates to follow!
The final eclipse season for 2017 is now underway, starting Monday night. Nothing is more certain in this Universe than death, taxes and celestial mechanics, as the path of the Moon now sends it headlong to its August 21st destiny and the Great American Total Solar Eclipse.
-We’ll be posting on Universe Today once more pre-total solar eclipse one week prior, with weather predictions, solar and sunspot activity and prospects for viewing the eclipse from Earth and space and more!