Join the Eclipse MegaMovie 2017 Chronicling the August Total Solar Eclipse

Eclipse Diamond Ring
Eclipse Diamond Ring
The November 2012 total solar eclipse as seen from Australia. The Eclipse Megamovie project hopes to capture a similar extended view. Image credit and copyright: Alan Dyer/Amazing Sky Photography.

Ready for the “Great American Eclipse?” We’re now less than six months out from the long-anticipated total solar eclipse spanning the contiguous United States from coast-to-coast. And while folks are scrambling to make last minute plans to stand in the path of totality on Monday, August 21st 2017, a unique project named the Eclipse Megamovie 2017 seeks seeks to document the view across the entire path.

The Project: Sponsored by Google’s Making & Science Initiative and led by Scott McIntosh from the National Center for Atmospheric Research’s High Altitude Observatory and Hugh Hudson from the University of California at Berkeley, the Eclipse Megamovie Project seeks to recruit 1,500 observers stationed across the eclipse path from Oregon to South Carolina. Although individual observers will only experience a maximum totality length of 2 minutes and 40 seconds, the complete span of the Eclipse Megamovie will last 90 minutes, compiled using observer images from coast-to-coast.

Mega movie
Getting ready for the Eclipse Megamovie project. Credit: Eclipse Megamovie Project.

“The movie is a tool for scientific exploration,” Hudson said in a recent University of California at Berkeley press release. “We’ll be collecting this level of data for the first time, from millions of observers, and it will be a valuable archive. But we don’t know what we’ll see or what we’ll learn about the interactions between the chromosphere and the corona.”

One portion of the project will have trained volunteers image the Sun from along the eclipse path using DSLRs, while another portion of the project will feature smartphone users imaging totality using a forthcoming Eclipse Megamovie app for a full length lower resolution movie.

Bikers and Baily’s Beads

The only total solar eclipse for 2017, totality for this eclipse occurs along a 114 kilometer-wide path touching on 12 states. Millions live within an easy day drive of the eclipse path, so expect lots of general public interest leading up to eclipse day. August is RV and camping season, so expect camplots to fill up quickly as well. The eclipse also occurs just over a week after the annual Biker’s Rally in Sturgis, South Dakota, affording motorcyclists a chance to stand in the shadow of the Moon en route to the annual pilgrimage.

Great American Eclipse
The path of the August 21st, 2017 eclipse across the United States. Credit: Michael Zeiler/Eclipse-Maps.

The last total solar eclipse to cross one of the 50 United States graced Hawaii on July 11th, 1991, and the last time the umbra of the Moon touched down over the lower 48 states was on February 26th, 1979 across the United States northwest. But you have to go all the way back over almost a century ago to June 8th, 1918 to find an eclipse featuring totality which exclusively spanned the United States from sea to shining sea.

Observers have chased after the umbra seeking to extend fleeting totality before. Eclipse chasers documented the January 24th, 1925 eclipse from aloft aboard a dirigible over New York City. On June 30th, 1973, a supersonic Concorde flight chased the umbra of the Moon across northern Africa, extending totality out to 74 minutes.

The team was also on hand to perform a dry run test of the Megamovie Project at this past weekend’s annular eclipse which crossed South America, the Southern Atlantic and Africa and reports that the field test of the promised project app by Mark Bender worked admirably, and the Eclipse Megamovie App should be available to the general public soon.

Baily's Beads
A mosaic of the 2016 total solar eclipse, depicting the evolution of Baily’s Beads before and after totality. Image credit and copyright: Steed Joy.

What sort of science can such a project offer? What is left to learn from a total solar eclipse after centuries of scientific study? Well, some of the most accurate measurements of the solar diameter and the size and shape of the Sun have been made during solar eclipses. A long movie may also reveal streamers and development of the solar corona, the ethereal pearly white glowing outer atmosphere surrounding the Sun. About half as bright as a Full Moon, we only get a brief glimpse of the corona during totality. Also, the Eclipse Megamovie will get another shot at the project in April 2024, when another eclipse crosses the United States from Texas to Maine.

The Eclipse Megamovie is taking volunteers now. The gear setup required is simple, and you might have what’s needed to image the eclipse laying around already.

DSLR
Got a tripod-mounted, zoom lens equipped DSLR? Photo by author.

You’ll need a DSLR camera with a sturdy tripod, a zoom or fixed lens of 300mm focal length or better, and an ability to nail down your GPS location and the time to the nearest second. Once the volunteers are selected, training will be provided to include GPS and time stamping images, flat-fielding and more.

Phone apps will readily supply the GPS part. For time, I’d go with with WWV Radio, which broadcasts a continuous audio time hack out of Fort Collins, Colorado. This is in Universal Time, and has an accuracy of better than a second better than online time sources, which occasionally lag due to spurious web connections.

Keep in mind, you’ll be photographing the eclipsed Sun during very brief moments of totality. You’ll need to have approved solar glasses and filters in place during all partial phases leading up to and immediately after the eclipse. The Eclipse Megamovie project also hopes to catch sight of the Bailey’s Beads phenomenon as final streamers of sunlight pour through the lunar valleys, giving the illusion known as the Diamond Ring effect.

TSE2017
An animation of the August 21st, 2017 total solar eclipse. A.T. Sinclair/NASA/GSFC

And us? We’ll be casting our hubris at the Universe and catch the eclipse from Columbia, South Carolina. We’re heeding the advice of veteran eclipse chasers, and simply enjoying our first eclipse, and imaging our second, though we may sneak in a few shots for the Eclipse Megamovie project. Universe Today publisher Fraser Cain and astronomer and AstronomyCast host Pamela Gay will lead a group watching from southern Illinois, and we’ve also heard from many other observers from around the world who’ll be visiting the U.S. the August… where will you be?

And we’ve already got a spot picked out for 2024, as the next total solar eclipse crosses Aroostook County and our hometown of Mapleton, Maine… hey, you can never start planning too early, right?

Get set for an eclipse for the ages, and be sure to contribute to the Eclipse Megamovie Project.

-Read about all eclipses, comets, occultations and more for the year in our guide to 101 Astronomical Events for 2017, free from Universe Today.

-Eclipse… science fiction? Check out our original eclipse-fueled sci-fi tales Exeligmos, Shadowfall, the Syzygy Gambit, Peak Season and more.

Standing in the Shadow: Amazing Images of Today’s Total Solar Eclipse

The Moon’s shadow kissed the Earth earlier today, providing a fine show from southeast Asia, to the southern shores of Alaska. We wrote about the only total solar eclipse for 2016 yesterday. This is it, the last total solar eclipse prior to the return of totality for the contiguous United States on August 21st, 2017.

Cloud cover over the region was a toss up, with clear skies for some, and cloudy skies for others. Those towards the western end of the track where the eclipsed rising Sun sat low on the horizon seemed to have fared worst.

Image credit:
Clouds thwarted a Malaysian team that had journeyed to Indonesia to view the eclipse (including Sharin Ahmad @shahgazer), though they were at the ready. Image credit and copyright: Sharin Ahmad.

Update: Sometimes, the camera sees what the eye misses. The Malaysian team did indeed manage to nab a fine display of Bailey’s Beads in the moments leading up to totality through a thin gap in the clouds:

Sunlight, interupted. A welcome photobomb courtesy of the Earth's Moon. Image credit and copyright: Shahrin Ahmad. (@shahgazer)
Sunlight, interupted. A welcome photobomb courtesy of the Earth’s Moon. Image credit and copyright: Shahrin Ahmad. (@shahgazer)

Skies dawned clear to the east over the Indonesian islands on the morning of the eclipse, and the joint NASA/Exploratorium webcast from the remote atoll of Woleai in Micronesia was a success.

Image credit
A ‘helipad solar observatory’ readied for the eclipse. Image credit and copyright: Patrick Poitevin.

Observing from a helipad Balikpanpan, Indonesia, veteran eclipse chaser Patrick Poitevin said: “What an eclipse! Vertically clear sky throughout the entire eclipse from our ‘private’ helipad in Balikpapan. Only slight haze now and then. Asymmetric corona, with bright and prominent snow white streamer. Venus, Mercury easily visible long before, and shadow bands post totality. Fabulous! All so pretty!!! Marked the second Saros 130 for Jo and the 3rd for me.”

Image credit
Many viewers noted a fine solar prominence on the solar limb seen during totality. Patrick Poitevin caught the prominence using a hydrogen-alpha solar telescope just moments before the onset of totality. Image credit: Patrick Poitevin.

Indeed, catching a ‘triple saros’ known as an exeligmos is a noteworthy lifetime accomplishment.

09 March 2016 - Total Solar Eclipse from Palu, Indonesia. Image credit and copyright: Justin Ng.
09 March 2016 – Total Solar Eclipse from Palu, Indonesia. Image credit and copyright: Justin Ng.

Many witnessed the eclipse via Slooh’s live webcast from the path of totality, which is now archived in its entirety on YouTube.

Totality, as witnessed by the Slooh team in Indonesia. Image credit: www.slooh.com
Totality, as witnessed by the Slooh team in Indonesia. Image credit: www.slooh.com

As of writing this, no views from space have surfaced, though we suspect this will change as the day goes on. Word is that the Alaskan Airlines flight that modified their flight plan to catch the eclipse was successful as well. Check back, as we’ll be dropping in more images as they trickle in from the field throughout the day.

The partial phases of today's eclipse as seen from Lava Lava, Hawaii. image credit and copyright: Rob Sparks (@halfastro)
The partial phases of today’s eclipse as seen from Lava Lava, Hawaii. Image credit and copyright: Rob Sparks (@halfastro)

Update: Scratch that… Japan’s Himawari-8 weather satellite did indeed nab views of the umbra of the Moon as it raced across the Pacific:

An animation of today's total solar eclipse as seen from space. Image credit: The Meteorological Satellite Center of JAMA.
An animation of today’s total solar eclipse as seen from space. Image credit: The Meteorological Satellite Center of JAMA.

Though the eclipse was almost entirely over water after the umbra departed SE Asia, regions around the path were treated to a fine partial eclipse, including residents of Hawaii:

August 21st 2017 is now the very next total solar eclipse in the queue!

Update: and the amazing images just keep on coming… here’s an amazing image and time lapse video courtesy of astrophotographer Justin Ng:

09 March 2016 - Total Solar Eclipse from Palu, Indonesia. Image credit and copyright: Justin Ng Photography.
09 March 2016 – Total Solar Eclipse from Palu, Indonesia. Image credit and copyright: Justin Ng Photography.

And timelapse:

2016 Total Solar Eclipse – Palu Indonesia from Justin Ng Photo on Vimeo.

Wow. just wow!

Chasing the Shadow: Our Guide to the March 9th Total Solar Eclipse

Ready for the ultimate in astronomical events? On the morning of Wednesday, March 9th, the Moon eclipses the Sun for viewers across southeast Asia.

Many intrepid umbraphiles are already in position for the spectacle. The event is the only total solar eclipse of 2016, and the penultimate total solar eclipse prior the ‘Big One’ crossing the continental United States on August 21st, 2017.

Image credit: Great American Eclipse/Michael Zeiler
The path of tomorrow’s eclipse. Image credit: Great American Eclipse/Michael Zeiler

Tales of the Saros

This particular eclipse is member 52 of 73 eclipses in saros cycle 130, which runs from 1096 AD to 2394. If you saw the total solar eclipse which crossed South America on February 26th, 1998, then you caught the last solar eclipse from the same cycle.

Image credit: NASA/GSFC/A.T. Sinclair
An animation of the event. Image credit: NASA/GSFC/A.T. Sinclair

Weather prospects are dicey along the eclipse track, as March is typically the middle of monsoon season for southeast Asia. Most eclipse chasers have headed to the islands of Indonesia or cruises based nearby to witness the event. The point of greatest eclipse lies off of the southeastern coast of the Philippine Islands in the South China Sea, with a duration of 4 minutes and 10 seconds. Most observers, however, will experience a substantially shorter period of totality. For example, totality lasts only 2 minutes and 35 seconds over island of Ternate, where many eclipse chasers have gathered. The Sun will be 48 degrees above the horizon from the island during totality.

A great place to check cloud cover and weather prospects along the eclipse track is the Eclipsophile website.

Image credit; SkippySky
A dicey sky: prospects for cloud cover over Australia. Image credit; SkippySky

The umbra of the Earth’s Moon will sweep across Sumatra at sunrise and across the island of Borneo, to landfall one last time for Indonesia over the island of North Maluku before sweeping across the central Pacific. This eclipse is unusual in that it makes landfall over a very few countries: the island nation of Indonesia, and just a few scattered atolls in Palau and Micronesia.

Partial phases of the eclipse are also visible from India at sunrise, across northeast Asia along the northernmost track, to central Australia in the south, and finally, to southern Alaskan coast at sunset. Honolulu Hawaii sees a 65% partial solar eclipse in the late afternoon on March 8th.

Expect great views, both from Earth and from space. We typically get images from solar observing spacecraft, to include the joint NASA/JAXA Hinode mission, and the European Space Agency’s PROBA-2 spacecraft. Both are in low-Earth orbit, and see a given eclipse as a swift, fleeting event. Other solar observatories—such as the Solar Heliospheric Observatory and the Solar Dynamics Observatory—occupy a different vantage point in space, and miss the eclipse.

Image credit: Starry Night Education Software
The orientation of the Sun and planets at totality (click to enlarge). Image credit: Starry Night Education Software

As of this writing, we know of several folks that have made the journey to stand in the path of totality, to include Sharin Ahmad (@Shagazer), Michael Zeiler (@GreatAmericanEclipse) and Justin Ng.

Good luck and clear skies to all observers out there, awaiting darkness in the path of totality.

Live in the wrong hemisphere? There are several live webcasts planned from the eclipse zone:

NASA and the National Science Foundation are working with a team from San Francisco’s Exploratorium to bring a live webcast of the eclipse from the remote atoll island of Woleai, Micronesia. The feed starts at 7:00 EST/0:00 Universal Time (UT) and runs for just over three hours. You can follow the exploits of the team leading up to show time here.

The venerable Slooh will also feature a webcast of the eclipse with astronomer Paul Cox from Indonesia running for three hours starting at 6:00 PM EST/23:00 UT.

A view of the partial phases of the eclipse from the Hong Kong science center also starts at 5:30 PM EST/22:30 UT:

Don’t forget: though the eclipse occurs on the morning of March 9th local time in southeast Asia, the path crosses the International Dateline, and the webcasts kick off on the evening of Tuesday March 8th for North America.

And hey, Alaska Airlines flight 870 from Anchorage to Honolulu will divert from its flight plan slightly… just to briefly intercept the Moon’s shadow (its already a fully booked flight!)

From there, 2016 features only two faint penumbral lunar eclipses on March 23rd and September 16th, and an annular solar eclipse crossing central Africa on September 1st.

We’ll be doing a post-eclipse round up, with tales from totality and the pics to prove it… stay tuned!

Got eclipse pictures to share? Send ’em to Universe Today… we just might feature them in our round up!

Don’t miss our eclipse-fueled science fiction tales: Exeligmos and Shadowfall.

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.

Slender Moonspotting, Occultations, Daytime Planets and More

One of nature’s grandest ‘occultations’ of all is coming right up this Friday, as the Moon passes in front of the Sun for viewers in the high Arctic for a total solar eclipse. And although 99.999+% percent of humanity will miss totality, everyone can trace the fascinating path of the Moon as it moves back into the evening sky this weekend.

As of this writing, it looks like the fickle March weather is going to keep us guessing right up to eclipse day. Fear not, as the good folks over at the Virtual Telescope Project promise to bring us views of the eclipse live.  Not only does this eclipse fall on the same day as the start of astronomical spring in the northern hemisphere known as the vernal (northward) equinox, but it also marks the start of lunation 1141.

Ever try hunting for the slender crescent Moon in the dawn or dusk sky? The sport of thin Moon-spotting on the days surrounding the New Moon can push visual skills to the very limit. Binoculars are your friend in this endeavor, as you sweep back and forth attempting to see the slim fingernail of a Moon against the low contrast background sky.  Thursday morning March 19th provides a great chance for North American observers to spy an extremely thin Moon about 24 hours prior to Friday’s eclipse.

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Projected locales for the first sightings of the slim crescent Moon on the evening of March 20th. Credit: Created by author.

Unfortunately, most of North America misses the eclipse, though folks on the extreme east coast of Newfoundland might see a partially eclipsed sunrise if the day dawns clear.

The Moon will first be picked up in the evening sky post-eclipse this weekend. On Friday evening, folks in the southern United States might just be able to spy a 15 hour old Moon with optical assistance if skies are clear.

As the Moon fattens, expect to see it at its most photogenic as Ashen light or Earthshine illuminates its nighttime side. What you’re seeing is sunlight from the Earth being reflected back in a reverse (waning gibbous) phase as seen from the earthward side of the Moon. The prominence of Earthshine can vary depending on the amount of cloud and snow cover currently turned moonward, though of course, if it’s cloudy from your location, you won’t see a thing…

Credit
The universe smiles back: A skewed emoticon grouping of Venus, Mars and the Moon plus Earthshine on February 20th. Photo by author.

Watch that Moon over the coming weeks, as it has a date with destiny.

The Moon occults (passes in front of) two planets and one bright star in the coming week. First up is an occultation of Uranus on March 21st at around 11:00 UT/7:00 AM EDT. Sure, this one is for the most part purely academic and unobservable, as it occurs over central Africa in the daytime and is only 15 degrees east of the Sun. Still, if you can pick up the Moon on the evenings of March 20th or March 21st, you might just be able to spy nearby Uranus shining at +6th magnitude nearby before it heads towards solar conjunction on April 6th.

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The visibility footprint of the March 21st occultation of Mars by the Moon. Credit: Occult 4.1.

Next, the Moon occults Mars on March 21st at 22:00 UT/6:00 PM EDT for the southern Pacific coast of South America. North America will see an extremely close photogenic pairing of Luna and the Red Planet. This is one of seven occultations of a naked eye planet by the Moon for 2015, and the first of two for Mars for the year, the next falling on December 6th.

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The Moon pairs with Venus on the evening of March 22nd. Credit: Stellarium.

Next up, the Moon has a tryst with brilliant Venus, passing 2.8 degrees from the Cytherean world on March 22nd. Can you spy -4th magnitude Venus near the two day old Moon before sunset? This is the stuff that has inspired astronomically-themed flags and skewed emoticon ‘smiley face conjunctions’ of yore, including the close pairing of Mars, Venus and the Moon seen worldwide last month.

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The occultation of Aldebaran by the Moon on March 25th. Credit: Occult 4.1.

Next up, the 30% illuminated Moon occults the bright star Aldebaran for Alaskan viewers at dusk on March 25th. This is the third occultation of the star by the Moon in the ongoing cycle, and to date, no one has, to our knowledge, successfully caught an occultation of Aldebaran in 2015… could this streak be broken next week?

Credit:
The daytime Moon paired with Jupiter on March 30th. Credit: Starry Night Education software.

And speaking of daytime planet-spotting, Jupiter will sit only five degrees south of the waxing gibbous Moon on the evening of March 30th. Can you spy the giant planet near the daytime Moon in the afternoon sky using binocs? And finally, watch that Moon, as it heads for the third total lunar eclipse of the last 12 months visible from the Americas and the Pacific region on the morning of April 4th

More to come!

A Complete Guide to the March 20th Total Solar Eclipse

The first of two eclipse seasons for the year is upon us this month, and kicks off with the only total solar eclipse for 2015 on Friday, March 20th.

And what a bizarre eclipse it is. Not only does this eclipse begin just 15 hours prior to the March equinox marking the beginning of astronomical spring in the northern hemisphere, but the shadow of totality also beats path through the high Arctic and ends over the North Pole.

Credit:
An animation of the March 20th eclipse. Credit: NASA/GSFC/AT Sinclair.

Already, umbraphiles — those who chase eclipses — are converging on the two small tracts of terra firma where the umbra of the Moon makes landfall: the Faroe and Svalbard islands. All of Europe, the northern swath of the African continent, north-central Asia and the Middle East will see a partial solar eclipse, and the eclipse will be deeper percentage-wise the farther north you are .

2015 features four eclipses in all: two total lunars and two solars, with one total solar and one partial solar eclipse. Four is the minimum number of eclipses that can occur in a calendar year, and although North America misses out on the solar eclipse action this time ’round, most of the continent gets a front row seat to the two final total lunar eclipses of the ongoing tetrad on April 4th and September 28th.

How rare is a total solar eclipse on the vernal equinox? Well, the last total solar eclipse on the March equinox occurred back in 1662 on March 20th. There was also a hybrid eclipse — an eclipse which was annular along a portion of the track, and total along another — on March 20th, 1681. But you won’t have to wait that long for the next, as another eclipse falls on the northward equinox on March 20th, 2034.

Credit
The path of the March 20th eclipse across Europe, including start times for the partial phases, and the path of totality, click to enlarge. For more maps showing the percentage of occlusion, elevation, and more, click here. Credit: Michael Zeiler/GreatAmercianEclipse.com.

Note that in the 21st century, the March equinox falls on March 20th, and will start occasionally falling on March 19th in 2044. We’re also in that wacky time of year where North America has shifted back to ye ‘ole Daylight Saving (or Summer) Time, while Europe makes the change after the eclipse on March 29th. It really can wreak havoc with those cross-time zone plans, we know…

The March 20th eclipse also occurs only a day after lunar perigee, which falls on March 19th at 19:39 UT. This is also one of the closer lunar perigees for 2015 at 357,583 kilometres distant, though the maximum duration of totality for this eclipse is only 2 minutes and 47 seconds just northeast of the Faroe Islands.

Credit:
Views from selected locales in Europe and Africa. Credit: Stellarium.

This eclipse is number 61 of 71 in solar saros series 120, which runs from 933 to 2754 AD. It’s also the second to last total in the series, with the final total solar eclipse for the saros cycle occurring one saros later on March 30th, 2033.

And speaking of obscure eclipse terminology, check out this neat compendium we came across in research. What’s an Exeligmos? How many Heptons are in a Gregoriana?

The 462 kilometre wide path of the eclipse touches down south of Greenland at 9:13 UT at sunrise, before racing across the North Atlantic towards the pole and departing the Earth at 10:21 UT. The sedate partial phases for the eclipse worldwide start at 7:40 UT, and run out to 11:51 UT.

What would it look like to sit at the North Pole and watch a total solar eclipse on the first day of Spring? It would be a remarkable sight, as the disk of the Sun skims just above the horizon for the first time since the September 2014 equinox. Does this eclipse occur at sunrise or sunset as seen from the pole? It would be a rare spectacle indeed!

Credit
An equinoctal eclipse as simulated from the North Pole. Credit: Stellarium.

Alas, this unique view from the pole will more than likely go undocumented. A similar eclipse was caught in 2003 from the Antarctic, and a few intrepid eclipse chasers, including author David Levy did manage to make the journey down under to witness totality from the polar continent.

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Practicing eclipse safety in Africa. Credit: Michael Zeiler/GreatAmericanEclipse.com

Safety is paramount when observing the Sun and a solar eclipse. Eye protection is mandatory during all partial phases across Europe, northern Asia, North Africa and the Middle East. A proper solar filter mask constructed of Baader safety film is easy to construct, and should fit snugly over the front aperture of a telescope. No. 14 welder’s goggles are also dense enough to look at the Sun, as are safety glasses specifically designed for eclipse viewing. Observing the Sun via projection or by using a pinhole projector is safe and easy to do.

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A solar filtered scope ready to go in Tucson, Arizona. Credit: photo by author.

Weather is always the big variable in the days leading up to any eclipse. Unfortunately, March in the North Atlantic typically hosts stormy skies, and the low elevation of the eclipse in the sky may hamper observations as well. From the Faroe Islands, the Sun sits 18 degrees above the horizon during totality, while from the Svalbard Islands it’s even lower at 12 degrees in elevation. Much of Svalbard is also mountainous, making for sunless pockets of terrain that will be masked in shadow on eclipse day. Mean cloud amounts for both locales run in the 70% range, and the Eclipser website hosts a great in-depth climatology discussion for this and every eclipse.

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The view of totality and the planets as seen from the Faroe Islands. Credit: Starry Night.

But don’t despair: you only need a clear view of the Sun to witness an eclipse!

Solar activity is also another big variable. Witnesses to the October 23rd, 2014 partial solar eclipse over the U.S. southwest will recall that we had a massive and very photogenic sunspot turned Earthward at the time. The Sun has been remarkably calm as of late, though active sunspot region 2297 is developing nicely. It will have rotated to the solar limb come eclipse day, and we should have a good grasp on what solar activity during the eclipse will look like come early next week.

And speaking of which: could an auroral display be in the cards for those brief few minutes of totality? It’s not out of the question, assuming the Sun cooperates.  Of course, the pearly white corona of the Sun still gives off a considerable amount of light during totality, equal to about half the brightness of a Full Moon. Still, witnessing two of nature’s grandest spectacles — a total solar eclipse and the aurora borealis — simultaneously would be an unforgettable sight, and to our knowledge, has never been documented!

We also put together some simulations of the eclipse as seen from Earth and space:

Note that an area of southern Spain may witness a transit of the International Space Station during the partial phase of the eclipse. This projection is tentative, as the orbit of the ISS evolves over time. Be sure to check CALSky for accurate predictions in the days leading up to the eclipse.

Credit
The ISS transits the Sun during the eclipse around 9:05 UT as seen from southern Spain. Credit: Starry Night.

Can’t make it to the eclipse? Live in the wrong hemisphere? There are already a few planned webcasts for the March 20th eclipse:

Astronomia Practica plans to post photos in near real time of the eclipse from northern Scotland.

-Slooh has plans to broadcast the eclipse from the Faroe Islands.

-And here’s another webcast from the Faroe Islands and the path of totality courtesy of Kringvarp Føroya:

-Here’s another broadcast planned of the partial stages of the eclipse as seen from the UK.

-And our friends over at the Virtual Telescope Project also plans on webcasting the solar eclipse:

… and speaking of which, there’s also an exciting new Kickstarter project entitled Chasing Shadows which is headed to the Arctic to follow veteran eclipse chaser Geoff Sims (@beyond_beneath of Twitter):

And stay tuned, as North America and the Pacific region will witness another total lunar eclipse on April 4th 2015. And we’ve only got one more total solar eclipse across Southeast Asia in 2016 before the total solar eclipse of August 21st 2017 spanning the U.S.

Let the first eclipse season of 2015 begin!

Next… how will the solar eclipse affect the European solar grid? Expect an article on just that soon!

A Thousand Days ‘Til Totality: Anticipating the 2017 Solar Eclipse

Where will YOU be on August 21st, 2017?

Astronomy is all about humility and thinking big in terms of space and time. It’s routine for astronomers to talk of comets on thousand year orbits, or stars with life spans measured in billions of years…

Yup, the lifespan of your average humanoid is indeed fleeting, and pales in comparison to the universe, that’s for sure. But one astronomical series that you can hope to live through is the cycle of eclipses.

I remember reading about the total solar eclipse of February 26th, 1979 as a kid. Carter was in the White House, KISS was mounting yet another comeback, and Voyager 1 was wowing us with images of Jupiter. That was also the last total solar eclipse to grace mainland United States in the 20th century.

But the ongoing “eclipse-drought” is about to be broken.

The path
The path of totality across the United States on August 21st, 2017. Credit: Great American Eclipse.com.

One thousand days from this coming Monday, November 24th on August 21st 2017, the shadow of the Moon will touch down off of the Oregon coast and sweep eastward across the U.S. heartland before heading out to the Atlantic off of the coast of South Carolina. Millions live within a days’ drive of the 115 kilometre wide path, and the eclipse has the added plus of occurring at the tail end of summer vacation season. This also means that lots of folks will be camping and otherwise mobile with their RVs and able to journey to the event.

The Great American Eclipse of 2017 from Michael Zeiler on Vimeo.

This is also the last total solar eclipse to pass over any of the 50 United States since July 11th, 1991, and the first eclipse to cross the  contiguous United States from “sea to shining sea” since way back on June 8th, 1918.

Think it’s too early to prepare?  Towns across the path, including Hopkinsville, Kentucky and towns in Kansas and Nebraska are already laying plans for eclipse day. Other major U.S. cities, such as Nashville, Idaho Falls, and Columbia, South Carolina also lie along the path of totality, and the spectacle promises to spawn a whole new generation of “umbraphiles” or eclipse chasers.

A total solar eclipse is an unforgettable sight. But unlike a total lunar eclipse, which can be viewed from the moonward-facing hemisphere of the Earth, one generally has to journey to the narrow path of totality to see a total solar eclipse. Totality rarely comes to you.

Viewing
The Zeilers view the November 2013 eclipse from Africa. Credit: Michael Zeiler.

And don’t settle for a 99% partial eclipse just outside the path. “There’s no comparison between partial and total solar eclipses when it comes to sheer grandeur and beauty,” Michael Zeiler, longtime eclipse chaser and creator of the Great American Eclipse website told Universe Today. We witnessed the 1994 annular solar eclipse of the Sun from the shores of Lake Erie, and can attest that a 99% partial eclipse is still pretty darned bright!

There are two total solar eclipses remaining worldwide up until 2017: One on March 20th, 2015 crossing the high Arctic, and another on March 9th 2016 over Southeast Asia. The 2017 eclipse offers a maximum of 2 minutes and 41 seconds of totality, and weather prospects for the eclipse in late August favors viewers along the northwestern portion of the track.

And though an armada of cameras will be prepared to capture the eclipse along its trek across the U.S., many veteran eclipse chasers suggest that first time viewers merely sit back and take in the moment. The onset of totality sees a bizarre sort of twilight fall across the landscape, as shadow bands skip across the countryside, temperatures drop, and wildlife is fooled into thinking that nightfall has come early.

And then, all too soon, the second set of blinding diamond rings burst through the lunar valleys, the eclipse glasses go back on, and totality is over. Which always raises the question heard throughout the crowd post-eclipse:

When’s the next one?

Well, the good news is, the United States will host a second total solar eclipse on April 8th, 2024, just seven years later! This path will run from the U.S. Southwest to New England, and crisscross the 2017 path right around Carbondale, Illinois.

Will the woo that surfaced around the approach of Comet ISON and the lunar tetrad of “blood Moon eclipses” rear its head in 2017? Ah, eclipses and comets seem to bring ‘em out of the woodwork, and 2017 will likely see a spike in the talking-head gloom and doom videos ala YouTube. Some will no doubt cite the “perfection” seen during total solar eclipses as proof of divine inspiration, though this is actually just a product of our vantage point in time and space. In fact, annular eclipses are slightly more common than total solars in our current epoch, and will become more so as the Moon slowly recedes from the Earth. And we recently noted in our post on the mutual phenomena of Jupiter’s moons that solar eclipses very similar to those seen from the Earth can also be spied from Callisto.

Heads up to any future interplanetary eclipse resort developer: Callisto is prime real estate.

Forget Mars... "Get your ass to totality!"
Forget Mars… “Get your ass to totality!” Credit: Great American Eclipse.

The 2017 total solar eclipse across America will be one for the history books, that’s for sure.

So get those eclipse safety glasses now, and be sure to keep ‘em handy through 2017 and onward to 2024!

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

REAL Images of Eclipses Seen From Space

That ‘amazing astro-shot that isn’t’ is making the rounds of ‘ye ole web again.

You know the one. “See an Amazing Image of an Eclipse… From SPACE!!!” screams the breathless headline, with the all-too-perfect image of totality over the limb of the Earth, with the Milky Way thrown in behind it for good measure.

As the old saying goes, if it looks too good to be true, it probably is. Sure, the pic is a fake, and it’s been debunked many, many times since it was first released into the wild a few years back. But never let reality get in the way of a good viral meme. As eclipse season 2 of 2 gets underway tonight with a total lunar eclipse followed by a partial solar eclipse on October 23rd both visible from North America, the image is once again making its rounds. But there’s a long history of authentic captures of eclipses from space that are just as compelling. We’ve compiled just such a roll call of real images of eclipses seen from space:

SDO
A partial solar eclipse as captured by SDO. Credit: NASA/SDO.

The Solar Dynamics Observatory:

Launched in 2010, The Solar Dynamics Observatory or SDO is NASA’s premier orbiting solar observatory. But unlike Sun-staring satellites based in low Earth orbit, SDO’s geosynchronous orbit assures that it tends to see a cycle of partial solar eclipses twice a year, roughly around the equinoxes. And like many satellites, SDO also passes into the Earth’s shadow as well, offering unique views of a solar eclipse by the limb of the Earth from its vantage point.

JAXA
The Moon ‘photobombs’ the view of Hinode. Credit: NASA/JAXA.

Hinode:

A joint mission between NASA and JAXA (the Japanese Aerospace Exploration Agency) launched in 2006, Hinode observes the Sun from low Earth orbit. As a consequence, it nearly has a similar vantage point as terrestrial viewers and frequently nabs passages of the Moon as solar eclipses occur. Such events, however, are fleeting; moving at about eight kilometres per second, such eclipses last only seconds in duration!

ESA
Catching the passage of the Moon during a brief partial eclipse. Credit: ESA.

Proba-2:

Like Hinode, Proba-2 is the European Space Agency’s flagship solar observing spacecraft based in low Earth orbit. It also catches sight of the occasional solar eclipse, and these fleeting passages of the Moon in front of the Earth happen in quick multiple cycles. Recent images from Proba-2 are available online.

Eclipses from the ISS:

The International Space Station isn’t equipped to observe the Sun per se, but astronauts and cosmonauts aboard have managed to catch views of solar eclipses in an unusual way, as the umbra of the Moon crosses the surface of the Earth. Such a view also takes the motion of the ISS in low Earth orbit into account. Cosmonauts aboard the late Mir space station also caught sight of the August 11th, 1999, total solar eclipse over Europe.

NASA GOES
NASA’ s GOES-WEST spies the umbra of the Moon. Credit: NASA-GOES.

NASA-GOES:

Weather satellites can, and do, occasionally catch sight of the inky black dot of the Moon’s penumbra crossing the disk of the Earth.  GOES-West snapped the above image of the November 13th, 2012, solar eclipse. The umbra of the Moon’s shadow races about 1700 kilometres per hour from west to east during an eclipse, and we can expect some interesting images in 2017 when the next total solar eclipse crosses the United States on August 21st, 2017.

NASA
An ‘Apollo eclipse!’ Credit: NASA.

Apollo-Soyuz Test Project:

The final mission of Apollo program, the 1975 Apollo-Soyuz Test Project, also yielded an unusual and little known effort to observe the Sun. The idea was to use the Apollo command module as a “coronagraph” and have cosmonauts image the Sun from the Soyuz as the Apollo spacecraft blocked it out after undocking. Unfortunately, the Apollo thrusters smeared the exposure, and it became a less than iconic— though unusual — view from the space age.

Gemini XII
A partial solar eclipse snapped by the crew of Gemini XII. Credit: NASA.

Gemini XII and the first eclipse seen from space:

On November 12th, 1966, a total solar eclipse graced South America. Astronauts James Lovell Jr. and Edwin “Buzz” Aldrin Jr. were also in orbit at the time, and managed to snap the first image of a solar eclipse from space. Gemini XII was the last flight of the program, and the astronauts initially thought they’d missed the eclipse after a short trajectory burn.

ISS
The 2012 transit of Venus as seen from the ISS. Credit: NASA/Don Pettit.

ISS Astronauts catch a transit of Venus:

We were fortunate that the International Space Station had its very own amateur astronomer in residence in 2012 to witness the historic transit of Venus from space. NASA astronaut Don Pettit knew that the transit would occur during his rotation, and packed a full-aperture white light solar filter for the occasion. Of course, a planetary transit meets the very loosest definition of a partial eclipse, but it’s a unique capture nonetheless.

Kaguya:

Japan’s SELENE-Kaguya spacecraft entered orbit around the Moon in 2007 and provided some outstanding imagery of our solitary natural neighbor. On February 10th, 2009, it also managed to catch a high definition view of the Earth eclipsing the Sun as seen from lunar orbit. A rare catch, such an event occurs during every lunar eclipse as seen from the Earth.

Mars eclipse
Curiosity captures a misshapen eclipse from the surface of Mars. Credit: NASA/JPL.

An unusual eclipse… seen from Mars:

We’re fortunate to live in an epoch in time and space where total solar eclipses can occur as seen from the Earth. But bizarre eclipses and transits can also be seen from Mars. The Spirit and Opportunity rovers have witnessed brief transits of the Martian moons Phobos and Deimos across the face of the Sun, and in 2010, the Curiosity rover recorded the passage of Phobos in front of the Sun in a bizarre-potato shaped “annular eclipse”. But beyond just the “coolness” factor, the event also helped researchers refine our understanding of orbital path of the Martian moon.

The future: It’s also interesting to think of what sort of astronomical wonders await travelers as we venture out across the solar system. For example, no human has yet to stand on the Moon and witness a solar eclipse. Or how about a ring plane passage through Saturn’s rings, thus far only witnessed via the robotic eyes of Cassini? Of course, for the best views of Saturn’s rings, we recommend a vacation stay on Iapetus, the only major Saturnian moon whose orbit is inclined to the ring plane. And stick around ‘til November 10th, 2084, and you can witness a transit of Earth, the Moon and Phobos as seen from the slopes of Elysium Mons on Mars:

Hopefully, they’ll have perfected that whole Futurama “head-in-a-jar” thing by then…

-Looking for eclipses in science fiction? Check out the author’s tales Exeligmos and Shadowfall.

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.