One Year to the 2017 Total Solar Eclipse

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One. More. Year. Quick; where will you be this time next year on August 21st, 2017? We’re now just one year out this weekend from a fine total solar eclipse gracing the United States from coast to coast. If you think one year out is too early to start planning, well, umbraphiles (those who chase the shadow of the Moon worldwide) have been planning to catch this one now for over a decade.

The shadow of the March 9th, 2016 solar eclipse as seen from the Himawari-8 Earth-observing satellite. image credit: JAXA/JMA/Himawari/CIMSS
The shadow of the March 9th, 2016 solar eclipse (the dark spot on the right) as seen from the Himawari-8 Earth-observing satellite. Image credit: JAXA/JMA/Himawari/CIMSS.

Get set for the Great American Eclipse. The last time a total solar eclipse made landfall over a U.S. state was Hawaii on July 11th, 1991, and the path of totality hasn’t touched down over the contiguous ‘Lower 48’ United States since February 26th, 1979. And you have to go all the way back over nearly a century to June 8th, 1918 to find an eclipse that exclusively crossed the United States from the Pacific to the Atlantic Coast.

The path of the 2017 total solar eclipse across the U.S. image credit and copyright: Michael Zeiler/The GreatAmercianEclipse
The path of the 2017 total solar eclipse across the U.S. Image credit and copyright: Michael Zeiler/The GreatAmercianEclipse

Totality for the August 21st, 2017 eclipse crosses over many major cities, including Columbia South Carolina, Nashville, St. Louis and Salem, Oregon. The inner shadow of the Moon touches on 15 states as it races across the U.S. in just over an hour and a half. The length of totality is about 2 minutes in duration as the shadow makes landfall near Lincoln City, Oregon, reaches a maximum duration of 2 minutes, 42 seconds very near Carbondale, Illinois, and shrinks back down to 2 minutes and 35 seconds as the shadow heads back out to sea over Charleston, South Carolina.

The eclipse will be a late morning affair in the northwest, occurring at high noon over western Nebraska, and early afternoon to the east. ‘Getting your ass to totality,’ is a must. “But I’ve seen a partial solar eclipse,” is a common refrain, “aren’t they all the same?”

An animation of the 2017 eclipse.
An animation of the 2017 eclipse.

Nope. We witnessed the May 10th, 1994 annular eclipse from the shores of Lake Erie, and can tell you that even less than 1% of the Sun’s intensity is still pretty bright, a steely blue luminosity equivalent to a cloudy day.

We crisscrossed the United States along the eclipse path back in 2014, chronicling preparations in towns such as Columbia and Hopkinsville, Kentucky. Last minute accommodation is already tough to come by, even one year out. Cabins in the Land Between the Lakes region near Paducah, Kentucky, for example, were booked full as soon as the August 21st date became available. Think Mardi Gras and DragonCon, rolled into one. Hopkinsville also has an annual Roswell-style UFO-fest on the same date, celebrating the 1955 Kelly-Hopkinsville UFO incident.

Will it be ‘umbraphiles versus aliens?’

Out west, enticing locales include the Grand Teton National Park and Jackson Hole, Wyoming and the northern edge of the Craters of the Moon National Monument site in Idaho. It’s also worth noting that the western United States is a better bet cloud cover-wise, as afternoon summer thundershowers tend to be the norm for the southeast during late August.

Millions live within an easy day drive of the eclipse path, and it happens during prime camping season, to boot. The annual Sturgess motorcycle rally held near Rapid City, South Dakota is just one week prior to totality, and bikers returning from the pilgrimage southward could easily stop to greet the Earth’s shadow on the road home.

2017 Eclipse Panorama from Michael Zeiler on Vimeo.

There’s been talk that Cosmoquest may mount an eclipse expedition based out of Nashville, Tennessee (more to come on that).

Maintaining mobility is the best bet. Our master plan is to return to the States a week or so prior, rent a camper van from Vegas, and head northward. Like millions of Americans, this will be our first total solar eclipse, and the event promises to spark a whole new generation of umbraphiles. And stick around just seven more years, and totality will again cross the United States on August 8th, 2024 from the southwest to the northeast. The Illinois, Missouri and Kentucky tri-state region sees this eclipse as well. This one is special for us, as it crosses over our hometown of Presque Isle, Maine. I remember looking up the next total solar eclipse over northern Maine as a kid, way back when, and figuring out just how old I would be. The top of Mount Katahdin and selected sites along the Maine Solar System model would all be choice locales to view this one. Check out this great old vid of the aforementioned 1979 eclipse over the U.S.:

We also plan on taking the veteran eclipse-chaser’s mantra of ‘experience your first eclipse; but photograph your second one.’ to heart. Lots of fascinating projects are afoot leading up to the 2017 total solar eclipse, including The Eclipse MegaMovie Project to produce a complete video documentary of the eclipse path, plans by a student group to fly and observe the eclipse from balloons during totality, proposals to replicate famous eclipse experiments and more. It’s also worth noting that the bright star Regulus will sit just one degree from the Sun during totality… perhaps someone will manage to measure its deflection via General Relativity in a manner similar to Sir Arthur Eddington’s famous 1919 observation?

Unlike the paths of most eclipses, which seem to have an affinity for wind-swept tundra or remote swaths of desert, this one is sure to draw in the ‘astronomy-curious’ and may just be the most witnessed total solar eclipse in history.

Here’s some eclipse tales and facts to ponder leading up to totality. If you caught the August 11th, 1999 eclipse across Europe, then you saw the last eclipse in the same saros series 145. If you caught the eclipse before that in the same series on July 31st, 1981 across northeast Asia, then you’ll complete a 54 year long triple-saros period after seeing next summer’s eclipse, known as an exeligmos. This cycle also brings the eclipse path very nearly back around to the same longitude.

Stellarium
Regulus near the  eclipsed Sun next August. Credit: Stellarium.

The Sun is about 400 times larger than the Moon in diameter, but the Moon is 400 times closer. We’ve actually heard this fact tossed out as evidence for intelligent design, though it’s just a happy celestial circumstance of our present era. In fact, annular eclipses are now slightly more common than totals in our current epoch, and will continue to become more so as the Moon slowly recedes from the Earth. Just under a billion years ago, the very first annular eclipse of the Sun as seen from the Earth occurred, and 1.4 billion years hence, the Earth will witness one last brief total eclipse.

But you won’t have to wait that long. Don’t miss the greatest show in the universe next August!

-Check out Michael Zeiler’s (@EclipseMaps) 10-foot long strip map of the entire eclipse path.

-Eclipses, both lunar and solar have played a role in history as well.

-Curious about eclipses in time and space? Read our eclipse-fueled sci-fi tales, Exeligmos, The Syzygy Gambit and Shadowfall, with more to come!

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.

An Awesome Annular Eclipse! Images and Videos from Earth and Space

A spectacular annular eclipse of the Sun was witnessed across Australia and the southern Pacific region early today. Morning dawned mostly clear across the Australian continent, and those who journeyed out to meet the antumbra of the Moon as the Sun rose across the Great Sandy Desert and the Cape York Peninsula were not disappointed. The rest of us watched worldwide on as Slooh and a scattering of other ad-hoc broadcasts delivered the celestial event to us via the web.

This was a challenging one. Although partial phases of the eclipse was visible across the entirety of Australia, Hawaii, and as far north as the Philippines and as far south as New Zealand, the track of annularity passed over some very remote locales. Stable Internet connections were scarce, and many photos and videos are still trickling in as die-hard eclipse chasers return “from the Bush.”

One lucky witness to the eclipse was Druce Horton (Xylopia on flickr) who caught the eclipse from Kuranda, Australia just north of Cairns. “It was completely clouded over here in Kuranda and I didn’t even bother going to a place where I could get a clear view.” Druce told Universe Today. “I then noticed the sky lightening a little and I rushed out with the camera and desperately tried to set an appropriate exposure and frame it while avoiding getting an eyeful of sunlight and/or a tree branch in the way.”

As seen by Druce Horton near Kurunda, Australia.
A rising crescent eclipse as seen by Druce Horton near Kurunda, Australia. (Credit and Copyright: Druce Horton. Used with Permission).

As pointed out the us by Michael Zeiler (@EclipseMaps) earlier this week, the town of Newman and surrounding regions in Western Australia were a great place to witness the rising annular eclipse. Geoffrey Sims ventured out and did just that:

eclipse...
The rising annular eclipse. (Credit: Geoff Sims).

Note how the atmospheric haze is distorting the solar annulus into a flattened ring… pure magic! Mr. Sims got some truly stunning pictures of the eclipse, and was one of the first to manage to get them out onto the Internet, though he stated on Twitter that it “will likely take weeks to sort through the images!”

All get reasons to keep a close eye on Mr. Sims’ Facebook page

Mr. Joerg Schoppmeyer also ventured about 70 kilometres south of Newman to catch the rising “Ring of Fire”:

Annularity just moments after internal contact of the antumbra. Credit:
Annularity just moments after internal contact of the antumbra. Credit: Joerg Schoppmeyer).

We also mentioned earlier this week how you can use the “strainer effect” to create a flock of crescent Suns during a partial solar eclipse.

Amanda Bauer (@astropixie) of Sydney, Australia did just this to create her name in “eclipse pacmans”:

eclipse
An Astropixie Eclipse… (Credit: Amanda Bauer).

And speaking of which, eclipse crescents can turn up in the most bizarre of places, such as a lens flare caught by a webcam based at the Canberra Deep Space Network:

Credit: NASA
A lens flare eclipse. (Credit: CDSCC/NASA).

Trevor Sellman (@tsellman) based in northern Melbourne preferred to catch sight of the partial phase of the eclipse “the old fashioned way,” via a simple pinhole projection onto a white sheet of paper:

Pinhole
A pinhole eclipse. (Credit: Trevor Sellman).

In addition to Slooh, the Mead West Vaco Observatory in conjunction with the Columbus State University’s Coca-Cola Space Science Center provided an excellent webcast of the full phases of the eclipse, and in multiple wavelengths to boot:

CCSS
The solar annulus as seen near mid-eclipse in hydrogen alpha. (Credit: the CCSSC).

And they also provided a view in Calcium-K:

Screen cap in Cal-K
A screen capture of the final stage of the eclipse as seen in Cal-K. (Credit: the CCSSC).

But Earth bound-observers weren’t the only ones on hand to witness this eclipse. Roskosmos also released a video animation of the antumba of the Moon crossing the Earth as seen from the Elektro-L satellite:

“These images interest Russian space enthusiasts because we asked  Roskosmos to optimize (the) work of satellite for best pictures of eclipse,” Vitaliy Egorov told Universe Today.

There’s no word as of yet if the NASA/JAXA spacecraft Hinode or if ESA’s Proba-2 caught the eclipse, although they were positioned to take advantage of the opportunity.

There were also some active sunspot regions on the Earthward face of the Sun, as captured by Monty Leventhal in this outstanding white-light filtered image:

Eclipse

Another fine video animation of the eclipse turned up courtesy of Steve Swayne of Maleny in Queensland, Australia;

And finally, Vanessa Hill caught the partial stage of the eclipse while observing from the CSIRO Astrophysics & Space Sciences viewing event:

eclipse
A partially eclipsed Sun. (Credit: @nessyhill).

Partial stages of the eclipse were also captured by Carey Johnson (@TheTelescopeGuy) from Hawaii and can be viewed on his flickr page.

If this eclipse left you jonesin’ for more, there’s a hybrid solar eclipse across the Atlantic and central Africa on November 3rd 2013. Maximum totality for this eclipse is 1 minute and 40 seconds. Unfortunately, after two solar eclipses in 6 months, another total solar eclipse doesn’t grace the Australian continent until July 22nd, 2028!

But such are the ways of the cosmos and celestial mechanics… hey, be glad we occupy a position in space and time where solar eclipses can occur.

Thanks to all who sent in photos… if you’ve got a picture of today’s eclipse, an anecdote, or just a tale of triumph and/or eclipse chasing tribulations drop us a line & share those pics up to the Universe Today flickr group. See you next syzygy, and may all your eclipse paths be clear!