May 31, 2020

AstroEvent: An Antarctic Partial Solar Eclipse.

Animation of the November 25th Eclipse. (Credit: NASA/A.T. Sinclair).

Opting out of the “Black Friday” shopping madness? We’ve got good news. In addition to the launch of the Mars Curiosity spacecraft and complementing NASATweetup on November 25th, a partial solar eclipse occurs deep in the southern hemisphere. Maximum partiality will be 90% just off of the coast of Antarctica, and the entire Antarctic continent will witness the event. (Remember, its spring headed towards summer Down Under!) The regions of Tasmania, New Zealand, and the southern-most tip of South Africa also present opportunities for some intriguing low to the horizon eclipse photography. Areas around Cape Town, South Africa will get a maximum 10% eclipsed Sun just prior to 05:00UT around local sunrise, while New Zealanders can expect a 30% eclipsed Sun during local sunset. This eclipse is part of saros series 123 (Member 53 of 70) and runs from a 1st touchdown of the Moon’s penumbral shadow on the Earth’s surface at 04:23UT to its departure at 8:17UT. We’ll shout out any webcams broadcasting this event via our very own Twitter cyber-soapbox on @Astroguyz (Got webcams? Anyone? Bueller?) We’re also interested in hearing the tales of any eclipse chasers Down Under…

Do YOU live in this oval? (Credit: Espenak & Meeus/NASA/GSFC).

We also ran some simulations of the “Black Friday Eclipse…” as seen from both NASA’s International Space Station and ESA’s Proba-2 spacecraft, both of which get a pair of quick partials as they nick the Moon’s penumbral while in Low Earth Orbit;

Eclipse chaser extraordinaire Michael Zeiler (@EclipseMaps on Twitter) notes some peculiarities concerning this eclipse; as it is a deep partial at .89 magnitude, the point of greatest eclipse will be in progress very near local midnight from just off of the coast of Antarctica.  Also, the umbra of the Moon just misses the surface of the Earth; at a given elevation (we calculate about 333 km) above the coast of Antarctica, the eclipse will be Total… just out of range of some of the high flying balloon-borne telescopes that launch from the continent. Areas along the Sentinel Range including the Vinson Massif (the highest peak in Antarctica at 4,892 meters) may gain a few percent at the summit. Have any extreme climbers viewed an eclipse from its peak, I wonder?  Also, this eclipse is part of Saros 123, which generated its last total eclipse in October 23, 1957 and will generate diminished partials including the next one on December 5th, 2029 and its last eclipse on May 31st, 2318 A.D. “Curiously” (Bad pun intended) Saros “1-2-3″ is the reverse of the countdown we’ll be hoping to hear stating “3-2-1″ for the Mars Curiosity launch on the same day… in any event, do get over the and check em’ out!

So, what does that leave us, the other “99%” of astronomical observing humanity with? Well, with New Moon occurring at 1:10AM EST/6:10AM GMT on Friday, November 25th, Thanksgiving weekend will be a great time to hunt for extremely slender crescent Old/Young Moons. Watch the action starting the morning on the 22nd as the Moon slides past the planet Saturn and see if you can spot it near Mercury and Venus on the 26th. Live in Western Alaska or the British Columbia islands of Haida Gwaii? The Moon also occults the +3.5 magnitude star Xi2 Sagittarii on the evening of the 27th from those locations.

And finally, don’t forget; this eclipse sets us up for the total lunar eclipse on December 10th, visible from the US Pacific coast westward through Asia and Europe and covering a much wider swath of humanity!

Looking westward at dusk from the Tampa Bay, Florida area the evening of November 26th.

(Created by the Author using Starry Night and Paint).

And while we’re on the subject of eclipses, Thanksgiving this year falls on the 24th and also marks the date of two historical and controversial eclipses. First up is the total solar eclipse of the Sun on November 24th, 29 A.D., thought by some scholars to have marked the crucifixion of Christ. Totality spanned from the Indian sub-continent to central Europe, and would have been a deep, 90% partial from the city of Jerusalem. The Synoptic Gospels make mention of a “darkness over all the land unto the ninth hour…” The Gospel of John, however, is mum on the issue. Intriguingly, the crucifixion was to have occurred on the first day of Passover, again a vote for a solar eclipse tie-in. A strike against it, however, is that a 90% partial eclipse is not that noticeably dark at mid-day, as we can personally attest to having witnessed the annular eclipse of 1994 from Sandusky, Ohio!

Curiously, another solar eclipse exactly 540 years later has been connected to a religious persona… a total solar eclipse spanning the Indian Ocean on November 24th, 569 A.D. occurred months before the birth of the prophet Mohammed in 570 A.D. The Arabs being superb astronomers probably made note of the eclipse, although how much portent was placed on it at the time is difficult to say, as modern Islam like other monotheistic religions eschews astrological connections. And again, this eclipse would have been only 50% partial from the lands of Arabia.

Eclipses pop up at some interesting junctures in history, and no doubt some historical connections are still out there, waiting to be made. Food for thought as the penumbra of the Moon grazes our fair planet on Black (But not “None more Black?”) Friday!


  1. [...] For a listing of past and future eclipses, both solar and lunar, visit Mr. Eclipse here. And you can read more about the Nov. 25 eclipse on [...]

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