April 20, 2014

AstroEvent: A Total Solar Eclipse “Down Under!”

(Animation credit: A.T. Sinclair/NASA/GSFC).

All hail the saros… eclipse season 2 of 2 is upon us for 2012. This coming Tuesday as the Moon reaches its ascending node along the ecliptic also represents the only total solar eclipse of the Sun for 2012.

The umbra of this eclipse only makes landfall very briefly along the beginning of its track, starting at sunrise just east of the Australian city of Darwin in the Northwest Territories. After a brief touchdown at sunrise in the Garig Ganak Barlu National Park, the 78 mile wide shadow will race across the Gulf of Carpentaria and make landfall across Queensland’s Cape York Peninsula before headed across the South Pacific. Most eclipse chasers will be descending on Cairns (pronounced CANS) and Port Douglas, where a first-of-its-kind Total Solar Eclipse Marathon will commence at the end of totality. Totality for the Cairns region will last for 1 minute and 58 seconds, and the maximum length of totality for this eclipse is centered in the mid-Pacific and is 4 minutes and 2.2 seconds in duration. This will no doubt be the target area of several eclipse-hunting cruise lines.

The path of totality; (Courtesy of EclipseMaps… click here for a full size version).

The path of this eclipse also crosses the dateline, meaning that it begins on the morning of Wednesday, November 14th and ends on the evening of Tuesday, November 13th! Note that most of Australia, New Zealand, and islands in the South Pacific will get a partial eclipse, & even Chile and Argentina will get a partial at sunset.  Michael Zeiler (@EclipseMaps on Twitter) is “chasing the shadow” and notes that “when you account for atmospheric refraction, the path of this eclipse is extended about 83 kilometers westward” & that “in the coming decades, Australia enjoys a greater than normal number of total solar eclipses on 2012, 2023, 2028, 2030, 2037, 2038!” check our his excellent animation of this month’s event.

Many cities will catch deep partial phases, such as Alice Springs (73%), Sydney (67%), and Auckland, New Zealand at (87%). Remember, all of the safety rules of the May annular eclipse and the June 2012 Transit of Venus apply equally during the partial phases of a solar eclipse… however, you CAN observe totality safely and unprotected; don’t let “eclipse hysteria” stop you from viewing a once in a lifetime event!

Properly filtered ‘scopes. (Photo by Author).

And speaking of viewing and eclipse, a good majority of us will be watching this one online… as of this writing, here’s a handy list of sites streaming the November 13/14 eclipse;

-Panasonics Live Solar-Powered Eclipse Broadcast.

-Coverage via SLOOH.

-Eclipse 2012.

-A broadcast from near Oak Beach near Cairns.

-A Ustream broadcast from Mareeba.

-Another UStream link from George Creek Orchards

Doing a broadcast? Shoot us a link in the comments and we’ll include it!

Penumbral/Umbral contacts for the eclipse are as follows;

November 13th;

P1: 19:38UT

U1: 20:35UT

U2: 20:37UT

P2: 21:44UT

P3: 22:40UT

U3: 23:46UT

U4: 23:48UT

November 14th;

P4: 00:46UT

As for weather, we’re now just entering into southern hemisphere spring and the transition from the dry season to the wet season which usually commences around January; various forecasts peg the statistical chances for cloud cover over the Cape York peninsula area at 50-60%. Skippy Sky is a great site to keep an eye on if you have to make a last minute “dash” after holes of clarity in the clouds.

Unfortunately, no favorable passes of the ISS occur to snag it transiting the Sun during the eclipses partial phases from Australia, although areas along the South American coastline just might get such an event before sunset. CALSky is a great place to check for these, and usually has predictions up about 48 hours prior worldwide. Interestingly, NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory may get a partial eclipse preview prior in the day, along with the European Space Agency’s Proba-2 spacecraft during the eclipse;

Unfortunately, Sol has also been fairly inactive as of late; the equatorial regions of the Sun rotate about once every 25 days and thus whatever appears on the earthward facing side of Sol 12 days prior (in this case around November 1st and after) will still be visible for a photogenic eclipse during the partial phases. Although we’re headed towards a solar maximum in 2013-14, as of this writing, the Sun is eerily quiet;

A near spotless Sol as of November 3rd. (Photo by Author).

Of course, that could easily change as a large sunspot group could rotate into view just days prior. And paradoxically, the Sun is currently fairly active in hydrogen alpha right now; hope folks packed their Personal Solar Telescopes!

Speaking of which, things to watch for during totality are prominences, the pearly white solar corona, and a phenomenon known as Baily’s Beads caused by sunlight streamering through the valleys along the lunar limb as totality begins and ends. Faint shadow bands may be seen dancing across the landscape, and local animals may be tricked into thinking that a “false dusk/dawn” has occurred. Temperatures may drop briefly, as well. Also keep an eye out for Antares, Spica, Saturn, Venus and Mercury which should all be very near the eclipsed Sun;

Chart of the sky as seen during totality from Cairns, Australia.

(Created by the Author using Starry Night).

Finally, this particular eclipse is part of saros series 133, member 45 of 72. This saros began with a brief partial in 1219, and began its fortray into totality on January 24th, 1544. This trend will continue until the final partial eclipse of saros 133 over Antarctica on September 5th, 2499. Another member of saros 133, (37) was notable for confirming the discovery of helium on August 18th, 1868 in an event known as the King of Siam’s Eclipse. This series also produced another eclipse over Australia on Oct 23rd, 1976 just over 36 years ago.

Sketch of the 1868 Eclipse sketch during Totality.

(In the Public Domain: Adapted from Total Eclipses of the Sun by Mabel Loomis Todd).

Got lots of free time? Go on “walkabout” in Australia and return to the Cape York area on May 10th of 2013 and you can witness an annular eclipse that crosses paths with this week’s total solar eclipse! Worldwide, the next brush with solar totality is a hybrid annular-total eclipse off of the Atlantic Coast of Africa and across the central part of the continent on November 3rd, 2013.

Good luck, clear skies, & we hope to hear those “tales of totality” later this week!


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