(TMU) – Thus far, 2020 has been filled with notable astronomical events, and there’s plenty still to come. We had three Super Moons in a row, starting with March’s Full Worm Moon, April’s Full Pink Moon, and, as we reported, May’s peak of the ‘Eta Aquarids’ Meteor Shower just days before the Full Flower Moon.
We’re not even halfway through the year and there’s plenty more in store for all sky watchers, starting with a partial Penumbral Lunar Eclipse on June 5th and 6th and an Annular Solar Eclipse on June 21st.
This year we’ll have a total of six eclipses, four Lunar and two Solar. The Lunar Eclipses will all be partial and the Solar Eclipses will be an Annular Eclipse on June 21st and a Total Eclipse on December 14th.
When the light from one celestial body (such as our Sun or Moon) is blocked by another (Earth or our Moon), an eclipse occurs as the body in between the two casts a shadow on the third body. We only experience two types of eclipses created by the different alignments of the Sun, the Earth and the Moon. When the light of the Sun is obstructed by the Moon we observe a solar eclipse on Earth, and when Earth is aligned between the Sun and the Moon, it casts a shadow on the Moon, creating a lunar eclipse.
When the Moon lies in the penumbral, or outer shadow, of the Earth, we have a Penumbral Lunar Eclipse, such as the one on June 5th and 6th. This occurs when the three celestial bodies are not perfectly aligned. Penumbral Lunar Eclipse are quite subtle as the moon might have be only slightly darker where Earth’s shadow falls.
Penumbral Lunar Eclipse:
June’s Penumbral Lunar Eclipse will visible, weather permitting, from much of Asia and Europe, Australia, Africa, Antarctica and South America’s south west. The eclipse will begin on the 5th of June at UTC 17:45:51, reach its peak at 19:24:55 and end at 19:24:55.
The Moon will be perfectly aligned between the Sun and Earth for the Annular Solar Eclipse on the 21st of June and as a result will leave the outer ring of the sun visible, also known as the ‘ring of fire’. Annulus (Latin), means ring, the name given to this celestial event.
Always protect your eyes when watching a Solar Eclipse, which should be a special and memorable event, without harming your eyesight. Never look directly at the sun, even during an eclipse, without protective, special-purpose solar filters. These solar filters are used in “eclipse glasses” or in hand-held solar viewers which have to meet a very specific worldwide standard known as ‘ISO 12312-2’. Sunglasses, no matter how dark, will not protect your eyes!
With clear skies, the full Solar eclipse, including the ring of fire, will be visible from parts of Africa including Central Africa Republic, Congo, and Ethiopia, as well as most of North India, South of Pakistan and China.
Partial views of the eclipse will be visible in South/East Europe, much of Asia and Africa, North in Australia and the Pacific and Indian Oceans.
The eclipse will peak at UTC 12:10am on June 21st. The total duration of the eclipse is 3 hours, 18 minutes.
SOLAR ECLIPSE THIS WEEKEND: On Sunday, May 20th, the Moon will pass in front of the Sun, producing an annular solar eclipse visible across the Pacific side of Earth. The path of annularity, where the sun will appear to be a “ring of fire,” stretches from China and Japan to the middle of North America:
An animated eclipse map prepared by Larry Koehn of ShadowandSubstance.com shows the best times to look. In the United States, the eclipse begins at 5:30 pm PDT and lasts for two hours. Around 6:30 pm PDT, the afternoon sun will become a luminous ring in places such as Medford, Oregon; Chico, California; Reno, Nevada; St. George, Utah; Albuquerque, New Mexico, and Lubbock, Texas. Outside the narrow center line, the eclipse will be partial. Observers almost everywhere west of the Mississippi will see a crescent-shaped sun as the Moon passes by off-center.
Because this is not a total eclipse, some portion of the sun will always be exposed. To prevent eye damage, use eclipse glasses, a safely-filtered telescope, or a solar projector to observe the eclipse. You can make a handy solar projector by criss-crossing your fingers waffle-style. Rays of light beaming through the gaps will have the same shape as the eclipsed sun. Or look on the ground beneath leafy trees for crescent-shaped sunbeams and rings of light.
May 15, 2012: Something strange is about to happen to the shadows beneath your feet.
On Sunday, May 20th, the Moon will pass in front of the sun, transforming sunbeams across the Pacific side of Earth into fat crescents and thin rings of light.1
It’s an annular solar eclipse, in which the Moon will cover as much as 94% of the sun. Hundreds of millions of people will be able to witness the event. The eclipse zone stretches from southeast Asia across the Pacific Ocean to western parts of North America: animated eclipse map.
Crescent sunbeams dapple the ground beneath a palm tree during an annular eclipse in January 2010. The picture was taken by Stephan Heinsius on the Indian Ocean atoll island of Ellaidhoo, Maldives. [more] [video]
In the United States, the eclipse begins around 5:30 pm PDT. For the next two hours, a Moon-shaped portion of the sun will go into hiding. Greatest coverage occurs around 6:30 pm PDT.
Because some of the sun is always exposed during the eclipse, ambient daylight won’t seem much different than usual. Instead, the event will reveal itself in the shadows. Look on the ground beneath leafy trees for crescent-shaped sunbeams and rings of light.
A “ring of fire” over China in 2010.
Near the center-line of the eclipse, observers will experience something special: the “ring of fire.” As the Moon crosses the sun dead-center, a circular strip or annulus of sunlight will completely surround the dark lunar disk. Visually, the sun has a big black hole in the middle.
The “path of annularity” where this occurs is only about 200 miles wide, but it stretches almost halfway around the world passing many population centers en route: Tokyo, Japan; Medford, Oregon; Chico, California; Reno, Nevada; Albuquerque, New Mexico, and Lubbock, Texas. In those locations the ring of fire phenomenon will be visible for as much as 4 and a half minutes.
“The ring of sunlight during annularity is blindingly bright,” cautions NASA’s leading eclipse expert Fred Espenak of the Goddard Space Flight Center. “Even though most of the Sun’s disk will be covered, you still need to use a solar filter or some type of projection technique. A #14 welder’s glass is a good choice. There are also many commercially-available solar filters.”
The path of annularity cuts across the continental United States near sunset on May 20, 2012. An interactive map is also available: click here. See also the ScienceCast video.
Many astronomy clubs will have solar-filtered telescopes set up for public viewing. Through the eyepiece of such an instrument, you can see the mountainous lunar limb gliding by dark sunspots and fiery prominences. It’s a beautiful sight. Be absolutely sure, however, that any telescope you look through is properly filtered. Magnified sunlight can cause serious eye damage even during an eclipse.
A safe and fun way to observe the eclipse is to use your own body as a solar projector. For example, try criss-crossing your fingers waffle-style. Rays of light beaming through the gaps will have the same shape as the eclipsed sun.
Or just stand under that tree. The sight of a thousand ring-shaped sunbeams swaying back and forth on a grassy lawn or sidewalk is unforgettable.
Solar eclipses don’t just turn the lights out; they also make the wind slow down and change direction.
Scientists compared hourly measurements of wind speed and direction from 121 weather stations across southern England during the August 1999 total solar eclipse with the output of a high-resolution weather forecast model that wasn’t programmed to represent the eclipse.
The model agreed very closely with the instruments’ readings right up until the eclipse began. It then showed what the weather would have been like if the eclipse hadn’t happened, giving researchers a much more accurate idea of its effects.
‘The eclipse was like a giant natural experiment,’ says Dr Suzanne Gray of the University of Reading, lead author of the paper in Proceedings of the Royal Society A. The study shows that scientists can now use high-resolution weather models to look at local weather changes of small magnitude, like those caused by solar eclipses.
The results show that average wind speed across an inland cloud-free region over southern England dropped by 0.7 metres per second, and that the wind’s direction turned anticlockwise by an average of 17° – effectively, the eclipse was causing the winds to become more easterly. Temperatures also fell by an average of about 1°C.
Previous work on the subject has been based only on measurements in a few places, rather than from a network as in this case. And it didn’t compare these measurements with a weather model to predict what would have happened without the eclipse.
It’s only recently become possible to do this kind of experiment, after huge improvement in high-resolution weather forecast models over the last decade. ‘We could never have done this when the eclipse occurred,’ says Gray, ‘but now we can use the model to get a far better idea of its impact on the wind.’
Temperatures are likely to fall when the Earth is deprived of sunlight, just like they do at night. And the slower wind speeds weren’t unexpected, Gray says – cooling the atmosphere close to the ground removes energy from it, damping turbulence, which will probably mean less wind. But the changes in wind direction were more of a surprise.
The effects were so pronounced that they can be seen even in measurements that are taken hourly, which is very infrequent in the context of such a transient event as an eclipse.
The results seem to fit the ‘eclipse cyclone’ hypothesis proposed in 1901 by H Helm Clayton, one of the first scientists to investigate eclipses’ impact on the weather. He suggested that when the moon’s gigantic shadow falls on the Earth, it causes a core of cold air around which a weak, short-lived cyclone forms, skewing the winds anticlockwise.
SOLAR ECLIPSE: Today, the new Moon passed in front of the sun, off-center, producing a partial solar eclipse. The only place to see it was from space. NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory (SDO) sends this picture from geosynchronous orbit approximately 36,000 km above Earth’s surface:
Using a bank of 16 megapixel cameras, SDO observed the event at multiple extreme ultraviolet wavelengths. Scan the edge of the Moon in this 171 Å image: The little bumps and irregularities you see are lunar mountains backlit by solar plasma.
Beyond the novelty of observing an eclipse from space, these images have practical value to the SDO science team. The sharp edge of the lunar limb helps researchers measure the in-orbit characteristics of the telescope–e.g., how light diffracts around the telescope’s optics and filter support grids. Once these are calibrated, it is possible to correct SDO data for instrumental effects and sharpen the images even more than before.
The next solar eclipse visible from Earth’s surface occurs on May 20, 2012
As the year 2011 comes to a close, some might wonder what is looming sky-wise for 2012? What celestial events might we look forward to seeing?
I’ve selected what I consider to be the top 12 “skylights” for this coming year, and list them here in chronological order. Not all these events will be visible from any one locality … for the eclipses, for instance, you’ll probably have to do some traveling … but many can be observed from the comfort of your backyard.
Hopefully your local weather will cooperate on most, if not all, of these dates. Clear skies!
This meteor shower reaches its peak in the predawn hours of Jan. 4 for eastern North America. The Quadrantid meteor shower is a very short-lived meteor display, whose peak rates only last several hours. The phase of the moon is a bright waxing gibbous, normally prohibitive for viewing any meteor shower, but the moon will set by 3 a.m., leaving the sky dark for a few hours until the first light of dawn; that’s when you’ll have the best shot at seeing many of these bluish-hued meteors.
From the eastern half of North America, a single observer might count on seeing as many as 50-to-100 “Quads” in a single hour. From the western half of the continent the display will be on the wane by the time the moon sets, with hourly rates probably diminishing to around 25 to 50 meteors.
The first major meteor shower of 2012 takes place on the night of Tuesday, Jan. 3 and the morning of Wednesday, Jan. 4. It peaks at 2 a.m. EST (0700 GMT) on Jan. 4.
CREDIT: Starry Night Software
Feb. 20 to March 12: Best evening apparition of Mercury
In February and March, the “elusive” innermost planet Mercury moves far enough from the glare of the sun to be readily visible soon after sunset. Its appearance will be augmented by two other bright planets (Venus and Jupiter), which also will be visible in the western sky during this same time frame.
Mercury will arrive at its greatest elongation from the sun March 5. It will be quite bright (-1.3-to-0 magnitude) before this date and will fade rapidly to +1.6 magnitude thereafter. Astronomers measure the brightness of objects in terms of magnitude, with lower numbers corresponding to brighter objects.
March 3: Mars arrives at opposition
On March 3, the Earth will be passing Mars as the two planets wheel around the sun in their respective orbits. Because Mars reaches aphelion — its farthest point from the sun — on Feb. 15, this particular opposition will be an unfavorable one. In fact, two days after opposition, Mars will be closest to Earth at a distance of 62.6 million miles.
Compare this with the August 2003 opposition when Mars was only 34.6 million miles away. Nonetheless, even at this unfavorable opposition the fiery-hued Mars will be an imposing naked-eye sight, shining at magnitude -1.2, just a bit dimmer than Sirius, the brightest star, and will be visible in the sky all night long.
Astrophotographer Jeffrey Berkes of West Chester, Pa., snapped this stunning view of planet Venus and the crescent moon during a bright conjunction on Dec. 26, 2011.
CREDIT: Jeffrey Berkes
March 13: Brilliant “double planet”
The two brightest planets, Venus and Jupiter, team up to make for an eye-catching sight in the western sky soon after sunset. They will be separated by 3 degrees on this evening, Venus passing to the northwest (upper right) of Jupiter and shining nearly eight times brighter than “Big Jupe.” Although they will gradually go their separate ways after this date, on March 25 and 26, a crescent moon will pass by, adding additional beauty to this celestial scene.
May 5: Biggest full moon of 2012
The moon turns full at 11:35 p.m. Eastern Daylight Time and just 25 minutes later it will arrive at its closest point to the Earth in 2012, at a distance of 221,801 miles. Expect a large range in ocean tides (exceptionally low to exceptionally high) for the next few days.
May 20: Annular eclipse of the sun
The path of annularity for this eclipse starts over eastern China and sweeps northeast across southern and central Japan. The path continues northeast then east, passing just south of Alaska’s Aleutian Island chain. The path then turns to the southeast, making landfall in the western United States along the California-Oregon coast. It will pass over central Nevada, southern Utah, northern Arizona, the extreme southwest corner of Colorado and most of New Mexico before coming to an end over northern Texas.
Since the disk of the moon will appear smaller than the disk of the sun, it will create a “penny on nickel” effect, with a fiery ring of sunlight shining around the moon’s dark silhouette. Locations that will witness this eerie sight include Eureka and Reading, Calif.; Carson City, Reno and Ely, Nev.; Bryce Canyon in Utah; Arizona’s Grand Canyon; Albuquerque and Santa Fe in New Mexico and just prior to sunset for Lubbock, Tex.
A partial eclipse of the sun will be visible over a large swath of the United States and Canada, including Alaska and Hawaii, but no eclipse will be visible near and along the Atlantic Seaboard.
June 4: Partial eclipse of the moon
This partial lunar eclipse favors the Pacific Ocean; Hawaii sees it high in the sky during the middle of its night. Across North America the eclipse takes place between midnight and dawn. The farther east one goes, the closer the time of moonset coincides with the moment that the moon enters the Earth’s dark umbral shadow.
In fact, over the Northeastern United States and eastern Canada, the only evidence of this eclipse will be a slight shading on the moon’s left edge (the faint penumbral shadow) before moonset. Over the Canadian Maritimes, the moon will set before the eclipse begins. At maximum, more than one-third of the moon’s lower portion (37.6-percent) will be immersed in the umbra.
June 5: Rare transit of Venus across the sun
The passage of Venus in front of the sun is among the rarest of astronomical events, rarer even than the return of Halley’s Comet every 76 years. Only six transits of Venus are known to have been observed by humans before: in 1639, 1761, 1769, 1874, 1882 and, most recently, in 2004.
The next one will occur in the year 2117. When Venus is in transit across the solar disk, the planet appears as a distinct, albeit tiny, round black spot with a diameter just 1/32nd of the sun. This size is large enough to readily perceive with the naked eye. HOWEVER … prospective observers are warned to take special precautions (as with a solar eclipse) when attempting to view the silhouette of Venus against the blindingly brilliant solar disc.
The beginning of the transit will be visible from all of North America, Greenland, extreme northern and western portions of South America, Hawaii, northern and eastern portions of Asia including Japan, New Guinea, northern and eastern portions of Australia, and New Zealand. The end will be visible over Alaska, all of Asia and Indonesia, Australia, Eastern Europe, the eastern third of Africa, and the island nation of Madagascar.
Perseids composite, seen Aug. 12-13. Concentric circles are star trails.
Aug. 12: Perseid meteor shower
Considered to be among the best of the annual displays thanks to its high rates of up to 90 per hour for a single observer, as well as its reliability. Beloved by summer campers and often discovered by city dwellers who might be spending time in the country under dark starry skies. [10 Perseid Meteor Shower Facts]
Last summer a bright moon wrecked the shower by blotting out many of the fainter streaks, but in 2012 the moon will be three days past last quarter phase on this peak morning – a fat waning crescent presenting only a minor nuisance for prospective observers.
Nov. 13: Total eclipse of the sun
The first total solar eclipse since July 2010. Virtually the entire path of totality falls over water. At the very beginning, the track cuts through Australia’s Northern Territory just to the east of Darwin, then across the Gulf of Carpentaria, then through northern Queensland, passing over Cairns and Port Douglas before heading out to sea.
The rest of the eclipse path, including the point of the maximum duration of totality (4 minutes, 2 seconds) is, unfortunately, pretty much wasted by falling over the open waters of the Pacific Ocean.
Dec. 13-14: Geminid meteor shower
If there is one meteor display guaranteed to put on a very entertaining show it is the Geminid meteor shower. Now considered by most meteor experts to be at the top of the list, surpassing in brilliance and reliability even the August Perseids.
Bundle warmly against the winter chill; you can start observing as soon as darkness falls on the evening of Dec. 13 as Gemini starts coming up above the eastern horizon and continue through the rest of the night. Around 2 a.m. when Gemini is almost directly overhead, you might see as many as two meteor sightings per minute … 120 per hour! And the moon is new, meaning that it will not be a factor at all.
2011’s Last Solar Eclipse Shows Off for Southern Hemisphere
Stephanie Pappas, LiveScience Senior Writer
Date: 24 November 2011 Time: 11:14 AM ET
Photographer and skywatcher Bernt Olsen snapped this view of the partial solar eclipse of June 1-2, 2011 just during the “midnight sun” in Tromso, Norway. The partial solar eclipse was dubbed a “midnight” eclipse as its viewing path crossed the International Date Line across far northern latitudes.
CREDIT: Bernt Olsen
The last solar eclipse of 2011 will put on a show for some in the Southern Hemisphere on Friday (Nov. 25), but Americans shouldn’t bother to look up from their Thanksgiving leftovers.
According to NASA, viewers in South Africa, Antarctica, Tasmania and most of NewZealand will see the partial eclipse at 06:20:17 Universal time (1:20 a.m. Eastern time). With a magnitude of 0.905, this is the largest partial eclipse of the year, hiding much of the sun.
Solar eclipses occur during new moons, when the moon passes between the sun and the Earth. If the moon casts a shadow on the Earth during this phase, the result is an eclipse. From Earth, the result is that the moon seems to obscure the sun. (In contrast, lunar eclipses happen when a full moon passes into Earth’s shadow, obscuring our view of the moon. The next lunar eclipse will occur on Dec. 10, 2011.)
The number of solar eclipses varies each year between two and five. In 2011, there werefour solar eclipses. In 2012, astronomers predict just two. The next solar eclipse will be on May 20, 2012, and more Northern Hemisphere denizens will get a shot at seeing it: The eclipse will be viewable from eastern Asia to parts of the western United States.
NTARCTIC SOLAR ECLIPSE: On Nov. 25th the Moon will pass in front of the sun, slightly off-center, producing a partial solar eclipse visible from Antarctica, Tasmania, and parts of South Africa and New Zealand. An animated map created by graphic artist Larry Koehn shows the eclipse unfolding across the southern end of our planet:
Maximum coverage occurs about 100 miles off the coast of Antarctica where the sun will appear to be a slender 9% crescent. Observers in the eclipse zone should be alert for crescent-shaped shadows and sunbeams. The sun-dappled ground beneath leafy trees is a good place to look. Of course that won’t work in Antarctica where trees are scarce.