Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Very Long Solar Eclipse Coming to Asia

Update, 10:30 p.m. Central (Where it's still July 21, 2009)
"Taregna disappoints eclipse watchers"
Press Trust of India (July 22, 2009)

"Cloud cover left thousands of people gathered in Taregna, touted the best place to watch the century's longest total solar eclipse, disappointed today but the momentary darkness that enveloped the town was enough to cheer the onlookers who burst into a collective applause...."
"Longest Solar Eclipse of the Twenty-First Century is Tomorrow (Wednesday)"
Wired Geek Dad (July 21, 2009)

"At dawn on Wednesday, July 22nd, in the Gulf of Khambhat just of the coast of India, the sun will rise in an eclipse. The eclipse will last as long as 6 minutes and 39 seconds in some places in the South Pacific. That will make it the longest solar eclipse of the 21st Century. The theoretical maximum length of an eclipse is 7 and a half minutes.

"The Earth is close to its farthest point from the sun. A small sun means the Moon can cover it longer. By lucky coincidence, the Moon will be near its closest point to Earth. A large Moon covers the sun longer, lengthening the duration of the eclipse...."

The relatively brief Wired article has some useful links, including one for SEMS-Sun Earth Moon Systems. That one's particularly interesting to me, since it's the work of scientists from the University of North Dakota, a little north of my home town, who are in China - in hopes of catching the eclipse.

Right now, the page says, "The Next SEMS Webcast Starts: Wednesday, July 22, 2009 00:14:54 UTC" - about 9:54 a.m. here in the Central time zone.

(There's a decent time zone converter at The World Clock – Time Zone Converter, and an automatically updated conversion table showing UTC and U.S.A time in the American time zones at US Naval Observatory Master Clock Time.)

This eclipse is more than just a 'gee whiz' event for astronomers. Eclipses as long as tomorrow's don't happen very often, and for many astronomers this is the only opportunity they'll have for a long time to get data about the area around the sun.

One researcher is looking for waves in the sun's corona, hoping to learn why the area above the more obvious surface of the sun is so hot. (BBC)

BBC and CNN articles gave us a look at the rather complicated culture of India:
"...'We are hoping to make some valuable observations on the formation of asteroids around the sun,' scientist Pankaj Bhama told the Associated Press news agency.

"But pregnant women in India were advised to stay inside, following beliefs that the eclipse could harm a foetus.

" 'My mother and aunts have called and told me stay in a darkened room with the curtains closed, lie in bed and chant prayers,' said Krati Jain, a software worker in New Delhi who is expecting her first child...." (BBC)
I'm not sure whether or not Krati Jain will take the advice of her older relatives.

A CNN article points out that, besides a certain apprehension about the effect of an eclipse on early human development, eclipses are an occasion for alms-giving and prayers. A "remedial astrologer" was quoted, explaining that "...A solar eclipse ... weakens the sun god temporarily because of an encounter with dragon Rahu and leaves some cascading results everywhere...." (CNN)

As I said, we're getting a look at a complicated culture. Very complicated.

In the news:
A tip of the hat to markstoneman, on Twitter, for the heads-up on this event.

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