Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Very Long Solar Eclipse In Progress

An unusually long eclipse of the sun is in progress, sweeping across Asia. Scientists are hoping to learn more about the sun's corona, as the extremely bright surface of the sun is hidden by the moon.

"Scientists track eclipse from aircraft, conduct tests"
Press Trust of India (July 22, 2009)

"Solar eclipse trackers on the ground were not be the only ones studying the spectacle as the Indian Air Force (IAF) and astrophysicists conducted experiments and filmed the celestial event from a fighter jet and a transport aircraft...."

Quite a few people who aren't scientists are interested, too, for a variety of reasons.

"Darkness falls in Asia during total eclipse, luring masses"
CNN (July 22, 2009)

"The longest solar eclipse of the century cast a wide shadow for several minutes over Asia and the Pacific Ocean Wednesday, luring throngs of people outside to watch the spectacle....

"...In India, where an eclipse pits science against superstition, thousands took a dip in the Ganges River in the Hindu holy city of Varanasi to cleanse their souls, said Ajay Kumar Upadhyay, the district's most senior official. Send us your photos of the eclipse

"The ritual turned into tragedy when an 80-year-old woman died and eight others were injured in what was called a stampede in some media reports. Upadhyay called the incident a "commotion" during sacred rituals in Varanasi...."

I was struck by the mildly archaic language of the CNN article: "masses" being lured; "pits science against superstition" - but the article is still a pretty good overview of how people who live in Asia, and those who traveled there for the eclipse, are reacting to the event.

"Cautiously, Chinese try creative ways to watch rare solar eclipse"
Xinhua (July 22, 2009)

"As a rare six-minute total solar eclipse fell across Asia Wednesday morning, ordinary Chinese tried creative ways to watch the phenomenon without damaging their eyes.

"Though many ideal observation spots were under rain or clouds, days of heavy media coverage had fanned public curiosity....

"...Liu Guifang, 52, who works for a cosmetics company in the southern suburbs of Shanghai, held two pieces of paper parallel about a meter apart, and poked a tiny hole with a diameter of around 2 millimeters in one."

"She could then look at the reflection of the eclipse on the other piece, which made the solar rays much weaker...."

That's the only place I've seen a 'pinhole projector' described in news media discussing this eclipse - and the technique works. I've found that the hole can be much smaller than the two millimeters described here, and still work. The projection of the sun's image is a little less bright, but distinctly clearer. The trick is to make the hole as smooth and circular as possible.

"Solar eclipse over Pacific today will take small bite of Hawaii sun"
Hawai'i Magazine (July 21, 2009)

"...What does any of this have to do with Hawaii?

"We'll get to experience a tiny part of the huge celestial event when the northernmost edge of the eclipse's shadow moves over the Hawaiian Islands this afternoon creating a partial eclipse.

"Look toward the sun in Hawaii today at about 5:20 p.m. and—if skies are cloud-free—you'll see the moon take a small bite of about 10 percent of the sun...."

The article points out that, it you don't know that eclipse is happening, odds are that you won't notice it. The eclipse will be distinctly 'partial' by the time it gets to Hawaii.

Time Conversion Tables, Eclipse Animation, More

The Hawai'i Magazine article includes this animated graphic, from the NASA Eclipse Web Site, "Solar Eclipses: 2001 - 2010." That animation does a pretty good job of showing where the total eclipse has been - and will be, and the much larger swath where part of the sun will be blocked by the moon.

The page also has tables and links for eclipses through the year 3000, and a link to the World Atlas of Solar Eclipse Paths. Looks like a pretty good resource.

The NASA Eclipse Web Site home page links to data about solar and lunar eclipses, planetary transits, and other Solar system data.

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