Total solar eclipses are marvellous quirks of nature that occur once every 18 months or so. But unless you live in, or are about to travel to, the middle of the Pacific, you’re going to be sitting the next one out.
On March 9th, a new Moon will sweep across the Pacific in the ecliptic plane; that is, the plane in which the Earth orbits the Sun. As it passes in front of the Sun, the Moon will cast a shadow on the Earth, causing brief darkness and leading at least a few people to declare that the end is nigh. In anticipation of the celestial event, NASA has created a series of visualisations showing exactly which parts of the world will be affected. Mostly we’re talking parts of the world without humans, except Indonesia and Papua New Guinea.
It’s only within the umbra, that small black oval in the centre of the animations above and below, that the Moon will completely block the Sun for several minutes. In the much wider, shadowy bullseye known as the penumbra, the sky will darken, but the Sun won’t completely go away.
Here’s another depiction of the event, this one, from the perspective of a telescopic lens on a camera located behind the Moon. The edge of the penumbra is outlined in yellow:
If you don’t live on a fishing boat, your best bet is to check out the Solar Dynamics Laboratory for beautiful images of the eclipse after it happens. Or, hey, maybe this is the perfect excuse to take that trip to Guam you keep putting off. After all, the next total solar eclipse isn’t coming until August 21st, 2017.
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