0 In Astronomy

Burnin’ Ring of Fire

For those of you who didn’t get my Johnny Cash reference, please listen to this first; then read my post. You are welcome. Anyways to the science!

So lucky us get to experience not one but two eclipses this month! If you missed the penumbral lunar eclipse earlier this month, don’t worry; there is a coveted solar eclipse right around the corner. Although this eclipse is just an annular solar eclipse, it produces some jaw dropping sites just like its famous sister the total solar eclipse.

Grand Canyon National Park: Annular Eclipse Sequence via Grand Canyon National Park

Diagram via NASA

Solar eclipses are when the Moon casts a shadow on the Earth because it passes between the Sun and the Earth. Eclipses are pretty rare because the Moon’s orbit is a little shifted from the Earth’s orbit about the Sun (not on the same plane) so the Moon has to be at the instant the planes intersect while it is in a New phase (aka between Earth and Sun). Annular solar eclipses occur when the Moon is just a tad bit farther from the Earth and thus doesn’t block out the entirety of the Sun’s rays. This extra light surround the Moon’s silhouette is what appears as a ring of fire.

Diagram via NASA

You can see the difference when you hold your thumb up to a light. As you  move your thumb away from you, more light is visible because the thumb doesn’t cast as large of a shadow on your eye.  This happens in eclipses because the Moon’s orbit is not a  perfect circle so depending on where it is on its orbit it can vary in distance by about 50,000 km or 25,000 miles.

Now that I exhausted y’all by blabbing about orbits, lets get to how you can actually participate in this cool event. The fun begins at 12:10 UTC on February 26th (8:10 am EDT) and lasts until 17:35 UTC (1:35 pm EDT). The eclipse will be visible in the Southern tip of South America and the South Eastern tip of Africa (to see a map of the cities click here).  Because eclipses only cover small portions of the globe, most of us won’t be able to see them in person. Instead, there is a really cool opportunity for us to view this phenomenon; Slooh is airing a live broadcast of the eclipse starting at 7:00 am EDT (11:00 UTC) on February 26th so all of us can join in on the fun.  Make sure you tune into that broadcast here.

Solar Eclipse, Middle (NASA, Hinode, 01/07/11) via NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center


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