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Partial eclipse of the Sun on Tuesday

A PARTIAL ECLIPSE WILL BE VISIBLE across Australia on Tuesday afternoon, April 29. It will be highest in the sky in Western Australia, including Perth and Albany, and it will be visible low in the sky near sunset in Melbourne and Sydney.

A small bit of Antarctica, an inaccessible part, will experience an annular eclipse, which occurs when the Moon is a little farther than average from the Earth so that it doesn’t entirely cover the Sun, instead leaving a thin ring of sunlight visible.

Partial solar eclipse

A partial solar eclipse will be experienced across Australia on the afternoon of April 29. Image courtesy Jay Pasachoff.

At an annular or a partial solar eclipse, the sky never gets dark, and to view it directly you must use a special, safe solar filter or project the image onto a wall or screen and then look away from the eclipse at the screen. Don’t be tempted to use ‘backyard’ filters such as looking through exposed film or X-rays – they are dangerous and you can end up blinded.

At Perth and Albany in Western Australia, where the Sun’s diameter will be 60%-65% covered by the Moon, the eclipse will start at 1:15pm local time and end at 3:59pm, with maximum coverage at 2:41pm. This means that the whole event will be visible.

In Melbourne, the eclipse will occur from 3:58pm to and will be about halfway through by the time the Sun sets.

In Sydney, it will start at 4:13pm, and again, the Sun will set while it is still halfway through.

In Adelaide, it will begin at 3:26pm local time, with mid-eclipse at 4:37pm and sunset at 5:34pm.

In Hobart, it will begin at 3:51pm, with mid-eclipse at 5:01pm and sunset at 5:16pm.

In Darwin, it will start at 4:22pm local time, with mid-eclipse at 4:56pm and the end of the eclipse at 5:28pm.

In Brisbane, it will begin at 4:31pm, with mid-eclipse and sunset happening at the same time, 5:17pm.

In Cairns, it will begin at 4:57pm with mid-eclipse at 5:32pm and sunset at 5:58pm.

French amateur astronomer Xavier Jubier has put a Google map online that can be zoomed into, and you can click to find out what you would see from any particular location.

Safe solar viewing

you should never look directly at the Sun, either normally or when there is an eclipse. The Sun’s visible and invisible rays can blind you very quickly. It is particularly important to not use any kind of optical aid to view the Sun — instant blindness will result. Do not use dark glasses, pieces of exposed film and so on — none of these things work.

There are three safe ways to witness a solar eclipse.

First, if you have some special ‘eclipse glasses’ from a previous eclipse, you can use those – as long as they are in good condition and don’t have any holes or scratches.

The second way is to make a ‘pinhole camera’ from two sheets of white cardboard. Using a pin or a needle, punch a hole in the middle of one of the sheets. Then, standing with your back to the Sun, so that the sunlight is coming over your shoulder, with one hand hold the sheet of cardboard with the pinhole in it up to one side of your head. Then with the other hand, hold the other sheet out at about arm’s length in front of you. Arrange it so that the sunlight goes through the pinhole and falls onto the second sheet of cardboard. You’ll see a small image of the Sun on the second sheet. When the eclipse is happening, you’ll see a chunk taken out of the round Sun. Experiment to get the right distance between the sheets of cardboard.

The third way is to view it online, as there will telescopes videocasting it on the internet – see below for details.

Here are some links to information on how to safely view solar eclipses, total or partial, including how to make a pinhole camera:

Solar viewing safety advice from the Queensland government

How to build a pinhole camera

How to build a different kind of pinhole camera

View the eclipse online

Slooh will broadcast the partial phases of the eclipse live from Australia. Viewers can watch free on or by downloading the Slooh iPad app. Coverage will begin on Monday, April 28th, starting at 11pm US PDT on April  28, which is 2am US EDT on the 29th, 6am GMT on the 29th and 4pm Australia Eastern Standard Time.

The live image stream will be accompanied by commentary from scientists. Viewers can ask questions during the show by using the hashtag #Slooh.

The deepest part of the eclipse, where the Moon might be viewed as being completely enveloped by the larger-seeming and more distant Sun, can only be observed from deep within Antarctica, in a remote uninhabited region. This is why this eclipse has been nicknamed the ‘penguin’ eclipse.

A sequence of images showing an annular solar eclipse

A sequence of images showing an annular solar eclipse. Unfortunately, this time, no one will get to see the annular or ‘ring of fire’ parts of the eclipse, but Australians will be treated to the partial phases. Image courtesy of Jay Pasachoff.

Says Slooh astronomer Bob Berman, “Researchers at the Amundsen-Scott South Pole Station will not view any kind of solar eclipse. After all, their long six-month night began over a month ago, and the Sun is below the horizon for them. If they could somehow rise off the icy surface and stretch their necks into space, they’d see a central annular eclipse, as it sweeps into space, narrowly missing our planet.”

“But hundreds of miles farther north, where the very low Sun still sits on the horizon, barely up, well, anyone there would see the Moon covering the slightly larger-seeming Sun behind it. The result is a lopsided, off-centre ring of fire surrounding the inky Moon.”

“However, no human will be in that small region of Antarctica. Thus, this is one of the few annular eclipses that will most likely only be seen by penguins.”

More information:

Melbourne Planetarium

Adapted from information issued by Williams College and Slooh. Images courtesy Jay Pasachoff and Slooh.

Total eclipse of the Sun – November 14

totally eclipsed Sun

A total eclipse of the Sun will be seen in far north Queensland on the morning of November 14, 2012.

ALL ACROSS AUSTRALIA tomorrow, November 14, stargazers will have their gaze fixed on the Sun and the Moon as we experience the first total solar eclipse visible from Australia’s shores for ten years.

A solar eclipse occurs when the Moon, orbiting the Earth, moves in between the Sun and the Earth, blocking the light of the Sun. If the angles are slightly off, we see a partial eclipse. If the angles are just right, those lucky enough to be located along the ‘path of totality’ will experience a total eclipse.

And that’s what’s going to happen tomorrow morning. The path of totality will begin in Arnhem Land in the Northern Territory before sweeping across the Gulf of Carpentaria. Reaching far north Queensland, it will cut a narrow path across the state, reaching Cairns and Port Douglas on the coast before heading out into the Pacific Ocean.

For those in the Cairns area, the eclipse will begin with the Moon taking its first ‘bite’ out of the Sun at around 5:40am Queensland time. Totality will occur around 6:38am and will last for two minutes, before the Moon begins to slide off the face of the Sun.

Those in other parts of the country will experience a partial eclipse, beginning and ending at different times according to location. More details about when and where the eclipse can be seen are given in the links below.

It is important to remember that looking at the Sun at any time, eclipse or no eclipse, is dangerous and can lead to permanent eye damage. If you intend to watch the event, you need to take appropriate precautions – ways in which to safely experience it are given the links below too.

After Wednesday, the next total solar eclipse for Australia will be in the year 2028, when the path of totality will zoom right through the middle of the continent and go right through Sydney.

I hope you have a happy and safe eclipse viewing experience tomorrow!


Fantastic solar eclipse info from the Astronomical Association of Queensland

When, where and how to see it

Solar viewing safety advice from the Queensland government

Solar viewing safety advice from NASA

How to build a pinhole camera

How to build a different kind of pinhole camera

Partial solar eclipse information for Australia cities

How to photograph the solar eclipse

How a solar eclipse works

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The year ahead in space

Artist's impression of the Curiosity rover on Mars.

Artist's impression of the Curiosity rover on Mars. The craft is due to arrive on Mars on August 6, 2012.

THIS YEAR IS GOING TO BE A BIG ONE in terms of space activity, and will include some events you’ll be able to experience firsthand. Let’s count down the top five.

At number five we have NASA’s Mars Science Laboratory mission, carrying the Curiosity rover to the Red Planet. Scheduled to arrive on August 6, it will land in Gale Crater (named after a 19th-20th century Australian astronomer, Walter Frederick Gale) and look for signs of organic chemicals. The 900-kilogram, nuclear-powered rover has a primary mission of two years but is expected to last for much longer than that.

At number four we have the total eclipse of the Sun on November 14. The path of totality runs along a narrow west-east strip of far northern Queensland, taking in Cairns and surrounding areas. The thousands of people who are expected to flock to the area will experience two minutes of totality shortly after sunrise—observers elsewhere in Australia will witness a partial eclipse.

After this, the next total solar eclipse to be visible from Australia will be in 2028, when the path of totality will run straight through Sydney.

Transit of Venus

The transit of Venus will be seen on the morning of June 6 in Australia. There won't be another one until the year 2117.

Coming in at number three is an event you won’t want to miss, as you’ll never get a chance to see another one. It’s the transit of Venus, which will happen on the morning of June 6. A transit occurs when one of the inner planets, in this case Venus, moves between Earth and the Sun and we see it as a small black dot slowly crawling across the solar face. It was to observe a transit of Venus that Captain Cook travelled to the South Pacific in the 18th century … and on his way home bumped into a certain large, dry continent, girt by sea.

Transits of Venus are very rare. They happen in pairs eight years apart (so the last one was in 2004), but between pairs there is a gap of over 100 years. So the 20th century totally missed out, and after June there won’t be another one until the year 2117. So don’t miss it!

Number two on our list is the decision on where the Square Kilometre Array, or SKA, will be built. The SKA will be an enormous network of radio dishes and antennae spread over an area the size of a continent. It will enable astronomers to look back towards the beginning of time, and study the evolution of stars and galaxies throughout cosmic history.

Artist's impression of part of the Square Kilometre Array.

Artist's impression of part of the Square Kilometre Array.

In a situation reminiscent of the Olympics, two regions have put in bids to host the facility and are eagerly awaiting the decision of the international panel. A joint bid by Australia and New Zealand is up against a consortium of southern African countries. The decision could be announced next month. If Australasia gets it, the core of the network will be located in a remote region of Western Australia, but with many other dishes spread out across the nation and into New Zealand.

And so after all of these fantastic events, what could we possibly have in the number one spot on our countdown? What will be this year’s biggest cosmic event? Why, the very survival of Planet Earth of course! In case you haven’t heard, a lot of people seem to be very worried about two things—the apparent end of the Mayan Long Count calendar in December (and the implied end of civilisation as we know it), and a collision between Earth and a planet called Nibiru.

Well, as far as the Mayan calendar is concerned, there is no cause for alarm. Like the Gregorian calendar we use every day, it will simply tick over to a new Long Count and we’ll all live happily every after.

That is, unless we get wiped out by that collision with Nibiru. Frightened? Don’t be. For you see, there’s a basic flaw in the Nibiru hypothesis, and it’s simply this … Nibiru doesn’t exist. It’s a fiction invented by some loopy, cosmic conspiracy nutters. There is no evidence for such a planet, and no evidence that Earth is in any danger from a collision with any other planet, known or unknown. Phew!

UPDATE, February 6: BTW, I misspoke on the Today Show this morning, saying that the next total solar eclipse after this year’s one will occur in the year 2128. I should have said 2028 of course.

Story by Jonathan Nally

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Amazing eclipse image

Composite image of the July 11, 2010, total solar eclipse.

Three different images, taken by different instruments, have been combined to produce this composite image of the July 11, 2010, total solar eclipse.

This incredible record of July 11’s total solar eclipse is actually three images in one, each taken by different instruments to bring out detail in different parts of the Sun.

The outer, redder part of the image shows the Sun’s outer corona, or outer atmosphere, as seen by the Large Angle Spectrometric Coronagraph (LASCO) on the SOHO spacecraft and shown in red false colour. SOHO has been studying the Sun for years from its vantage point between the Earth and the Sun.

LASCO uses a disc to blot out the bright sun and the inner corona so that the faint outer corona can be monitored and studied.

The inner black-and-white part shows the Sun’s inner corona, and is an image taken from Easter Island by the Williams College Expedition.

Finally, at the very centre is ultraviolet image of the Sun’s surface, taken by the Atmospheric Imaging Assembly on Solar Dynamics Observatory (SDO), a recently-launched Sun-monitoring spacecraft.

Image credits: Williams College Eclipse Expedition — Jay M. Pasachoff, Muzhou Lu, and Craig Malamut; SOHO’s LASCO image courtesy of NASA/ESA; solar disk image from NASA’s SDO; compositing by Steele Hill, NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Centre.

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