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Solar eclipses

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This is an article on how to travel to and observe the solar eclipse.

Understand

A solar eclipse is an astronomical phenomenon, in which the sun is obscured by the moon. There are several types of solar eclipse:

  • total in which the normally visible parts of the Sun are totally obscured, causing night-like darkness to fall for several minutes, and the conorna — the sun's normally invisible atmosphere — to be seen radiating around the black circle of the moon
  • 'annular in which the moon obscures the centre of the sun, causing a bright ring to be seen around the dark moon
  • hybrid in which at various points along the eclipse's path either a annular or total eclipse is seen
  • partial in which a fraction of the sun's surface is obscured by part of the moon

Total eclipses are the most dramatic solar eclipse, a very strange and beautiful spectacle. A total solar eclipse occurs somewhere on Earth once or twice most years but is only visible from a narrow ribbon of the surface — the eclipse's path — with a partial eclipse experienced in a wider area. Partial eclipses are the least dramatic: unless one is viewing the eclipse deliberately it often just appears to be a somewhat dim day, as if overcast.

Get in

Because solar eclipses, especially those viewable easily from land, are fairly rare, there are two problems with getting to them: the first is finding transport to the location at all and the second is booking it before your competition does. Solar eclipses can attract from thousands to hundreds of thousands of viewers, which can overwhelm the capacity of local transport and accommodation. If the eclipse is crossing a well-resourced tourist area (like the 2012 eclipe visible from Cairns, a tourist city in Australia), you should ideally book several months in advance but there may be some availability close to the eclipse. If the eclipse is off the beaten track, you may need to make arrangements a year or more in advance. Expect at least peak season pricing for transport.

Cruise liners often have special itineraries into paths of totality, and this may be a preferable if your willingness to travel off the beaten track is limited. They may also be able to search for a cloud-free viewing area within reasonable limits, an opportunity you are less likely to have on land.

See

Here is the list of several total, annular and hybrid solar eclipses in near future.

There are also NASA maps of all annular and total eclipes between 2001 and 2020 and 2021 and 2040.

Do

  • View the eclipse from the ocean. Coastal areas will often have day cruises available to view the eclipse, this may avoid crowded public areas, and the vessel may be able to avoid local cloud cover. As with transport in general, book early.
  • Photograph the eclipse. Beware: solar photography is not safe for camera sensors or film unless the lens is protected from the sun with a solar filter, which can be purchased from astromony shops.
  • View the eclipse through a telescope. A solar filter must be over the lens of the telescope.

Stay safe

Never look at the Sun with the unaided eye or with a telescope, not even for second and not even if only 1% of the Sun is visible. This may seriously damage your eye and even make you blind. Always use the dedicated filter, which you can buy in an astronomy shop or at least use a diskette or fully exposed and developed negative photographic film to protect your eye.

As the moon fully obscures the sun (only during total eclipses) it becomes safe to look directly and see the beautiful corona (Sun's atmosphere).

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