Eclipse Spectacle / Record-thin Moon / Aurora Redux?

A total solar eclipse is seen in Longyearbyen on Svalbard, Norway, March 20, 2015. REUTERS/Jon Olav Nesvold/NTB scanpix
A total solar eclipse is seen in Longyearbyen on Svalbard, Norway, March 20, 2015.  The black circle is the moon covering the Sun. The “collar” around the moon is the Sun’s atmosphere called the corona, which is invisible to the eye except during an eclipse. Credit: Reuters/Jon Olav Nesvold/NTB scanpix

I’m told weather was great at Svalbard in Norway for this morning’s total solar eclipse. Completely clear skies. The solar corona, only seen during an eclipse, looks fashionably punk with a head full of beautiful, magnetically-aligned spikes.

A girl uses a welding mask to view a partial solar eclipse from Bradgate Park in Newtown Linford, central England March 20, 2015. A solar eclipse swept across the Atlantic Ocean on Friday with the moon blocking out the sun for a few thousand sky gazers on remote islands with millions more in Europe, Africa and Asia getting a partial celestial show. Reuters / Darren Staples
A girl uses a welding mask to view a partial solar eclipse from Bradgate Park in Newtown Linford, England to watch the eclipse. Millions of skywatchers in Europe, Africa and Asia got to see the partial show. Credit: Reuters / Darren Staples

Because the corona is a million times fainter than the blazing surface of the Sun you can’t see it in the daytime. Only during a eclipse when the moon covers our star can we finally glimpse its hidden crown.

A student observes the partial eclipse cast onto white paper at the Astronomical Observatory in Bialystok, Poland March 20, 2015. Credit: Reuters / Agencja Gazeta
Clouds proved to be the ideal filter for photographing the partial solar eclipse from Trieste, Italy Friday morning. Details: 50mm lens, f/6, 1/100 second at ISO 100. Credit: Giorgio Rizzarelli
Clouds proved to be the ideal filter for photographing the partial solar eclipse from Trieste, Italy Friday morning. Details: 50mm lens, f/6, 1/100 second at ISO 100. Credit: Giorgio Rizzarelli

Every day, the orbiting Solar and Heliospheric Observatory uses a coronagraph to create and artificial eclipse as seen from space. It uses an opaque disk to block the brilliant solar surface called the photosphere, so astronomers can study the corona any time without the expense, time and uncertain weather that can make eclipses on Earth so touch-and-go.

A view from a plane during the so-called "Eclipse Flight" from the Russian city of Murmansk to observe the solar eclipse above the neutral waters of the Norwegian Sea, March 20, 2015. A partial eclipse was visible on Friday, the first day of northern spring, across parts of Africa, Europe and Asia. The total eclipse of the sun was only visable in the Faroe Islands and the Norwegian archipelago of Svalbard in the Arctic Ocean. REUTERS/Sergei Karpukhin
This is one way to guarantee a cloud-free view of a total eclipse. A view from a plane during an “Eclipse Flight” from the Russian city of Murmansk to observe the event high over the Norwegian Sea. Credit: Reuters / Sergei Karpukhin

While very dilute compared to the Sun itself, the corona is extremely hot, about a 1,800,000° F. During periods of high solar activity, especially during the peak of the 11-year sunspot cycle, the corona is evenly distributed around the solar disk. In “slow” times, it stretches out in long streamers from the Sun’s equator.

The corona’s shape is determined by magnetic fields that originate from within the Sun and extend outward for some 5 million miles. I’ve been fortunate enough to stand under the moon’s shadow during several eclipses, and it’s always the highlight. The Sun’s atmosphere, threaded with delicate loops and spikes, looks electric. Alive. If you’ve never seen a total solar eclipse, make sure to put it on your bucket list.

A very, very young lunar crescent might be viewable this evening just about 20 minutes after sunset nearly due west about 25 degrees (2.5 outstretched fists) below Venus. Source: Stellarium
A very, very young lunar crescent might be viewable this evening just about 20 minutes after sunset nearly due west about 25 degrees (2.5 outstretched fists) below Venus. Source: Stellarium

The moon, responsible for today’s spectacle, will put on a solo encore this evening when it will be just far enough from the Sun to glimpse shortly after sunset.

This truly is a “young” moon, just 14 hours old as seen from the East Coast, 15 from the Midwest, 16 from the mountain states and 17 from the West Coast.

Use the diagram to help you find it. The moon will be just 3° high 20 minutes after sunset. You’ll need a very open, clear sky and a pair of binoculars to attempt the challenge.

If you were out early this morning you might have seen a few rays of northern lights. Credit: Guy Sander
If you were out early this morning you might have seen a few rays of northern lights. Credit: Guy Sander

Ah, the aurora. Hard to believe, but it’s been glimmering in the north for four nights in a row as seen from the northern U.S. and southern Canada. Guy Sander of Duluth spotted it at 1:15 this morning and brought his camera along for the ride.

NOAA space weather forecasters are predicting a G1 or minor geomagnetic storm for this evening before activity tapers off for the weekend. Cause? Another one of those holes in the Sun’s corona that allows subatomic particles to flow as free as the spring breeze from there to here.

Speaking of spring, the vernal equinox begins this evening at 5:45 p.m. (CDT). That’s when the Sun crosses the celestial equator moving north. Day and night are an equal 12 hours apiece across the planet except for the North Pole where the Sun will be up 24 hours now through the first day of fall. The South Pole will see their last day of 24-hour sunlight; starting tomorrow 6 months of night commence.

12 Responses

  1. Chris

    I could see it here above the Vosges quite well. Yesterday I got my great piano especially tuned for this exciting week-end, from 439 to 442 Hz, it had lost quite a lot of potential, just yesterday, on thursday, to translate all these vibrations and spiritual impressions into music.

    The sky above and all over the Vosges was clear, and a little darkened from the eclipse during the time between 9 h 30 and 12 h 30, there was a very fine shadow over the valley. I was good protected by the windows and the walls of the house, and could look out into this marvellous atmosphere without damaging my eyes and play on my grand piano, the great sliding window opened at temperatures of about 15 ° C . But I had got a little pair of gratis glasses, of carton and aluminium foil, from the travel provider Bucher, and I could quite well step outside and look into the sun and see how it was hidden by the moon. The sun was directly above the great trees of the big forest around the little mountain lake beyond the house.

    https://www.google.de/maps/place/Tannenweg+43,+76547+Sinzheim/@48.75498,8.184,495m/data=!3m1!1e3!4m2!3m1!1s0x47971f8b4e9e0da9:0xb5f3bd4b285ab2c8

    https://www.google.de/search?q=sinzheim+vormberg+bilder&biw=1280&bih=623&tbm=isch&tbo=u&source=univ&sa=X&ei=JZYMVaviFunmywOK44FA&ved=0CCAQsAQ

      1. Dear Bob,

        thanks for your kind words.

        The sun yesterday took approximately the same place as the moon on the photos I already posted, these photos were taken from the same position from where I looked yesterday up into the sun, above the forest, the trees, beyond the lake just some steps up from here, only that it was noon, and the sky was wunderfully blue and the air was clear in the middle of the day.

        This evening there are some important spring tides, in Canada, too.

    1. astrobob

      Ray,
      Thank you for sharing Emily’s piece. VERY interesting. Makes sense. As with comet 67P, much of the water appears to be beneath the surface. Let’s hope it turns out to be true.

    1. astrobob

      Barbie – yes, there is a good chance for a minor storm. Look near the horizon for a bright arc and possible rays.

    1. astrobob

      Thanks Amanda. Didn’t get your comment till this morning. I thin you would have been too far south for this display.

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