Many of us are focused on next year’s total solar eclipse which will be widely visible across the U.S., but in truth, eclipses happen every year. Some are total, some are partial and some are annular. On Thursday, skywatchers across central Africa and Madagascar will witness the year’s second solar eclipse.
The first in March was total and cut a long but narrow lane across Indonesia and Indian Ocean. This one will be annular, meaning that the moon will be near the furthest point in its orbit and too small to completely cover the sun, leaving a ring of sunlight or ‘annulus’ at mid-eclipse. You’ll sometimes hear them referred to as ring eclipses.
Observers in Europe, Africa and Asia will see the final eclipse of 2016 a little more than two weeks later on September 16, when the full moon dips into Earth’s outer shadow in penumbral eclipse. During maximum eclipse those paying attention will detect a grayish shading over the northern half of the moon.
So how about something just about anyone can see? Well, we have that, too. Tomorrow morning (Tues. Aug. 30) you can catch a thin crescent moon at dawn low in the east-northeast sky starting an hour or so before sunrise. It will be tipped up on its side in a thin smile. With the sun rising later now, around 6:30 a.m., it doesn’t take quite as much effort to make a point of looking east if you’re up getting ready for school or work as it did in early summer. In June, twilight got underway at 4!
Like a sunrise or sunset, seeing a crescent moon at dawn or dusk gifts us with a sense of renewal. Two mornings later, the same moon will be new and busy covering the sun for a few hours before it returns to the evening sky this weekend.
Special note: Before you plan you a.m. viewing session, keep an eye out for aurora tonight. A minor storm is predicted to begin this afternoon and continue through 10 p.m. Central time tonight.