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, 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
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.
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
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
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.