Monday, January 17, 2022

After months of daylight, Antarctica will plunge into two minutes of the night

The sun has not set in Antarctica since October. Earth’s southernmost continent is currently experiencing a long summer day that runs from mid-October to early April.

But on Saturday, December 4, darkness will engulf the ice of West Antarctica. The moon will pass directly in front of the sun, blocking its light and causing a total solar eclipse.

The Totality Path traverses the Argentinean, British and Chilean Antarctic Territories (which are made up of overlapping regions), as well as an unclaimed territory known as Mary Bird Land. The sections along the path will have almost 2 minutes of darkness in daylight, which lasts for several months.

Meanwhile, a fairly small partial eclipse will occur at the southern ends of South America, Africa, Australia and New Zealand. For South America and Africa, the eclipse will occur in the early morning; for Australia and New Zealand, this will happen at sunset.

Kiss goodnight moon

When the Sun sinks to the horizon, the Moon will kiss the upper left corner of the Sun. Hobart will see the largest eclipse of all Australian capitals, but even so, only 11 percent of the Sun’s area will be covered. In Melbourne, this figure drops to 2 percent, and in Canberra it is almost invisible – the sun crosses the horizon when a tiny eclipse occurs.

The situation is similar in New Zealand. Invercargill will see that 4 percent of the Sun will be obscured by the Moon, with the Moon traversing the left side of the Sun. But move further north to Queenstown, and the eclipse will be almost imperceptible to the setting sun.

In fact, if you didn’t know about it, you wouldn’t even know that an eclipse is happening. Only when about 80 percent or more of the Sun is obscured will we notice any changes in daylight.

Starlight, star shining

Solar eclipses are one of the astronomical events that require special care to observe. Most importantly, never look directly at the Sun – even when it is low above the horizon.

Be sure to protect your eyes by wearing specially designed eclipse goggles. These glasses also allow you to see any active sun spots. The sun is currently transitioning from a quiet phase to an active phase in a cycle that repeats every 11 years. You can check sites like Spaceweather to see what’s happening on the surface of the sun right now.

Usually the projection method is a great way to observe solar eclipses. To do this, you need to make a small hole in the bottom of a plastic cup or piece of cardboard. Then, with your back to the Sun, hold the bowl so that the sunlight passes through the hole onto a flat surface, such as a sheet of paper or a wall, projecting the image of the Sun onto the surface.

But since this is such a minor eclipse and will occur at sunset in eastern Australia, it can be difficult to focus the Sun in this way.

The rarity of totality

Solar eclipses are relatively rare because the Moon’s orbit is tilted 5 degrees with respect to the Earth’s orbit around the Sun, so they don’t quite move in the same plane. However, roughly every six months, the orbits align to produce a pair of eclipses – a lunar eclipse on a full moon followed by a solar eclipse on a new moon (as we are now seeing), or vice versa.

Lunar eclipses are seen by more people, because this event will be seen by everyone who is on the night side of the Earth during a lunar eclipse. Solar eclipses occur just as often, but they are seen by far fewer people, because the shadow created by the Moon passing in front of the Sun covers a much smaller part of the Earth.

Moreover, partial solar eclipses are difficult to observe and pale in comparison to the experience of a total solar eclipse. While total solar eclipses occur roughly every 18 months, the chance to see a total solar eclipse is even rarer.

The moon’s shadow, when it crosses the Earth, is only 100-260 km (60-160 miles) wide, and you must be within this narrow path to see a fully eclipsing Sun. This is why eclipse hunters travel the world to be in the right place at the right time. But when the totality occurs in a distant place like Antarctica, it is mostly the penguins who see it.

The next total solar eclipse visible from Australia will occur in April 2023. The Totality Strip will simply cross Australia near Exmouth at the tip of the North West Cape in Western Australia.

But many more Australians and New Zealanders will see the total solar eclipse on July 22, 2028. The totality will stretch across Australia, from the summit of Western Australia to New South Wales, passing directly over Sydney. It will also cross New Zealand’s South Island, passing through Queenstown and Dunedin.Talk

Tanya Hill, Fellow of the University of Melbourne and Senior Curator (Astronomy), Museums Victoria.

This article is reprinted from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

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