It will be one of the most photographed and talked about celestial events of the year, so what is it and how can we be a part of it from New Zealand? Let’s talk everything on the eclipse.
On August 21, 2017, North America will be treated to an eclipse of the Sun, and those within the path of totality will witness the awe-inspiring sight of a total solar eclipse. A solar eclipse occurs when the moon passes between the Sun and Earth, appearing to cover the disk of the Sun completely. This path will run from Oregon to South Carolina, along a stretch of land only 113 kilometres wide. The period that the moon blocks the Sun depends on the location of viewing. The longest period during this eclipse lasts about 2 minutes and 40 seconds while those who are on the very edge of the totality path may observe totality for only a few seconds.
Eclipses’ provide unique opportunities to study the interaction between the Sun, Earth and moon. Scientists will take airborne and ground based observations over the period of 100 minutes as the eclipse moves across the US.
It is a common misconception that total solar eclipses are rare occurrences. In fact, they happen around every 18 months. What is so special about this one then? The fact that so many people will be able to witness it! Although 12 million people live within the narrow totality band, approximately 127 million reside within a day’s drive of it. A total eclipse also only happens at the same given spot once in about 375 years. The next visible solar eclipse in the US is relatively soon in 2024, but it will take a different path of totality and won’t be as visible to nearly as many US locations as the 2017 eclipse. Unfortunately, here in New Zealand, the path of a total solar eclipse doesn’t cross our small island nation very often! The last one was in 1965, and the next will be in 2028, in which it will cross over the lower South Island. You can see the path of the next ten years’ of eclipses here and the locations of the next New Zealand sighting here.
If you haven’t managed to book a flight to the US in time, don’t worry! Viewers around the world will have access to a wealth of images captured by 11 spacecraft, more than 50 high-altitude balloons, at least 3 NASA aircraft and the astronauts aboard the International Space Station. NASA will be streaming the event here, so you can still watch it in real-time. You can also download an interactive web app here, and track the eclipse from any location. If you truly feel that you’ve missed out on the big event, then take some solace in the fact that NASA representatives are predicting the day to be one of the worst traffic days in US history. It’s estimated that the population within the path of totality will double on the day of the eclipse – that traffic will surely be worse than any Auckland rush-hour jam you have ever experienced!
You can learn more about the eclipse here.