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Black Hole Sun: Photos of a Total Solar Eclipse

Photo from the August 21, 2017 total solar eclipse. © Jason Major

Today, August 21, 2017, the Moon briefly slid in front of the Sun, casting its shadow onto the Earth–the deepest part of which (called the umbra) passing across the United States from Salem, Oregon to Charleston, South Carolina. I arranged to be positioned at the latter location, and thus experienced for the first time solar eclipse totality from 2:46 to 2:47 and a half p.m. this afternoon. It was, as they say, a mind-blowing experience…if just in the sheer sense of seeing something entirely different happening to the usually very typical Sun in the middle of what would otherwise be a very typical day. (Except that it was neither of those.)

Below are some of my photos from the event.

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Answers to 8 Questions About the August 2017 Solar Eclipse

It’s August and one of the most highly-anticipated astronomical events of the 21st century is nearly upon us: the August 21 solar eclipse, which will be visible as a total eclipse literally across the entire United States…but that doesn’t mean everywhere in the United States. Totality will pass across the U.S. in a narrow band about 60 miles wide starting along the northern coast of Oregon at 10:18 a.m. local time (PDT) and ending along the coast of South Carolina at 2:48 p.m. EDT. But that’s just totality—the full eclipse event will actually begin much earlier than that and end later, and its visibility won’t be limited to only that path. And while it’ll be happening overhead in the daytime sky you’ll need the right equipment to view it safely, whether you’re in totality or not.

Wait, you say, what’s the difference between totality and…not totality? And how is it caused? And why is this a big deal at all? If you’re wondering those things (and perhaps others) then this post is just for you. Below are answers to some common—and certainly not dumb—questions about the solar eclipse, brought to you by yours truly (with a little help from NASA and other eclipse specialists.)

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Eclipses From Orbit

Can’t see the video below? Click here to watch.

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In another view of Tuesday’s partial solar eclipse, the European Space Agency’s Proba-2 satellite captured this video of the Moon passing in front of the Sun from its position in low-Earth orbit. Taken in extreme ultraviolet (EUV) light, best for observing details of the Sun’s corona, Proba-2 caught the transit and then passed into Earth’s shadow itself (when the video goes dark) establishing an alignment of Sun, Moon, Earth and satellite!

“This is a notable event. It is a nice exercise to model the orbit and relative positions of all three celestial bodies.”

– Bogdan Nicula, Royal Observatory of Belgium

One of the smallest satellites flown by ESA Proba-2 is only about 3′ (1m) square. The SWAP imager aboard – which took the video above – is only about the size of a shoebox.

The morning of January 4th brought us the first of six eclipses visible in 2011, that one a partial solar eclipse seen over Europe, North Africa and parts of Asia. There will be three more partial solar eclipse and two total lunar eclipses this year. (See a schedule here.) Another spectacular orbital view of the event was witnessed by Japan’s Hinode (pronounced hee-n0-day) satellite as well…that video can be seen below, or read more about it on Discover’s Bad Astronomy blog here.

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BTW, for those who may wonder why the Sun seems less active then normal in these videos…the time scale of the eclipse is too quick to see much happening on the Sun. Most hi-res solar surface videos are at least 10-15 minutes of real time per frame, greatly enhancing the apparent motion of solar surface activity but too fast for observing a smooth transit.

Videos courtesy of ESA and  JAXA, NAOJ, PPARC and NASA.

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