The moon’s shadow will sweep across the Pacific Ocean from Indonesia to Hawaii this week in the first total solar eclipse in a year.
Total solar eclipses occur when the moon passes directly between the Earth and the sun for a few minutes. The previous total solar eclipse happened on March 20, 2015, over the far North Atlantic Ocean and parts of northern Europe. The next total eclipse will pass squarely over the continental United States on Aug. 21, 2017, and will be visible from the Pacific Northwest to the Southeast.
The eclipse occurs on Wednesday, Pacific time, but those in the United States (outside Hawaii) will need to gaze online on Tuesday evening. You can watch in the live stream on this page starting at 6 p.m, Eastern Time, thanks to Slooh.com.
From its location, Slooh expects its glorious two-minute portion of totality to occur at 7:37 p.m. Eastern Time. There will be live views from partner observatories in Hawaii during a partial phase of the eclipse.The greatest part of totality lasts for 4 minutes and 9 seconds.
Astronomer Paul Cox will guide you through the enchanting stages of the partial eclipse phase, then totality and partiality, again, along with a team from the Institute of Astrophysics of the Canary Islands. Special guests will include science communicator Lucie Green. Viewers are invited to ask questions on Twitter during the broadcast using the hashtag #SloohEclipse.
All eclipses occur in families, and this eclipse is number 52 in the family “Saros 130,” a series that started on Aug. 20, 1096, and it will last until Oct. 25, 2394.
Solar eclipses in these series occur every 18 years and 11 days, or one Saros cycle. “When two eclipses are separated by a period of one Saros, they share a very similar geometry,” writes NASA. “The two eclipses occur at the same node with the moon at nearly the same distance from Earth and at the same time of year. Thus, the Saros is useful for organizing eclipses into families or series.”
Each Saros begins with partial eclipses at one of the poles, and then produces “several dozen central eclipses” before it ends with partial eclipses at the opposite pole, says NASA.
In Saros 130, there are 73 all together, 43 of which are total eclipses. The first umbral eclipse of this family occurred on March 25, 1475, where totality lasted two minutes, according to noted expert Fred Espenak.
The most recent Saros 130 eclipse was Feb. 26, 1998, making a path from the Galapagos Islands to the Caribbean. The next one will be March 20, 2034, cutting a path from Nigeria, through India and then onto China. In 2052, the Saros 130 total eclipse path runs through central Mexico and the southeastern United States, according to Espenak.
NASA and the San Francisco Exploratorium team up
The San Francisco-based Exploratorium science museum will join NASA scientists to present a live webcast beginning at 8 p.m. Eastern Time from the coral isle of Woleai – about 500 miles north of New Guinea and about 400 miles south of Guam – in Micronesia.
Robyn Higdon produced the Exploratorium’s webcast, as she searched for a perfect location and found this nearly invisible, pinpoint island within the eclipse path. This production is made in cooperation with NASA and the National Science Foundation. A Spanish-language version of the webcast is available at the Exploratorium site.
The Exploratorium has beamed eclipses around the world for 18 years, according to its blog, written by science writer Eileen Campbell. The museum’s webcast team hauled telescopes, cameras, microphones, laptops and a satellite dish to bring this phenomenal spectacle to your kitchen table. They hold two rehearsals, test data connections and conduct drift-aligning (telescope-tracking) tests.
More than just cosmic fun, researchers from the NASA Goddard Space Flight Center will be testing their polarization camera, capturing data from the sun’s volatile, super-hot atmosphere — a region that can be observed during total solar eclipses.
Nelson Reginald, one of the NASA scientists, explained that a total solar eclipse provides an opportunity “to see very close to the solar limb.”
You can join the Exploratorium on Twitter and Facebook, and NASA at its @NASASunEarth account on Twitter. Viewers can join this conversation and ask questions on Twitter, Google+ and Facebook using #eclipse2016.
Eye safety during a solar eclipse
During the totality phase of a solar eclipse, you watch the event with your own eyes, for a few seconds or minutes, according to Espenak. But during partial eclipse, annular eclipses or partial phases of total eclipse, protect your eyes. “Do not attempt to observe the partial or annular phases of any eclipse with the naked eye,” Espenak said, “Failure to use appropriate filtration may result in permanent eye damage or blindness.”
Find NASA’s eye safety website here.