This is a great month for eclipses and kicking it off right is the partial solar eclipse happening this Sunday, Sep. 13.
It’s the last solar eclipse of the year, and the next won’t come around until March 9, 2016.
Unfortunately, most of us are not in the right spot to see the eclipse, which will take place over the southern tip of Africa, most of Madagascar, and parts of Antarctica.
During a solar eclipse, the moon passes between the sun and Earth, casting its shadow over our planet’s surface, like in the GIF below.
That shadow is what we see as the black menace devouring the sun in our night sky. But the moon’s shadow is not large enough to cover all of Earth, which is why during each solar eclipse there are only certain parts of the world that will see the event.
The online observatory, Slooh, is hosting a live broadcast — starting at 12:30 am ET on Sep. 13 — of the event online, for those of us who still want to check out the last solar eclipse of the year, but don’t want to travel to the bottom half of the world. (You must register to become a Slooh member in order to access the broadcast.)
Check out the map below, courtesy of timeanddate.com, to see where on Earth this weekend’s partial solar eclipse will take place:
The moon will start to eclipse the sun at around 12:40 a.m. ET, which will be late afternoon in Madagascar. And the event will reach maximum eclipse — when the moon is covering the most amount of sun — about two hours later, at 2:52 a.m ET.
The farther south you travel, the more spectacular the event will be, according to these maps by Michael Zeiler, who founded and runs the blog, Great American Eclipse.
Here’s what maximum eclipse will look like for observers in South Africa and Madagascar, where magnitude refers to the fraction of the Sun’s diameter that the moon will cover. For example, “0.10 magnitude” means the moon is eclipsing 10% of the Sun’s diameter:
The difference between Sunday’s partial eclipse and a more rare and spectacular total eclipse is that during a total eclipse, the moon will completely eclipse the sun instead of covering a partial fraction.
The reason for this has to do with how the sun, moon, and Earth are aligned in space at the time of the event.
During a total solar eclipse, the moon must pass directly between the sun and Earth in such a way that you could draw a straight line connecting each of the three celestial objects’ centres. This alignment is rare, and we usually only have one total solar eclipse a year.
It’s more common to have a slight misalignment where the moon still passes between the sun and Earth, but it’s slightly off center, and so all of its shadow does not cast over Earth. The result is that we only see part of the sun disappear, like what we will see this Sunday.
And don’t miss the second eclipse happening at the end of this month on Sep. 27. A spectacular lunar eclipse will take place around the same time as a supermoon. Stay tuned for more details in the coming weeks.
Now check out this amazing video of a partial solar eclipse last year that will look similar to this Sunday’s event:
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