Last Week's Solar Eclipse Delights Photographers

Bad Astronomy
The entire universe in blog form
Nov. 20 2012 8:00 AM

Stunning Solar Eclipse Picture and Videos

Last week, a narrow path along the Southern Hemisphere was treated to a total solar eclipse, one of the most beautiful of all natural events. When the Moon covers the Sun, the bright glare of the solar disk goes away, revealing the beautiful, ethereal solar corona. This is the Sun’s atmosphere, if you will, which extends outwards for hundreds of thousands, even millions of kilometers.

Phil Plait Phil Plait

Phil Plait writes Slate’s Bad Astronomy blog and is an astronomer, public speaker, science evangelizer, and author of Death From the Skies!  

The Moon orbits the Earth, and the Earth spins, so the shadow of the Moon traces a long, gently curving path across the Earth’s surface. It passed only briefly over land, near Cairns, Australia. Still, some amazing photographs and videos were taken. Universe Today has quite a few, but in particular I want to show you a photo and a couple of videos.

Advertisement

Geoff Sims is a photographer who was at the eclipse and took an amazing series of photos. He used them to create a time-lapse animation of the event, and it’s simply spectacular:

While it’s hard to get a sense of the eclipse itself in that video, what really blew me away was the dark streak that moved across the sky itself from left to right. Watch the video again: It’s a long, triangular blackness wider near the top of the frame and narrowing toward the bottom.

See it? That’s the actual shadow of the Moon! It’s actually ellipse-shaped, but due to perspective it appears to narrow like a triangle in the distance, similar to the way railroad tracks look like they converge toward the horizon. The Moon is moving from the upper left to the lower right, and its shadow is sweeping across the Earth at a speed of about 1 kilometer per second—the same as a rifle bullet! You’re seeing it here darkening the high clouds that were in the sky at the time. Incredible.

Geoff also combined a series of photographs to show the sequence of events in one stunning photo:

The Sun was rising during the eclipse, so the sequence starts at the bottom and moves up. He took a photo every four minutes or so to create this amazing shot, and again you can see the actual shadow of the Moon on the sky.

Sequence of photos showing the solar eclipse over Australia in 2012
Composite photo showing the sequence of the 2012 Australia solar eclipse.

Image credit: Geoff Sims, used by permission.

Finally, here’s a video taken by YouTube user solareclipse eclipsevidgale, showing a real-time view of the event:

In this video you can see the famous “diamond ring” effect, where just before the Moon completely covers the solar disk you can still see a ring of Sun around the Moon’s dark disk, and the glare from the last bits of the unblocked Sun create what truly does look like a diamond ring. During totality, the corona is easily visible, and you can see flashes of red and pink along the edge of the Sun. That’s real: The Sun is not solid, but is actually a very hot gas called a plasma. The surface of the Sun is layered, and the topmost layer is called the chromosphere, which glows red. However, the next layer down, called the photosphere, is hugely brighter, and usually totally overwhelms the ruddy light coming from the chromosphere.

During an eclipse, though, the photosphere is blocked, so some of the redder chromosphere light can be seen. In the video it’s a bit overexposed so it’s still not easy to make out, but flashes of it appear along the Moon’s edge.

If you’ve never seen a total solar eclipse, perhaps you can take some small comfort in this: I haven’t either. It’s ridiculous; I’ve been an astronomer my whole life, and this is one of the most awe-inspiring astronomical events there is. But here I am. 

Still, I’ll get my chance: In 2017, the path of the Moon’s shadow will pass not 500 kilometers north of my house, going right over Casper, Wyoming. I don’t think it’ll be too hard to talk myself into that particular four-hour drive.

TODAY IN SLATE

The World

The Budget Disaster that Sabotaged the WHO’s Response to Ebola

How Movies Like Contagion and Outbreak Distort Our Response to Real Epidemics

PowerPoint Is the Worst, and Now It’s the Latest Way to Hack Into Your Computer

Everything You Should Know About Today’s Eclipse

An Unscientific Ranking of Really, Really Old German Beers

Education

Welcome to 13th Grade!

Some high schools are offering a fifth year. That’s a great idea.

Culturebox

The Actual World

“Mount Thoreau” and the naming of things in the wilderness.

Want Kids to Delay Sex? Let Planned Parenthood Teach Them Sex Ed.

Can Democratic Sen. Mary Landrieu Pull Off One More Louisiana Miracle?

  News & Politics
Politics
Oct. 22 2014 9:42 PM Landslide Landrieu Can the Louisiana Democrat use the powers of incumbency to save herself one more time?
  Business
Moneybox
Oct. 23 2014 11:51 AM It Seems No One Is Rich or Happy: I Looked
  Life
The Eye
Oct. 23 2014 12:48 PM Track Your Bag and Charge Your Phone With This Carry-On Smart Suitcase
  Double X
The XX Factor
Oct. 23 2014 11:33 AM Watch Little Princesses Curse for the Feminist Cause
  Slate Plus
Working
Oct. 23 2014 11:28 AM Slate’s Working Podcast: Episode 2 Transcript Read what David Plotz asked Dr. Meri Kolbrener about her workday.
  Arts
Brow Beat
Oct. 23 2014 12:01 PM Who Is Constantine, and Should You Watch His New Show?
  Technology
Technology
Oct. 23 2014 11:45 AM The United States of Reddit  How social media is redrawing our borders. 
  Health & Science
Bad Astronomy
Oct. 23 2014 7:30 AM Our Solar System and Galaxy … Seen by an Astronaut
  Sports
Sports Nut
Oct. 20 2014 5:09 PM Keepaway, on Three. Ready—Break! On his record-breaking touchdown pass, Peyton Manning couldn’t even leave the celebration to chance.