Preparations for the Total Solar Eclipse 2016

(Gerhani Matahari total) #SolarEclipse, #Eclipse2016, @cosmictoner

By Toner Stevenson, 2 March 2016

A total solar eclipse is one of the most memorable and spectacular natural events you can ever experience. In one week’s time on Wednesday morning, 9 March 2016 parts of Indonesia and Malaysia will have the opportunity to experience a total solar eclipse, in Indonesian this is called Gerhani Matahari total. There is a high probability of cloud, nonetheless many astronomy enthusiasts, such as myself, will travel to remote parts of the planet to have a chance of experiencing this fairly unique experience.

Totality, the Russian Solar Eclipse 2008. Photo and copyright Melissa Hulbert ©, all rights reserved.
Totality, the Russian Solar Eclipse 2008. Photo and copyright Melissa Hulbert ©, all rights reserved.

 

I will be in Indonesia for the eclipse travelling with a small group led by Avivah Yamani, who is an astrophysicist and a local Indonesian. Avivah is passionate about astronomy communication and most of the group are contributors to langitselatan an excellent online astronomy resource and media organisation. Avivah is the project director of langitselatan and the popular ‘365 Days of Astronomy’ podcast.

Our group will be visiting schools in North Maluku province, an area once known as the Spice Islands, prior to the eclipse to provide information. We will distribute safe solar eclipse classes generously donated by Sydney Observatory. The Institution of Surveyors, NSW, has generously donated two ‘solarscopes’ for safe projection of the eclipse.

We will be viewing the eclipse near a town called Maba, which is the capital of the East Helmahera district part of an island in North Maluku Province. The eclipse will begin at 8:36am local time, with totality from 9:52am lasting for 3 minutes 23 seconds. The eclipse will be over at 11:23am.

Fred Espenak, past NASA scientist and renowned eclipse expert has produced the diagram below, which shows the path of the total solar eclipse. At sunrise the shadow of the Moon will start to cross the Earth in Sumatra, the path goes through Northern Indonesia through central Suluwasi, across the North Maluku islands making its way across the Pacific finishing north of Hawaii.

Data and diagram copyright Fred Espanak ©. Image courtesy of NASA’s Mr Eclipse website.
Data and diagram copyright Fred Espenak ©. Image courtesy of NASA’s website.

 

The maximum duration of totality will be experienced over the ocean at 4 minutes 9 seconds. Many people have booked berths on cruise liners to optimise their chances of seeing the eclipse and experience this long duration. The width of the path of totality is 155.1km. NASA has produced this animation of the eclipse path.

In Australia the Northern Territory, Western Australia and some areas in South Australia and Queensland will experience a partial solar eclipse.

Google Map via NASA’s Mr Eclipse website.
Google Map via NASA’s website.

 

Observing the eclipse safely
Our message to the schools will be to observe the eclipse using certified solar viewing glasses (not X-rays or sunglasses) or by projection. The partial eclipse is very interesting to view by projecting the Sun through a small hole in a sheet of stiff paper or board onto the ground.

I have been very fortunate to have experienced three Total Solar Eclipses with Sydney Observatory astronomers in Russia (2008), on Easter Island in South America (2010), and up in the mountains behind Port Douglas in Northern Queensland (2012). The partial eclipse is interesting to view using safe, certified solar glasses, and it is exciting as you anticipate the shadow of the Moon coming towards you across the Earth in bands just before totality.

The main event is at totality, when there is darkness and you can safely view without glasses. The diamond ring effect can be spectacular, and I have found this to be the case for the three eclipses I have viewed. It is a bright burst of light on one side of the fully covered Sun.
The major variation is the Corona and I like to look for colours or wisps around the sun at totality. These can only really be seen to their fullest using photography.

Total Solar Eclipse, Easter Island 2010. Photo and copyright Toner Stevenson ©, all rights reserved.
Total Solar Eclipse, Easter Island 2010. Photo and copyright Toner Stevenson ©, all rights reserved.

 

At totality it is interesting to look for stars and planets. At this next eclipse I hope to see Venus and Mercury not far from the eclipsed Sun.

The temperature may change, this was particularly evident during the eclipse in Russia in 2010, and the birds act strangely and stop singing, or make unusual calls.

I will be posting another blog once I reach Indonesia. These events are cultural and I hope to see a traditional shadow puppeteer create a solar eclipse story. On Easter Island the indigenous Rapa Nuians performed a traditional dance ceremony just during the partial eclipse as seen below.

Rapa Nui (Easter Island) traditional dance performed during the 2010 eclipse. Photo and copyright Toner Stevenson ©, all rights reserved.
Rapa Nui (Easter Island) traditional dance performed during the 2010 eclipse. Photo and copyright Toner Stevenson ©, all rights reserved.

 

You can find out more about solar eclipses at Sydney Observatory, NASA and through Fred Espenak’s EclipseWise websites.

 

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