Over the course of three to four hours, early Monday morning, some 20,000 people across Antarctica will watch a total solar eclipse, which happens when the moon passes between the Earth and the sun.
From Sydney to Buenos Aires, cities will be gripped by a deep sliver of darkness that will be observable with the naked eye – but it will also be visible with high-powered binoculars and telescopes. From there, those eyes will move to Africa, Australia, South America and eventually to the United States.
The run-up to the eclipse over Antarctica began Sunday night when about 10,000 people watched a partial eclipse on the South Pole’s icy plains.
While some summertime temperatures have recently fallen into the single digits in Antarctica, the sun will be above the horizon during totality – a string of 75-plus seconds when the moon, which is about half the size of Earth, will engulf the sun’s face. The sun will appear to be as big as a small moon.
What once was known as the “Ring of Fire” will be darker and eerie, dotted with streaks of light known as annulus, which is the whitish ring of expansion and contraction around the inner edge of the corona.
Unlike July’s partial solar eclipse, which was widely observed on the Pacific Ocean, Antarctica is a great place to observe the eclipse with many distant telescopes – but you’ll have to go fast. NASA warns that only the most experienced observers can make it.
Viewers must be willing to ignore the gravitational pull of the Southern Ocean, which rises in the sky to the north of the South Pole, in order to gaze at the changing geometry of the sun.
“Overnight, we have been watching all night … and we were all suitably excited about the prospect of seeing the solar eclipse later today,” Sergey Belyakov, a Russian businessman who runs a company with interests in Antarctica, told the Krasnaya Zvezda news site.
They slept late and went out to daylight to watch and study. Today they watch, and learn, in complete darkness. — Photographer Tom Jenkins
“They slept late and went out to daylight to watch and study,” Tom Jenkins, a photographer with National Geographic, told Krasnaya Zvezda.
“My tour mates in Antartica camped up by their telescopes hoping to capture some of the sun in its entirely, but it is of course blocked by the Antarctic ice,” he said.
Planning a trip to Antarctica to see the eclipse? The National Science Foundation has several paid programs – for students and scientists – and visitors can arrange an excursion with the International Science and Technology Foundation.
The conditions will be far better in Africa, South America and the United States, where temperatures rise to 10 degrees Fahrenheit in the morning. That’s because the sun will be at its highest point of the day, on the horizon, at 4:40 p.m. Eastern time.
Although the continental United States won’t see the full effect of totality, the East Coast of the country is certain to see a partial phase, which will occur at 5:16 p.m.
Of course, you can still see the eclipse from within the continental United States. The American skywatchers can look for cloud formations, as well as southerly winds, that will allow the umbra, the lower, darkened area of the eclipse, to bend south into the continental United States.
Viewing the solar eclipse will be daunting and awe-inspiring, but not everyone is a seasoned observer of the heavens. Those who have been witness the Orionid meteor shower, when shooting stars enter the Earth’s atmosphere, will, of course, be awed.
There’s also a bright lesson for those who missed this year’s Eclipse Party of the Century, which featured a viewing site in the tower at Washington’s Griffith Observatory.
Although they won’t see a “total” eclipse, the North American skywatchers will see a perfectly encapsulated event: the moon blocks about 99 percent of the sun. (The rest will be “totality,” where the sun will be obscured totally by the moon, though on a smaller scale.)