In 300 Days A 3 Minute ‘Ring Of Fire’ Eclipse Will Race Across Earth Just Hours After Christmas Day
Mar 1, 2019, 07:02am. Forbes.
Made any Christmas plans yet? How about a trip to the Arabian Peninsula to watch a ‘Ring of Fire’ as most of the Sun is dramatically eclipsed by the Moon at sunrise while North Americans are enjoying their last few hours of Christmas Day?
Now just 300 days out, intrepid eclipse-chasers are already making plans because this won’t just any partial solar eclipse. At daybreak on December 26, 2019, there will be an annular solar eclipse, which occurs when a ‘micromoon’ covers most of the Sun. Though not quite large enough in the sky to cover the whole of the Sun’s bright disc (as happened during the total solar eclipse on August 21, 2017 in the U.S.) this eclipse promises to be a special event.
Where is this happening?
Nicknamed a ‘Ring of Fire’, the event will be observable at sunrise on the Arabian Peninsula (Saudi Arabia, Qatar, UAE and Oman), and later in the day in southern India, northern Sri Lanka, the Indian Ocean and Indonesia, ending at sunset in Guam in the Pacific Ocean.
Is it safe to look at?
No. From an observer’s point of view, what makes an annular solar eclipse very different from a total solar eclipse is that you must always wear protective solar eclipse glasses to view the event. Similarly, cameras have to be fitted with special solar filters. The only exception to that rule is if it’s viewed through thin cloud, which is certainly possible; the Arabian Peninsula often has mist in the early morning, while much of the rest of the path goes through often cloudy terrain
Not that eclipse-chasers would ever aim to watch an eclipse through clouds, and besides, annular solar eclipses are best watched at sunrise or sunset if at all possible. Not only is it more colorful and easier to photograph, but compositions can have a foreground. Besides, if you observe an annular solar eclipse when the spectacle is high in the sky, it’s really only possible to see and photograph a rudimentary ring-on-black eclipse.
Why not to watch this eclipse at sunset
However, finding a ‘Ring of Fire’ sunset is not a viable option on December 26 because it will east of Guam, a U.S. island territory in Micronesia in the Western Pacific. “Guam is an interesting destination, but for Europeans not easy to reach,” says Jörg Schoppmeyer, an eclipse-chaser from Germany who’s seen 52 eclipses including 15 annular solar eclipses. “The eclipse in Guam is not really a sunset eclipse because at annularity the Sun is still 13° above the horizon.” A ‘Ring of Fire’ will actually set in the Pacific, witnessed by few, if any people.
Where are eclipse-chasers going?
It’s for that reason that eclipse-chasers are already making plans to visit Saudi Arabia to witness the event at sunrise. Or, at least, they were. “I had been planning for an annular eclipse viewing at sunrise from Saudi Arabia, east of Riyadh, but after what happened with Jamal Kashoggi, I abandoned the idea,” says Tunç Tezel, an amateur astronomer and astrophotographer from Turkey who’s seen 10 total solar eclipses and two annular solar eclipses (check out his incredible ‘Ring of Fire over Monument Valley’ image from 2013). “Now I’m planning to fly to Doha, Qatar two days before the eclipse to try to find a clear enough view of the annularity about 2° above the horizon.”
“I have big concerns about free traveling and scouting in Saudi Arabia,” says Schoppmeyer, who thinks that a bunch of eclipse-chasers driving around the desert looking for a good observation spot could make the authorities suspicious. That, and the fact that women are not even allowed to enter the country unless they will be met at the airport by a husband, a sponsor or male relative.
Besides, Schoppmeyer’s previous trips to the area tell him that a dust layer on the horizon, around 1-2° high, is common. “In my opinion, it will be better to have the Sun a little bit higher in the sky for this eclipse or you may miss annularity.”
Schoppmeyer will, therefore, base himself in Abu Dhabi, and watch from near the border to Qatar; the northern limit is also only about 90 minutes drive southwest of Abu Dhabi in the UAE, and only two hours from Dubai. Tezel plans to seek a spot in the Qatar desert, and if there is indeed a low layer of cloud, he will try to watch from a skyscraper in Doha. Doha is the hub airport for Qatar Airways, so easy to reach, and by lucky chance, the northern limit of annularity crosses through the city.
“Qatar appears to be the only remaining solution, although the Sun at about 3° is already a bit too high,” says Paris-based Xavier Jubier, a member of the International Astronomical Union (IAU) Working Group on Solar Eclipses and keeper of the go-to eclipse maps website. “Otherwise the UAE and Oman is the way to go, with optimal cloudiness and mobility, though desert fog can be an issue.”
“Doha seems the easiest,” agrees Mike Kentrianakis, American Astronomical Society Eclipse Project Manager, a member of the Amateur Astronomers Association of New York, and a veteran of over 20 solar eclipses. “I will most likely go to the edge of the path in order to maximize the effect of the Moon always silhouetting the Sun’s disk so as to mask it on one side for an extended time, and photograph it unfiltered to capture the Sun’s crimson chromosphere, and its extremely bright inner corona.” Kentrianakis has done this before with Schoppmeyer in Patagonia and has a reputation for getting very, very excited during eclipses.
Why to watch from the edge
Wait … watch it from the edge? That means missing the actually ‘Ring of Fire’ moment of the eclipse, but there are other rewards. As the two million people who traveled to the path of totality on August 21, 2017, know all too well, to see the pulsing white, flower-like corona is to get a few precious minutes with the Sun appearing as it really is; a star alone in space visibly spewing out gas and light and heat. That corona is not easy to see during an annular solar eclipse, but it is possible to get a glimpse of the inner corona if you stand at the very edge of the path of annularity, as well as the pinkish line of the Sun’s chromosphere, and beads of light coming through the valleys and mountains of the Moon’s limb (Baily’s beads). These are the kind of images some will be aiming for.
If you ditch the idea of watching the eclipse at sunrise, or close to it, the options open up a little. For example, Oman, where the eclipse will be visible about 9° above the horizon, is a great country for a road trip (its Jebel Shams ‘mountain of the Sun’ offers incredible stargazing). So too is south India, where the ‘Ring of Fire’ will be visible from the states of Karnataka, Kerala and Tamil Nadu. Another fabulous place for a vacation. “Southwestern India is also looking promising and I’m sure there will be many local observers,” says Jubier. One will be Sneh Kesari, an astrophotographer and science communicator who plans to observe from Kasaragod in Kerala. “The place is beautiful, with tall coconut trees and a resort just off the western coast of the Arabian Sea.” Since Kesari is from India, he won’t have to travel far for a while because India has two annular solar eclipses in 16 months; the following one is on June 21, 2020 across northern India.
Another easy-to-reach place is Singapore right on the northern edge of the path, though cloud is very common.
Why travel to see an annular eclipse?
“It’s worth traveling for an annular solar eclipse, but the location has to be perfect in terms of what interesting things you can view,” says Kesari. “If you are placed near the northern or southern edge of eclipse you can certainly observe Bailey’s beads and study the limb profile for the Moon for that region or point of contact.”
For Kentrianakis, watching an annular solar eclipse from the edge of the path also offers a rare chance to stand and be stunned. “The effect of the Sun to seemingly stand still and reverse direction is amazing and perplexing to view from one of the path’s limits,” he says. “It actually confuses the experienced observer because it doesn’t appear to make a straight progression from one side to the other.”
As with all eclipses, it’s where you stand that determines what you’ll see; the eclipse-chaser makes their own eclipse experience. All solar eclipse are predictable and can be mapped out thousands of years in advance. The only variables are the Sun’s radius, which scientists still cannot pinpoint (some think it’s larger than estimated), which makes find that shadow-edge harder than it looks on a map, and a slight variation in the Earth’s speed of rotation, which makes far-off predictions of where a shadow will fall tricky.
Wherever they find themselves this December 26, Christmas is going to come a few hours late for eclipse-chasers in 2019.
Categories: Signs in the Heavens Update