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Sunday, July 11, 2010

Total eclipse in the South Pacific

A small swath of the South Pacific experienced the rare occurrance of a total eclipse today. Easter Island had the good fortune of experiencing the total eclipse around 1:30 pm local time. The speed of the moon across the sky results in the eclipse lasting only approximatly 5 minutes over any given spot.

The 1999 solar eclipse over Europe. This photo captures the naked eye and binocular appearance of totality very well. The sight of the sun's corona and pink prominences is unforgettable. Credit: Luc Viatour (Hat tip Astro Bob blog)

Full solar eclipse seen in the Pacific (Radio New Zealand International)

Parts of the Pacific have this morning experienced a full eclipse of the sun.

The five-minute event was seen in some parts of the South Pacific, with several cruise liners chartering special trips to remote parts of French Polynesia, the Cook Islands and Easter Island to try to secure the best views.
Solar eclipses provide research opportunities for astronomers by allowing a clear view of the Sun's corona. The corona usually cannot be seen due to the brightness of the Sun itself. During an eclipse, the moon perfectly blocks the disk of the sun due to the fact that the size difference of the two bodies and their distance apart exactly balane each other. The Sun is 400 times larger than the Moon and 400 times further from the Earth. The result is that when the Moon and Sun
happen to line up perfectly the Sun is completely blocked out for a short period of time.

Once the Sun is obscured from view, the brilliant corona can be seen allowing scientists to see solar storms and flares.

This year, Easter Island, known by the locals as Rapa Nui, is positioned right under the path of the eclipse providign the ideal location for viewing the event by scientists, tourists and journalists.

Easter Island readies for eclipse (Al Jazeera)
Tourists and scientists have poured onto the remote and mysterious Easter Island to watch a rare total eclipse of the sun - a mixed blessing for the Pacific community.

An estimated 4,000 tourists, scientists, photographers, filmmakers and journalists flocked to the remote Chilean outpost of only 160 sq km on Sunday, doubling the population of the barren island that already suffers from water pollution and deforestation.

The spectacle began its 11,000km arc over the Pacific at sunrise, some 1,900 km northeast of New Zealand, plunging remote islands into darkness.

The moon's shadow was sweeping across the South Pacific, darkening skies over the Cook Islands and parts of southern Chile and Argentina, cloaking Easter Island and its mysterious giant statues at around 2:11 pm (20:11 GMT).

Conditions were anything but normal on Easter Island, deemed by astronomers the best place to witness Sunday's alignment of sun, moon and Earth for a fleeting four minutes and 41 seconds.

--snip--

Scientists will be looking for solar storms forming in the corona, storms with solar winds that can affect space weather and eventually, smash into the Earth's magnetic field. The solar corona goes out more than a million kilometres from the Sun's surface.

"The corona actually extends way out into space and we can see what we call 'coronal mass ejections' which are these huge massive amounts of material being blown away from the sun at millions of miles an hour," Holly Gilbert, a NASA astrophysicist, told the Associated Press news agency.

A new round of solar storms are slowly building up to a projected maximum period in about four years and could affect electrical systems, satellite communications and some computer networks.

The sun is 400 times wider than the moon, but it is also 400 times farther away. Because of the symmetry, the lunar umbra, or shadow, that falls on the face of the Earth is exactly wide enough to cover the face of the sun.

Due to the tilt of the Moon's orbit, most new Moons do not pass directly infront of the Sun. About two to five times each year the Sun and the Moon line up providing us with that rare spectacular somewhere on the planet.

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