Catch a partial solar eclipse Sunday at sunrise

November 1, 2013
NASA animation of Nov. 3 eclipse (NASA)
NASA animation of Nov. 3 eclipse (NASA)

Throw on your fall jacket, pour yourself hot coffee and go outside Sunday morning Nov. 3, because in the eastern U.S. (including Washington, D.C.), a partial solar eclipse will be underway at sunrise.

But first, be on time and remember to reset your clocks an hour back officially at 2 a.m. Sunday morning.

Even with the promise of an extra hour to sleep, celestial mechanics marches on: For Washington, D.C., about 47 percent of sun will be blocked by the moon at sunrise – which is 6:38 a.m. Eastern Standard Time. The moon will move off the sun’s disc by 7:10 a.m., according to Geoff Chester, an astronomer at the U.S. Naval Observatory.

Link: Detailed map of partial eclipse along East Coast

Morning sky gazers will need a clear view of the east-southeastern horizon – unencumbered by buildings, trees or hills.

Do not look directly at the sun with your naked eye and do not look at the sun with unfiltered or poorly filtered binoculars or a telescope, or you will become permanently blind. You can view the eclipse with a “pinhole camera” – which is a pinhole a few millimeters in diameter punched in paper or cardboard, held up so the sun’s image gets projected onto another piece of paper. (Do not look at the sun directly through the pinhole.)

Link: NASA/Eye Safety During Solar Eclipses

This partial eclipse – the part seen along the East Coast as well as northern South America, southern Europe, the Middle East and sections Africa  – is actually an annular/total eclipse or a hybrid eclipse in other places. The eclipse is annular where the moon aligns with the sun, but the lunar disc doesn’t completely hide the sun.   Think annular as a ring of fire and think total as the diamond ring.

Left: Similar to the eclipse view on the East Coast on Sunday morning, a partial eclipse taken from the Hinode spacecraft four years ago. (NASA/JAXA/SAO) Center: An annular eclipse, taken by the Hinode spacecraft. (NASA/JAXA/SAO) Right: Total eclipse from Nov. 2012 taken by the Hinode spacecraft (NASA/JAXA/SAO)

A small area about 600 miles east of Jacksonville, Florida will be along the path of the annular eclipse.    The total eclipse will pass through the tropical Atlantic and across south central Africa.

The path of the “hybrid” eclipse (Michael Zeiler, @EclipseMaps)

Solar and lunar eclipses – like gathering at Thanksgiving – belong to families. And these eclipse families are called “saros,” a series of eclipses related over time, occurring over a span of several hundred years. This Nov. 3 solar eclipse is the 23rd eclipse of Saros 143, a series which started on March 7, 1617 and which ends April 23, 2897 – for 72 eclipses in a span of 1,280 years.

For all saros, an eclipse occurs every 18 years and 11 days. Our previous Saros 143 encounter was Oct. 24, 1995. The next in this series is Nov. 14, 2031 (a hybrid) and the one after that is Nov. 25, 2049 (another hybrid). In this entire series, there are 12 total, 30 partial, 26 annular and 4 hybrid eclipses.

The Nov. 3 event will be the longest hybrid eclipse in the Saros at 99 seconds – at least that’s what you’d see if you could stand in the Atlantic Ocean. (If you were hoping for the longest total eclipse in this series, you’re out of luck – that was Aug. 19, 1887 at 3 minutes and 50 seconds.)

For those who wish to catch the total eclipse, go view it on SLOOH, an Internet broadcast with astronomical commentary from 6:45 a.m. – 10:15 a.m. EST on Sunday morning. (For totality, you could start watching SLOOH at about 7:50 a.m. EST, as the various video camera set-ups capture the shadow gliding across Africa.)

Eclipse expert Fred Espenak, who assembled the NASA eclipse information, says the total eclipse path makes landfall at Gabon (13:51 UT; 7:51 a.m. EST) along the African west coast where the central line duration is 1 minute 7 seconds. Then the path sweeps over the Congo and enters the Democratic Republic of the Congo, for about 48 seconds.

Espenak says the track narrows and curves northeast as the path reaches the western border of Uganda, where totality drops to 23 seconds. The sun is setting over Africa. Sweeping over northern Kenya, he says, the path crosses Lake Turkana where the totality duration is 14 seconds at 14:25 UT (8:25 a.m. EST.) The path then travels over southern Ethiopia before vanishing from the Earth’s surface in Somalia – where a 1 second total eclipse occurs at sunset.

Link: Fred Espenak’s Mr. Eclipse Web page

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Matt Rogers · November 1, 2013