by William J. Bechaver
Thanks for all the feedback and great questions about solar eclipses.
Solar eclipses are such a rare phenomena, they seem to elicit much curiosity and many questions. But most people go their entire lives without seeing one, unless they travel to where one is predicted.
The last one in our part of Southern Colorado happened way back in July of 1878. The next one here won’t occur until August of 2045, so you can go several lifetimes without having an eclipse in your area.
But in reality, solar eclipses occur frequently, and all over the globe. Besides the one last month in South America, in December this year, there will be another in Asia and Australia.
The one in December won’t be a proper total solar eclipse. It is designated as an Annular Solar Eclipse.
An annular eclipse occurs when the Moon is too far away from Earth to blot out the entire Sun. As we know, the distance to the Moon varies due to its elliptical orbit around the Earth. Sometimes it is closer, and appears larger, and sometimes further and smaller.
When a total solar eclipse occurs when the Moon is too far away to cover the entire disc of the Sun, it leaves a bright ring of sunlight around the Moon, not allowing for a proper total eclipse. These special eclipses resemble a ring of fire, and are deemed annular eclipses.
I have witnessed two such annular eclipses in the past, in 1994 from Amarillo, Texas, and in 2012 from Las Vegas, New Mexico.
Just as a total eclipse, you have to be in the right path to witness the most total phase of an annular eclipse, and one usually has to travel to where they are happening.
But the next total solar eclipses seem to be of the greatest interest to people.
The next will occur again in South America, across a very narrow part of the continent, and mostly in the South Pacific Ocean, on 14 December 2020.
For the next one closer to home, you will have to wait until 8 April 2024. That one will cross from Mexico into part of Texas, Oklahoma, and Arkansas, before continuing up into the northeast, and that’s the closest it will come to us.
But if you just want to sit tight at home, and wait for the next total solar eclipse, you will have a long wait. The next one in southern Colorado won’t occur until 12 August 2045. Northern New Mexico doesn’t even have one on the schedule through the end of this century, though they are expecting another annular one in 2077.
So, if you want to see a total solar eclipse, the chances are you are going to have to travel a little bit to witness it. I’ve seen two, The Great American Eclipse in 2017, from Atchison, Kansas, and the one in Chile earlier this month, from El Chañar. Both were spectacular, and both were worth the effort to see them.
And just to clarify, a Lunar Eclipse is when the Earth passes between the Sun and Moon, casting its shadow upon the lunar surface. During a lunar eclipse, a far greater number of people can see it, because it is a shadow on the moon, therefore, if you are somewhere you can see the Moon during the event, you can see the lunar eclipse, at least in part.
And for something to see this week, go out any or every night for the next week for a look at the Southern Delta Aquariid meteor shower.
Never heard of the Southern Delta Aquariid meteors? That’s not surprising. It is usually one of our more minor summertime showers. As its name indicates, it is further south, like the other Aquariid shower we watched in May. But this year, it promises to be a little better than usual.
The best time for these meteors is in the early morning hours, when Aquarius, from whence the meteors appear to originate, rises high in the southern sky. It reaches its peak in the south between three and four in the morning of Tuesday 30 July. The peak happens to fall near the night of the new moon, which means there will be absolutely no moonlight to interfer with the viewing of the meteors.
A meteor shower occurs when the Earth passes through a debris field, usually left behind by a passing comet. When Earth passes through the icy particles and remnants, they burn up in our atmosphere, creating the bright streaks of the meteors.
The point of impact of these particular meteors is further south, usually not making it a great show in the northern hemisphere. But this year, with the Moon out of the way during the peak, you should be able to see about twenty impacts an hour, or nearly one every three minutes, on average.
This meteor shower also has one of the longest peak periods, so you have a good chance of seeing at least one, almost any night during the next week or so, while we have generally moonless night skies.
Remember, meteors are not regular, so you may see several in close succession, then wait several minutes before seeing any. So, go out, get comfortable, every evening this week, and try to catch a rare glimpse of a southern visitor.
Thanks for all the positive feedback about our featured columns, and your continued interest in astronomy. If you have any questions or article requests, contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org, or follow us on Twitter @ColoSpacEScapE for updates and additional viewing opportunities.
• · William J. Bechaver is the director of SPACE • Spanish Peaks Amateur Cosmos Enthusiasts, the premier Astronomical Society for Southern Colorado and Northern New Mexico.