Watch where the shadows will drop during March's solar eclipse
The moon will get in the way of our sunlight again in March, at least for some of us. Two new animations from NASA show how it all works, and where the darkness will be strongest.
Freelancer Michael Franco writes about the serious and silly sides of science and technology for CNET and other pixel and paper pubs. He's kept his fingers on the keyboard while owning a B&B in Amish country, managing an eco-resort in the Caribbean, sweating in Singapore, and rehydrating (with beer, of course) in Prague. E-mail Michael.
The moon gets between the Earth and the sun to create an eclipse on average of 2.4 times a year, according to "Mr. Eclipse," astrophysicist Fred Espenak. In 2016, the first solar eclipse will take place mostly over Southeast Asia, as the moon drops its shadow on top of the Philippines on March 9 around 8:20 a.m. local time, causing a total solar eclipse.
NASA on Friday released two animations that show the path the eclipse will take as it temporarily dips parts of our planet into darkness on that date.
After the eclipse travels over the Philippines and Borneo, it then heads eastward to Micronesia with the main part of the moon's shadow, the umbra, passing smack dab over the tiny island of Woleai. After that, the path of the shadow drifts out to sea, so the umbra won't be visible by anyone except maybe some boaters. Those not directly under the umbra but still in the region will be affected by the penumbra though, which means they'll be able to catch a partial eclipse.
Even if you won't be in that part of the world for the eclipse, the videos provide a nice illustration of just how a solar eclipse plays out on our planet. The first video (above) charts the course of the shadow itself with a helpful time stamp in the lower left, while the second animation (below) puts the moon in position above the planet to show just how its shadow is formed.
The total solar eclipse on March 9 will be the only one in 2016. This means that the sun will be completely blotted out by the moon. An even more intriguing celestial phenomenon, however, will take place September 1 over central Africa.
There, earthlings will witness an annular solar eclipse. This means the moon will again pass directly between the sun and our planet but, because it will be farther away from the Earth at that time, at what's called its apogee, it will appear smaller in the sky and will only block out the central body of the sun. This will make the dark disc of the moon look like it has a dramatic ring of fire around the edge.
So if you're an eclipse lover, get your passport in order. Or, if you're based in the US, you could wait for August 21, 2017, for the next total solar eclipse. Europeans have a bit longer to wait, as the next total eclipse won't fall on that part of the world until August 8, 2024.