The only total solar eclipse of 2013 will occur Sunday, but will be harder to see by eclipse-chasers because of its short duration and the remote path from which it will be visible. Yet, several groups will still chase the rare solar spectacle from the ground, sea and even the air.
Sunday’s eclipse of the sun by the moon actually takes the form of a hybrid solar eclipse, which means that somewhere along its path — in this case, only its far western tip — the moon will not appear large enough to completely block the sun. Observers in that portion of Earth’s surface will see an annular eclipse, or a “ring of fire” solar eclipse, in which a thin or broken ring of sunlight remains visible around the moon’s outline.
You can watch a webcast of the solar eclipse live on SPACE.com, courtesy of the online community telescope Slooh.com. The webcast will begin at 6:45 a.m. EDT (1145 GMT) and last about four hours.
As the shadow moves eastwards and the curvature of the Earth brings its surface slightly closer to the moon, a transition point is reached between annular and total where the apparent diameter of both the sun and the moon are identical. As they slide past one another, the sun’s rays at that spot would be blocked for just an instant. From that point eastward, the apparent diameter of the moon is larger than the sun, and the eclipse is total along the rest of the path.
Rare solar eclipse path
Hybrid eclipses are rare compared to pure total or annular ones. The last occurred in April 2005 over the Pacific Ocean and the next will not come until 2023. (Annular “ring of fire” solar eclipses by themselves occur about as often as totals; the most recent was on May 10 of this year.)
Beginning at sunrise in the central-Atlantic south of Bermuda, the shadow will race across the ocean, where it will reach a maximum duration of about 99 seconds at a spot south of the central-African country of Ivory Coast and west of Gabon. The path continues eastward, crossing the geographical point of 0 degrees latitude and 0 degrees longitude, before finally make landfall in the West-African country of Gabon. [Rare Hybrid Solar Eclipse of Nov. 3 Explained (Video)]
It will then trace its way through the Republic of the Congo, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Uganda and end near sunset in Kenya and Ethiopia, as well as barely touching Somalia. The duration will be no greater than about 20 seconds in this part of the world, and less than ten as it approaches its geographical limit at sunset.
The length even at the maximum point is short compared to most total solar eclipses, which can range from an average of a few minutes, to a maximum possible time of seven minutes and 31 seconds. Cartographer Michael Zeiler of Eclipse-Maps.com has created a series of maps chronicling the progression of Sunday’s solar eclipse at his Nov. 3 eclipse website here.
Less solar eclipse-chasing
Because this year’s hybrid solar eclipse is so short and falls in a remote geographical area with less infrastructure for eclipse-chasing tours or cruises, as well as poorer weather prospects, many are opting to skip the event this time. But not everyone.
Several astronomy tour groups are already on the ground in Africa. Most are primarily headed to Kenya and Ethiopia, where the weather prospects on land are the best but the eclipse clocks in at mere seconds.
In the best locations, forecast experts put the odds of success around 60 to 70 percent, but caution that mobility, if needed at the last minute, will be highly limited due to a lack of good roads. In more central and western Africa, the odds are down near 40 percent or less, as tropical moisture frequently leads to widespread afternoon storms.
Only a few eclipse chasers are attempting to view the event on land in Western Africa, namely coastal Gabon, where they are weighing the promising longer duration of totality (60 seconds is about the longest on land) against the weather odds.
Some die-hard chasers are aiming to see the maximum possible duration of totality (99 seconds) or as close as they can to it. At least three small-ship expedition cruises are headed into the Atlantic to sneak a peek at totality. The Corinthian, a 100-passenger boat, is on a two-week adventure from Spain to Sierra Leone and will view from the point of greatest duration.
Another ship, the tall-mast sailing ship Star Flyer, has embarked on a trip-of-a-lifetime for its 170 passengers, sailing on a 23-day voyage across the ocean from Malaga, Spain, to Barbados. They should a little under a minute of totality. A third ship, the 112-passenger Sea Dream 1, is also headed across the ocean from the Canary Islands to Barbados. They will get 69 seconds of darkness at their location.
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