Monday, May 21, 2012

Eclipse of the Sun - Always Amazing

Somewhat "kludgey" image taken
with an iphone through
eclipse filter glasses
I was lucky to be in the right place (Japan) at the right time (about seven in the morning) to see another solar eclipse.  It is something I never get tired of seeing - something that never feels jaded.  A solar eclipse is a great astronomical event to witness, for a whole variety of reasons.   

The event takes time to unfold, so it gives the viewer an opportunity to observe it in detail.  The effect is dramatic, so there is no wondering if you "saw it" or not.  A shooting star, for example, can happen so fast and can be so faint that you might second guess if you spotted it at all.  Also, it is easy to have a group viewing and sharing a solar eclipse, which adds to the fun and sense of community.

This first image was taken by a friend at my location in Niigata, and we were both surprised it worked as well as it did.  He was pointing his iphone through one of the eyes in a pair of mylar filter eclipse glasses.  We were off of the center of the eclipse path, so our Sun always appeared to have a bite of smaller or larger size taken out of it.  The eclipse was more complete in Tokyo, with the sun becoming a ring (i.e. this was an annular eclipse, not a total eclipse.)  There a friend saw large crowds of people snapping away photos while standing in the street.  (Sure hope they had filters of some kind ... )

Of course there is more than one way to "view" an eclipse.  One unique way is described on the Cliff Mass Weather Blog.  The post shows a sequence of images from a National Weather Service satellite looking down at the clouds of Earth.  Each image shows the shadow of the Moon on the clouds below.  Looking at the images quickly, one after another lets you see the shadow sweep over the Earth.  A really different way to look at an eclipse. 

Crescent suns through
oak leaf 'pinholes'
focused on wooden wall

The most impressive way I've ever seen a solar eclipse was through the branches of a huge, very leafy tree.  I was not looking up, but down at the ground.  The leaves of the tree were so dense they were only letting light through as tiny beams.  In fact, the leaves were acting like little pinholes in a pinhole camera.  They focused the image of the sun, with a huge bite out of it, all over the ground.  There were thousands of little crescent suns all around me, on the ground, the trunk of the tree, and even on me.  It was amazing.  A friend caught a similar image from today's eclipse (but this is only an inkling of what I saw that one time, just to give you the idea ...)

My very first writing prompt here on the blog was about eclipses.  They are a great source of writing inspiration.  We live in unique circumstances, where the angular size of our only satellite is close to that of our primary star, and their orbits allow the satellite to occasionally pass in front of the star.  What might have been different for us if solar eclipses were more common, or if they never happened at all?

Image Credit:  Top, photographer, Andrew Rivkin.  Bottom, photographer, Leonidas Moustacas. 

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