Total Solar Eclipse Wednesday

It’s not easy to see a total solar eclipse. They’re rare — the next one visible in the U.S. is in 2017 — and you can’t look directly at them. But in the early morning hours of March 29, seeing the next solar eclipse will be easy — just visit this Web page.

This year’s eclipse will be visible in South America, Africa, and Asia, but NASA TV and NASA.gov will bring it to you here, thanks to a partnership with the University of California at Berkeley and the Exploratorium. Our streaming webcast begins at 5 a.m. EST, with totality — the phase of the eclipse where the sun is completely blocked by the moon’s shadow — begins at 5:55 am.

The special coverage is part of Sun-Earth Day, celebrated every year to help everyone better understand how our sun interacts with the Earth and other planets in the solar system. This year’s theme, “Eclipse: In a Different Light” shows how eclipses have inspired people to observe and understand the Sun-Earth-Moon system. In addition to the webcast, NASA and its partners will provide podcasts from Turkey starting on March 27. All the material will be sent to schools and museums as part of the Sun-Earth Day program.

The eclipse coverage also has a historic first. NASA and Libyan scientists will be conducting joint scientific activities to observe and study the event. NASA will contact scientists in Libya to share their comments on their activities as well as their observations.

A total solar eclipse is very rare because all parts of this puzzle must line up correctly in order for it to occur. The moon must be in its new phase for a solar eclipse to take place. The moon’s shadow has two parts—a central region called the umbra and an outer region called the penumbra. The part of the moon’s shadow which passes over you determines what kind of eclipse you will see.

In this case, the eclipse will be visible within a narrow corridor, which crosses half of the Earth. This path begins in Brazil and extends across the Atlantic Ocean, Northern Africa, and Central Asia where it ends at sunset in Northern Mongolia. A partial eclipse will be seen within the much broader path of the moon’s penumbral shadow, which includes the northern two thirds of Africa, Europe, and Central Asia.

In a total eclipse like this one, the entire central portion of the Sun is blocked out. The sky darkens as though it is nighttime and — for the only time — you can see the Sun’s corona, or outer atmosphere. Total solar eclipses are of special interest to astronomers because it’s the only time they can study the corona. Scientists still don’t understand why the corona is so hot. Its temperature is 1 to 2 million degrees Fahrenheit while the Sun’s bright surface is only 10,000° F. Careful measurements and experiments made during a total eclipse can help to unravel this enigma.

This year’s eclipse is also special because the total phase lasts over 4 minutes at the center of the path. This is quite long for a total solar eclipse since most last just a minute or two. The next total eclipse,on August 1, 2008, will be seen in northern Canada, Greenland, Siberia, Mongolia and northern China. It will last about 2 minutes. The next total eclipse visible from the United States won’t happen until August 21, 2017.

At the Web site, Solar Week , students and the general public can learn about the sun and careers in solar science. NASA will also start podcasting 3-5 minutes of programs for teachers and students to download on to their computers and portable music players.

From NASA

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