Today, June 21, 2001, at 17:16 UTC (1:16 p.m. Eastern US time), the Sun will reach its peak in its northward travels this year. This moment is the summer solstice — I describe this in detail in an earlier post. Technically, that article is for the winter solstice, but the idea’s the same. Just replace "winter" with "summer" and "December" with "June" and "south" with "north". That should be clear enough. It might be easier just to multiply the entire article by -1. Or stand on your head.
Since for the majority of people on the planet this day marks the start (or more commonly the midpoint) of summer, enjoy the gallery below that shows our nearest star doing what it does best: giving us light, giving us beauty, and sometimes, blowing its top.
Use the thumbnails and arrows to browse, and click on the images to go through to blog posts with more details and descriptions.
My friend Glenn Schneider is an astronomer, and also a little bit nuts. He’s an umbraphile, an eclipse-chaser. But he’s not just any guy who travels the world to watch solar eclipses, he gets neck-deep into them. He actually chartered a plane and organized an incredible trip to see the total solar eclipse a few weeks ago — I wrote about this as he was planning it.
Glenn sent me a note to say that the trip was a complete success! They had more than nine minutes of totality to watch — that’s literally more than is ever possible on the ground, because a plane can "chase the shadow", counteracting the rotation of the Earth. He has some details and some great pictures on his site. Check this out:
The blue streamers above and below the Sun (and the dark spot below the Sun) are not real, but artifacts produced by the plane window and the camera. Still, that’s incredible. Sigh. I swear, one of these days I’ll go with him. I’ve still never seen a total solar eclipse. Some day…
My friend Glenn Schneider is an astronomer with a not-so-peculiar obsession for those of us in this trade: he’s an umbraphile, a shadow lover, an eclipse chaser. He’s seen 27 solar eclipses… at last count. I know if that’s wrong he’ll be quick to correct me.
One thing he’s been doing for the past few eclipses is to watch them from airplanes, which has lots of advantages over seeing them from the ground. For one thing, you can fly above clouds, so there’s no chance of weather screwing up the view. Plus, you can make the eclipse last longer! The moon passes in front of the Sun in a solar eclipse, casting a shadow on the ground. But the Moon orbits the Earth, and the Earth is spinning, so the shadow of the Moon moves across the planet. In an airplane, you can follow it! In general the shadow is moving too quickly to keep up, but you can certainly prolong the experience.
|Your view, should you accept this mission.|
On July 11 of this year, there will be a solar eclipse over the Pacific Ocean, about 2500 km east of Tahiti. Now get this: Glenn has commissioned an entire airplane to view this eclipse, and he’s looking for people who want to come along*. Not only that, they will strip out the seats on the side of the plane facing the eclipse, giving more room for people to watch. And finally, the really astonishing part: by following the shadow in an airplane, passengers will experience the eclipse lasting an incredible nine and a half minutes! That is actually a solid two minutes longer than the maximum duration of a solar eclipse as seen from the ground.
If this sounds like something you want to do, then all the actual trip details (pricing, what you need, etc.) are on Rick Brown’s Eclipse Safari website. The contact details for both Glenn and Rick are on their respective sites. I’ll note that this eclipse happens during TAM 8, so I cannot go. Someday, though, I swear I’ll see a total eclipse. Glenn keeps twisting my arm, so I suspect when I do see one, he’ll be right there. And I’ll have bruises on my arm.
Images courtesy Glenn Schneider