A Solar eclipse is a spectacular natural phenomenon which connects everybody to the awe of astronomy – during the day too! They occur when the Moon’s disk obscures the Sun and casts it shadow on Earth. There are three solar eclipses taking place in 2019 and the best part is that each of them is a separate kind of eclipse. Gear up for these astronomical marvels with our guide to the solar eclipses of 2019.
* Note that all dates and times used are Universal Time and you should always check an accurate almanac to determine your local time for all eclipses, lest you miss out.
January 6, 2019 – Partial Solar Eclipse
The Moon casts three shadows into space. There is the narrow and dark umbra in the center, a further reaching and lighter extension of the umbra called the antumbra, and the lightest and outermost part of the shadow called the penumbra. Partial eclipses happen when an observer lies outside of the umbra and antumbra but still within the penumbra. The Moon only partially obscures the Sun to an observer in the penumbra, making it look like somebody has bitten off a chunk of the Sun.
The penumbra is further reaching and wider than any other part of the shadow, so it covers the greatest area. This makes partial eclipses the most common kind of eclipse. There is always a partial eclipse visible to observers somewhere on Earth whenever total or annular eclipses occur. There are also times however when the umbra and antumbra completely miss the Earth and their shadows get cast off into space. In this event, the large penumbra is still able to touch the Earth’s surface near the poles, making them more common in these regions.
The partial eclipse of 6 January 2019 is one such eclipse where the umbra and antumbra miss the Earth, so it is not associated with any visible total or annular eclipses. It is the first eclipse of the year (even with lunar eclipses included). The eclipse will be visible from the Northern Pacific and Northeast Asia. This includes the Aleutian Islands of Alaska; Beijing, China; Irkutsk, Russia; Seoul, South Korea; Taipei, Taiwan; and Tokyo, Japan. The eclipse starts at Sunrise for Asia and travels eastward for approximately 4 ¼ hours, ending at sunset for the Aleutian Islands.
July 2, 2019 – Total Solar Eclipse
Total solar eclipses are a rare and dreamlike occasion. The Moon’s disk completely blocks the Sun during a total solar eclipse. The dark umbra falls on a very narrow region of the Earth’s surface and the day plummets into night.
Several conditions must be met for a total solar eclipse to occur:
- There must be a New Moon.
- The Moon must be near perigee, which is its closest approach to Earth in its orbit.
The Moon’s orbit around the Earth is not perfectly circular, and one side of its elliptical orbit brings its approach closer to Earth. If the Moon were at apogee – the far side of its orbit – the size of its disk in the sky would be slightly smaller than the Suns, and a total solar eclipse would not be possible.
- The Sun and Moon need to be near the same lunar node.
The Moon’s orbit is tilted at a 5° angle to Earth’s orbit around the Sun. Lunar nodes are the two points where the Moon’s orbit intersects the Earth’s orbit. The Moon is near a lunar node twice a month, two weeks apart.
As we can see, these conditions are certainly not exceptional. There is a New Moon every month, and the Moon is near a lunar node twice monthly. The rarity of total eclipses comes from an alignment of all factors. New Moons do not often occur near a lunar node, never mind while the Moon is at perigee too. Total solar eclipses may only occur once a year, and the average that a solar eclipse will happen in a specific location becomes even slimmer.
The Moon’s umbra is the darkest part of the shadow but is also the smallest. Its shadow is cast on a very narrow path of the Earth’s surface and only for a brief window of time. The total eclipse of July 2, 2019 will start at sunrise from the Southern Pacific Ocean east of New Zealand, and sweep across to the Coquimbo Region in Chile and Argentina at sunset there.
Totality will be largely visible from the Coquimbo Region and small parts of the Atacama Region in Chile. Cities in the path of totality include La Serena, Coquimbo and La Higuera. Parts of Argentina will experience totality, including the provinces of San Juan, La Rioja, San Luis, Córdoba, Santa Fe, and Buenos Aires. Totality is also visible from the Oeno Island of the Pitcairn Islands. Observers in Tahiti and Bora Bora in French Polynesia will see the total eclipse only as a partial eclipse.
Totality is stunning to behold. Day becomes as dark as the night. The effect is so incredible that temperatures may dip and even diurnal animals like birds fall quiet as they respond to the great blanket of darkness. This is all paired with rare sky phenomena that only occur before and after totality. With its bright photosphere blocked, observers get the chance to see the Sun’s chromosphere and corona. If you are very lucky, you may also catch a glimpse of the beautiful diamond ring effect only moments before (or after) totality. You can read here for a more in-depth exploration of total solar eclipses.
December 26, 2019 – Annular Solar Eclipse
The last of the solar eclipses for 2019 is an annular solar eclipse. Annular solar eclipses happen under similar conditions as total eclipses. The Moon must still be new and has to be near a lunar node for an annular eclipse to occur. The only difference is that the Moon is not at perigee. The apparent size of the Moon’s disk is smaller because the Moon lies further away. The smaller size means that the Moon’s disk does not completely obscure the Sun’s photosphere. Instead, a bright ring (or annulus) of sunlight surrounds the black silhouette of the Moon and is colloquially called the Ring of Fire.
Observers who witness annularity fall within the antumbral shadow. Remember, the umbra is small and has a limit on how far it can reach. When the Moon is at apogee it is too far away for the umbra to reach Earth’s surface, but the light extension of the umbra – the antumbra – does reach Earth.
Annularity for the solar eclipse of 26 December 2019 will last 3 minutes 40 seconds. Annularity is visible from Saudi Arabia, Oman, Qatar, and the United Arab Emirates; all the way across to Southern India, Sri Lanka, Indonesia, and Malaysia. Observers in certain parts of the Middle East, Southeast Asia, and Australasia will view the eclipse as a partial eclipse.
Safely Viewing Solar Eclipses
The only safe time to view a solar eclipse with the unaided eyes is during totality of a total eclipse. It is never safe to look at partial eclipses or annular eclipse (even during annularity) without the correct eye protection. Sunglasses, Polaroid filters, smoked glass, exposed color film, x-ray film, and photographic neutral density filters are not safe for viewing the Sun, and should never be used as a substitute for adequate filters. Permanent damage and even blindness may result.
Special eclipse glasses from a trusted supplier are cost effective and very convenient to use. You may also make your own pinhole projector for indirect and safe viewing. Practice caution if you have a telescope and want to purchase a solar filter. Filter eyepieces or filters for eyepieces are not safe to use, as these easily heat and crack. You must choose a full aperture filter which covers the main objective of your telescope.
Solar eclipses, especially total solar eclipses, often happen in very remote places on top of being a short-lived and often once in a lifetime event. They are the perfect opportunity to save toward an adventurous travel experience. Interactive technology has also come such a long way in recent years. Watching a solar eclipse on the other end of the world in real time is now as simple as connecting to live-streaming and watching the magic unfold from the comfort of your home.