Image Credit: ESA/NASA
Solar Eclipse 2016 in Africa
Introduction to solar eclipses in Africa and beyondEvery time the Moon passes between the Earth and the Sun, casting its shadow on our planet, the experience for the humans who watch it is different from the last. Every solar eclipse is governed by a multitude of rhythms and subtleties that guarantee its individuality. The Sun’s activity, its flares and prominences, the exact positions of the Moon and the Earth – all these factors conspire with numerous others to ensure that each eclipse is unique. Similarly, the aesthetics of an eclipse are influenced by the time of day, the region of the world, the weather and, to a surprising extent, the surrounding crowds or emptiness.
Yet, despite this capacity for infinite variation, eclipses are governed by the enduring laws of celestial mechanics that guarantee us totalities for hundreds of millions of years to come.
A total solar eclipse occurs when the Moon moves between the Sun and the Earth, fully blocking our view of the Sun.
This happens because of a heavenly coincidence: the Sun and the Moon, when viewed from Earth, appear to be the same size. The Sun may at first seem to be larger, but this is because it is so bright. In reality the Sun’s diameter is 400 times that of the Moon. But, with perfect compensation, it sits 400 times further away. This symmetry has not always existed but scientists have calculated that things will remain this way for another 650 million years, after which the Moon will drift too far from the Earth for it ever again to be able to cover the Sun completely.
During the year the Earth takes to complete its journey around the Sun, the Moon speeds around the Earth about 12 times. Once in each of these cycles (known as synodic months) the Moon passes between the Sun and us, and we see a new Moon. We do not see a monthly solar eclipse though, because the Moon’s orbit is at a slight angle to that of the Earth – so the Sun and Moon ‘miss’ each other as they pass across our skies.
If the Sun, creeping along its yearly path, happens to be exactly at one of the two intersections when the Moon is racing round on its monthly cycle, there will be a total solar eclipse. If the Sun is just approaching or leaving the intersection there may yet be a total solar eclipse because the Moon is often large enough to cover it anyway. If the Sun is a little further from the intersection there is still the chance that the Moon will at least overlap with it, creating a partial solar eclipse.
Those are the basic behind a solar eclipse. In practice, however, there are various distortions and complexities that give each eclipse its signature. For example, both the Sun and the Moon follow elliptical paths around the Earth rather than circular ones, with the result that their distances from our planet vary If a solar eclipse occurs when the Moon is at its furthest from the Earth and the Sun at its closest, a rim of Sun remains around the black disc of the eclipse – and we see an annular solar eclipse.
What to watch for as the eclipse unfoldsOnce you are well inside the path of “totality" you can settle down to watch the spectacle unfold. When the Moon first encroaches on the Sun, the moment known as first contact has arrived. It is often barely noticeable, just a faint shadow, and a very slow fading of daylight. Even when the sun is about 80% covered, most of us will notice little change in the light because our brains are so used to compensating for the effect of heavy clouds.
This stage is followed some time later by second contact – the moment when the Moon drifts fully in front of the Sun and totality begins. During the last few minutes before second contact, daylight will disappear fast; about 15 seconds before the Sun is completely eclipsed, you will see specks of light appear around the dark disc of the Moon, just like a string of pearls. These are called Baily’s Beads – the last few rays of sunlight shining through valleys on the edge of the Moon.
You will know when totality has arrived, and for the first few seconds of totality you may see a vibrant, pinkish-red rim at the edge of the Sun which is the light from the Sun’s lower atmosphere. Dragging your eyes away from the eclipse itself, you will have the unprecedented opportunity to view the daytime positions of the planets and stars; and don’t forget to check the landscape, where nature will respond as if night has fallen – flowers will close their petals, birds will flock to trees in confusion. It’s quite unlike anything else you can witness on the earth. Third contact heralds the end of totality because the Moon starts to shift away from the Sun. Forth contact is when the two discs finally part and the eclipse is over.
Solar Eclipses in Africa in 2016For many of those who witness one, a solar eclipse is one of the most moving experiences on Earth. Watching one from some of the most remote and beautiful corners of our world lends a whole other level.
In September 2016 eastern Africa will experience an annular solar eclipse – where a bright ring of fire will remain around the silhouette of the Moon. The line of totality passes through some areas which are also known for incredible game viewing, and conveniently also coincides with peak game-viewing season. This enables you to not only experience, and learn about some of east Africa’s most beautiful environments and most impressive game-viewing, but also witness a rare out-of-world phenomenon from a truly beautiful spot, while watching the effect and changes on the landscape around.
Follow the links below for the best places we've selected to experience this solar eclipse in Africa 2016.
Look at NASA's own website for a detailed map of the path of totality.
Solar Eclipse 2016 in Tanzania
In September 2016 the annular solar eclipse's zone of totality will pass through Tanzania's Katavi and Ruaha National Parks and offer onlookers the best possible view of it.Ideas for solar eclipse 2016 in Tanzania