Nareed
Nareed
Joined: Nov 11, 2009
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November 16th, 2009 at 9:45:24 AM permalink
Back in July 1991 I had my first, and thus far only, chance to view a total solar eclipse. This was in Mexico City where I live.

July is smack in the middle of central Mexico's rain season, meaning it's cloudy nearly all day long. Chances were good we'd miss the eclipse, except for a mere darkening of an already gray day. As it turned out, there were plenty of breaks in the clouds at eclipse time, and the morning's light rains provided an unexpected bonus.

I watched from across the street from my office along with my brother and a gaggle of other people. We had purchased light filters, but I was still wary of looking straight at the Sun anyway while the Moon slowly passed across it.

We didn't need the filters. There were a bunch of puddles on the curb made by the day's early rain. The growing shadow of the Moon could be clearly seen on each of them. The effect was like watching a dozen eclipses all at once. It was wonderful.

Then totality hit. I don't recall how long it lasted, but certainly a few minutes. Three things happen during totality: 1) it gets dark, 2) you get to see the Sun's atmosphere (the corona), a luminous fog of gas usually lost in the light of the Sun; you also get to see the constellations backwards (the Earth being on the opposite side of its orbit) and 3) it gets cold.

This last caught me by surprise. It doesn't get very cold, but there's also a cold breeze and I wasn't really expecting it. It's eerie.

I won't attempt to describe the corona, as no description can do it justice. Google for photos of it, which comes closer but there's nothing like seeing it live.

The other thing you can see are planets. Some planets are easily visible on clear nights when you know where to look. Venus is easily seen near dawn or dusk depending on the time of the year (can't miss it, it's the third brightest object in the sky after the Sun and Moon). But Mercury is hard to glimpse because it's so close to the Sun. Like Venus you can see it near dawn or dusk, but it's not very bright and it rises only a little above the horizon before being drowned out by sunlight. During an eclipse, if it's in the right place in its orbit, Mercury can be easily seen relatively high in the sky.

Here's a link to a series of eclipse photos: http://www.noao.edu/eclipses/91july11.html it's something you can't see from the ground: the shadow of the Moon on the Earth. We really live in a great time.

If you ever get a chance to see a total eclipse take it.
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Wizard
Administrator
Wizard
Joined: Oct 14, 2009
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November 16th, 2009 at 4:14:17 PM permalink
Everybody should see an eclipse at some point before they die. My father saw the 91 eclipse in Cabo San Lucas. As I wrote in my blog about the 2009 eclipse, I was too poor to make the 91 eclipse in Mexico.
It's not whether you win or lose; it's whether or not you had a good bet.

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