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A Spot of Siberian Darkness for Armagh Astronomer

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eclipse imageeclipse image
Fig. 1: Moments after the Sun totally disappeared behind the lunar disc, several features in the solar atmosphere are becoming apparent. One of these is a pink-coloured solar prominence, a tongue of incandescent hydrogen gas spewing out of the obstructed solar disc, visible at the 2 o'clock position.
Fig. 2: This shows the time around mid-totality: The Sun is well behind the Moon, rendering its outer atmosphere (or "corona") clearly visible to the observer. Several distinct plumes appear to emanate from around the Sun's North and South poles (1 o'clock and 7 o'clock positions in this image respectively) while bands of overlapping streamers are seen emerging closer to the solar equator (4 o'clock and 10 o'clock positions). The solar wind, a high-speed, continuous flow of charged particles, escapes via these structures and travels through the solar system ultimately to join the interstellar medium.

An mp4 movie of the eclipse is available here

Any eclipse, whether of the Sun or the Moon, partial or total, is a rare spectacle commanding the attention of the general public and astronomers alike. But a total solar eclipse is always a wonderful sight to behold, a once-in-a lifetime experience. Such an eclipse was predicted to be visible from deep within the Asian continent on the 1st August 2008. In Armagh it was visible as a partial eclipse, the moon covering almost 20% of the solar disk at maximum.

In early August, Armagh Observatory astronomer Apostolos Christou found himself in the city of Tomsk, Siberia, only a few hundred miles from the narrow track of totality. He had been attending an international conference on the "Dynamics of Solar System Bodies", co-organised by the Tomsk State University and the Institute de Mechanique Celeste et de Calcul des Ephemerides (IMCCE) based in Paris. The opportunity to observe one of the most stunning phenomena in nature was too good for the conference organisers to miss. Consequently, on the day of the eclipse, a trip was made to the nearby city of Novosibirsk which lay at the exact center of the path of totality. The eclipse was predicted to take place in the afternoon, between 16:40 and 18:45 local time, with totality lasting for 2m 20s around 17:43.

Heavy cumulus clouds made an appearance at midday, causing some consternation among the participants, but by the time of the event these had all but dissipated allowing a near-perfect view of the eclipse.

The view of the solar corona (the Sun's outer atmosphere) at totality was indeed spectacular. A pink-coloured prominence was visible right from the onset (Fig. 1), while several streamers appeared to emanate from the obstructed solar disk throughout the event (Fig. 2).

Such opportunities are hard to come by and usually involve a great deal of travelling. The next such event takes place on 22 July 2009, where the narrow track of totality will cross Eastern China, South-East Asia and the southernmost islands of Japan. The only near-term opportunity for viewing such an event from near these shores occurs on 20 March 2015, where totality will be visible (weather permitting) from the Faroe Islands off the coast of Scotland.

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Last Revised: 2008 September 8th
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