A largely unobservable total solar eclipse

Map of the total solar eclipse of March 2016

Next Wednesday, there will be a total solar eclipse. But in comparison to the excitement that such events usually generate, you’ve probably not heard much about this one. If you’re wondering why not, the map to the right may explain all.

The red outline marks out where any part of the Moon can be seen touching the Sun’s disk. In the middle of this, the thick grey line is the track of the total eclipse – where the Sun is entirely covered by the Moon. To see totality, you’ll need to find an observing site along this thin line. However, this time around the eclipse track is almost perfectly centred over the Pacific Ocean, meaning that this is likely to be one of the least observed eclipses of recent times.

If you want to see the eclipse from dry land, your only option is to visit Indonesia, where the eclipse will take place when the Sun is very close to the horizon soon after sunrise.

The unfavourable circumstances of this eclipse are down to its timing. The total phase of the eclipse will begin at 00:20 UTC, and last until around 3:30 UTC. Throughout that time, the Sun will be below the horizon in Europe, most of Asia, and the Americas, making the eclipse unobservable from most of the world’s land masses.

If you want to see a total solar eclipse, you’re probably much better off waiting until next August’s eclipse, which will be ideally placed for observers across the northern United States.

Eclipse maps

The animations below show the progress of the Moon’s shadow across the Earth’s surface as the eclipse proceeds.
The red contour shows all of the
places where the Moon covers any part of the Sun’s disk. Within this, white
contours show where the Moon covers 20%, 40%, 60% and 80% of the Sun. The
central white dot shows places where the Moon covers more than 98% of the Sun.

The map below shows a projection of the Moon’s shadow onto a map of the world,
with the same contours marked.


The charts presented on this page were taken from In-The-Sky.org. More information is available from Fred Espanak’s eclipse page, page 10 of the BAA Handbook 2016, or timeanddate.com.

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