Home > equinoxes, solar eclipse, supermoon > Friday’s March equinox to be accompanied by total solar eclipse, “supermoon”

Friday’s March equinox to be accompanied by total solar eclipse, “supermoon”

Friday will offer the opportunity in some regions of the globe to observe a rare trifecta of celestial events: the March equinox will be accompanied by a total solar eclipse and a “supermoon” in the night sky.

This image of a 1999 total solar eclipse is provided courtesy Wikimedia.

This image of a 1999 total solar eclipse is provided courtesy Wikimedia.

The eclipse will be visible in its totality only in some parts of the Asian Arctic and northern Europe. Most of the rest of Europe and parts of Africa will experience a partial solar eclipse on Friday.

Total solar eclipses are not uncommon, as they occur about once every 18 months, but they occur only when the moon moves in front of our star and is aligned with the Earth during its orbit about our planet.

The moon’s orbit is inclined at about 5 degrees to the Earth’s orbit around the sun. That means the moon most often passes beneath or above the plane of the sun during its orbit of Earth.

Syzygy, as the alignment of the moon with both Earth and the sun is known, can only take place during a new moon.

While the sun is hundreds of times larger than the moon, the moon is hundreds of times closer to the Earth than the sun. The shadow cast by the moon during the total eclipse, called an umbra, will block out nearly all of the sun’s light and could persist on Friday for as long as about seven minutes.

During a partial solar eclipse a part of the moon’s shadow called the penumbra is cast over a portion of Earth.

According to a website maintained by NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, residents of North America will not have another opportunity to see a total eclipse of the sun until Aug. 21, 2017.

The occurrence of a total solar eclipse on the same day as the March equinox is unusual. One recent post at EarthSky.org reported that this confluence of the two events will happen this century only this year and in 2034, 2053, and 2072.

The “supermoon” is really just the appearance of a larger moon. In reality, the phenomenon occurs when Earth’s satellite reaches the perigee of its orbit. When the “supermoon” occurs, the moon is about 52,000 kilometers closer to Earth than it is at the apogee of its revolution.

Because the moon is that much closer at its perigee, its angular diameter appears from Earth to be about six one-hundredths of a degrees greater than it does at apogee.

The March equinox marks the beginning of spring in the northern hemisphere and of autumn in the southern hemisphere. On that day both hemispheres receive an equivalent amount of sunlight.

Any person who plans to look at the sun during an eclipse should use a pinhole camera to do so. An alternative is shade 14 arc welder’s glasses.

It is not safe to look at an eclipse through ordinary sunglasses, film negatives, or polarizing camera filters.

This NASA website is a useful resource for information about safe viewing of the sun during an eclipse.

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