South Africa

Pretorians to miss next total solar eclipse

A South African astronomer specialising in galaxy evolution says South Africans will not be able to see the total solar eclipse which on Monday, April 8 will cross over Mexico, the United States, and Canada.

A solar eclipse occurs when the moon passes between the earth and the sun, obscuring the view of the sun from the earth, totally or partially.

Prof Lerothodi L Leeuw of the Department of Physics and Astronomy at the University of the Western Cape said the April 8 total solar eclipse will transverse a very narrow path on earth, excluding South Africa.

“In fact, the sun will be setting in South Africa when this eclipse sets in. So we would not be able to see the sun when the moon will be eclipsing it this time, because it will be going below our horizon,” emphasised Leeuw.

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According to a map of NASA, this is the path of the total solar eclipse on April 8. South Africans will not be able to view it. To see it on a full screen, visit go.nasa.gov/EclipseExplorer.

He said viewers in Canada, the USA and Mexico will see this total eclipse.

“The path of totality of any such total solar eclipse is so narrow it is actually not dependent on the country and sometimes it will only transverse particular regions of a country,” said Leeuw.

South Africans were last treated to this astronomical wonder 15 years ago, on December 4, 2002.

The next total solar eclipse that some South Africans will be able to view takes place on November 25, 2030.

This will be a morning total solar eclipse and the path of totality will pass through Namibia, Botswana, Lesotho and South Africa.

According to NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Centre, during the 21st century, there will be 224 solar eclipses of which 77 will be partial, 72 annular and 68 total while seven will be hybrids of total and annular.

An annular eclipse occurs once every one or two years when the sun and moon are exactly in line with the earth, but the size of the moon is smaller than that of the sun. The sun appears as a very bright ring or annulus, surrounding the dark disk of the moon.

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Regular sunglasses and other types of tinted plastic or glass are not strong enough to protect your eyes even when the sun is partially covered by the moon during an eclipse. Viewers should only use special-purpose solar filters to look at the sun during an eclipse like these eclipse viewing glasses.

Leeuw warned people wanting to view the total solar eclipse need to take precautions so as not to impair their eyes.

“Solar viewing glasses (also called eclipse glasses) would be fine, and really the same precautions the Americans are taking this year should always be taken,” said Leeuw.

Looking directly at the sun through a camera is also dangerous to your eyes. To take images when the sun is partially or totally eclipsed, viewers will need to use a special solar filter to protect cameras, as well as cellphone cameras just the same as they will need a pair of solar viewing glasses (also called eclipse glasses) to protect their eyes.

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Prof Lerothodi L Leeuw Photo: Facebook/ Lerothodi L Leeuw

Leeuw has not seen such a total solar eclipse live himself.

“Everyone says it is impressive. For example, during the few moments of total darkness, the birds go quiet and the temperature drops,” said Leeuw.

According to NASA’s catalogue of solar eclipses, the longest measured duration in which the moon completely covered the sun, known as totality, was during the solar eclipse of July 22, 2009. This total solar eclipse had a maximum duration of six minutes and 38.86 seconds.

The longest possible duration of a total solar eclipse is seven minutes and 32 seconds.

With this April solar eclipse, viewers would also be able to see something quite unusual: the sun’s corona.

“The corona is the outer region of the sun and it is not a nice round disk like the sun as we know it every day. So it will be an impressive sight,” said Leeuw.

He said that this total solar eclipse is also unusual as, among other things, the path of totality crosses three countries.

Leeuw is interested in what makes up dark matter, a very big component of the universe.

“I am involved in several projects to search for particles of this dark matter in an indirect detection experiment at CERN (the European Organisation for Nuclear Research) under the SA-CERN programme. We are also planning a direct detection experiment facility in the Huguenot Tunnel in South Africa that is in a feasibility study phase,” said Leeuw.

– Click here to see the path of the solar eclipse on April 8, 2024: https://science.nasa.gov/eclipses/future-eclipses/eclipse-2024/

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