Solar eclipse is century’s longest

Thousands of American and European astronomers have flocked to China for the longest total eclipse of the sun this century which takes place tomorrow.

Eclipse track by Fred Espenak/NASAThe eclipse path runs from just west of India, racing across the sub-continent then over China, parts of Japan and out over the Pacific. Most foreign visitors have descended on or near Shanghai, including many aboard specially chartered cruise ships.

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At its longest over the Pacific, day will be turned into night for six minutes and 39 seconds at the total phase of the eclipse when the Moon completely blots out the Sun. Near Shanghai, it will last around six minutes, beginning just after 01.30 UT.

Stars will come out in the daytime and confused birds and animals will go to sleep. Finally the sun will break through a gap in a lunar valley and shine like a brilliant diamond ring, marking the end of the total phase.

NASA experts say the eclipse could be the best observed in human history because the path of totality crosses so many major cities with populations totalling many millions. Full details of the eclipse and its track can be found on Fred Espenak’s NASA site.

Unfortunately, none of the eclipse is visible from the UK or Ireland which is why keen eclipse-chasers have spent thousands of pounds to cross the world to see it. But there will be live broadcasts on the internet, including from NASA here.

Picture: The track of totality across half the Earth. (Credit: Fred Espenak/NASA).

• Discover space for yourself and do fun science with a telescope. Here is Skymania’s advice on how to choose a telescope. We also have a guide to the different types of telescope available.

By Paul Sutherland

Paul Sutherland has been a professional journalist for nearly 40 years. He writes regularly for science magazines including BBC Sky at Night magazine, BBC Focus, Astronomy Now and Popular Astronomy, plus he has authored three books on astronomy and contributed to others.

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