See live images from SLOOH Space Camera here.
A total solar eclipse, one of the rarest treats the sky has to offer, will cross Australia and the Pacific Ocean on Wednesday morning.
The moon will move directly between the Earth and the sun, casting its shadow in a narrow path across northeastern Australia and the ocean. People from all over the world will flock to this narrow strip of land, traveling thousands of miles to stand in the moon’s shadow.
The city of Cairns in Queensland is expected to be the best place to watch the eclipse. There, the moon will begin to cover the sun around 5:44 a.m. local time (2:44 p.m. U.S. Eastern Time on Tuesday), and the total phase of the eclipse will last from 6:38 to 6:40 a.m.
A total solar eclipse is said to be one of the most beautiful things the eye can see. The moon slowly covers the sun until it becomes a black circle, and the sun’s glowing white atmosphere, or corona, fans out all around it.
“A unique visceral presence develops when the sun, moon, and your spot on Earth form a perfectly straight line in space,” the Slooh Space Camera website explains. “A total eclipse makes many people shout and babble as if the event were an excursion by asylum inmates.”
When the sun is completely covered, the sky goes dark and the stars come out. During this short time, it is safe to look directly at the sun without eye protection, but when the sun is only partially covered, viewers must use special filters or projectors.
Scientists will take this opportunity to study the sun’s corona, which can only be seen during a total eclipse. U.S. astronomy professor Jay Pasachoff from Williams College, Massachusetts, a veteran of 55 solar eclipses, will set up three locations in Australia for himself and his students and colleagues to study the movements of the corona and how its temperature relates to the sunspot cycle.
The path of totality only touches Australia’s Northern Territory, Queensland, and the ocean. Viewed from any other location, the eclipse will be a relatively common partial eclipse, meaning the sky won’t get very dark and the corona and stars will remain invisible.
The partial phases can be seen from anywhere in Australia, nearby islands such as New Zealand, and parts of Antarctica and South America.
The Slooh Space Camera is providing a live webcast of the eclipse. Two weeks later it will give a webcast of the corresponding lunar eclipse on Nov. 28, a minor eclipse in which the fuzzy edge of the Earth’s shadow touches the moon.
Total solar eclipses are so rare that if you could stand in one spot on Earth and wait, you might see it happen once every 360 years on average.
However, a total solar eclipse happens somewhere in the world approximately every year or two. The most recent one occurred in South America in 2010, and the next one will be in Africa in 2013.
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