Where Will this Month’s Solar Eclipse Be Visible?

Where will this month’s solar eclipse be visible?

This Wednesday, June 22, 2009, a large portion of the population of Earth is in for quite a show.

The longest total solar eclipse of the 21st century is about to take place — specifically, this Wednesday, with time around 2:35:21 UTC. This will be the longest totality event until June 13 2132, when none of us will be alive to view its beauty — hell, it is unlikely that any of our children will be around then.

There will be no other eclipse to rival its duration for over a hundred years. This huge eclipse will last a full 6 minutes and 39 seconds, and it will reach its maximum phase around 80 miles south of the Bonin Islands in the southeast of the nation of Japan.

The eclipse, which scientists have assigned a magnitude of 1.0799, will be visible from northern India, eastern Nepal, northern Bangladesh, Bhutan, the northern tip of Union of Myanmar, central China and the Pacific Ocean, including the Ryukyu Islands, Marshall Islands and Kiribati. The totality itself will be seen by citizens of Surat, Varanasi, Patna, Thimphu, Chengdu, Chongqing, Wuhan, Hangzhou and Shanghai. A wider swath of Asia will experience a partial eclipse event — this darkening of the sky will be noticeable in the much wider path of the moon’s shadow, covering most of southeast Asia and northeast Oceania.

The lengthiest and most accessible solar eclipse of the 21st century, for the majority of the population, will stretch over half of the globe. NASA is predicting that the path of the eclipse will cover all of India and Indonesia and most of China, as well as parts of the entirety of Eastern Asia and the islands of Japan and the Pacific Ocean. While no one in the Western hemisphere will be able to see the eclipse live, NASA has come up with a few cool ways for those of us not living in the East to experience this amazing phenomenon.

First, there’s an interactive map available online that uses Google Maps to track the path of the total eclipse, though the boundaries of various partial eclipse phenomena are much, much wider. The path for what is called “totality” (the area of the world that will experience a total solar eclipse) is notable mostly because it passes through or near huge population centers in Asia — metropolises like Shanghai and Mumbai. There are also plans to broadcast video of the eclipse both in video replay and in real time over the Internet. A team of scientists and tech enthusiasts from the University of Madrid (who would normally not be able to view the largest exclipse of any of our life times, as they are not in the path of the eclipse) have set up cameras and a web presence to display the events of the eclipse for the world to see.

As of this writing, the eclipse broadcast is accessible at this website (http://om.fi.upm.es/CiclopeAstro/?locale=en).

This eclipse is generating a lot of attention, and not only because it will be the largest and most visible of any of our lifetimes. The position and magnitude of this eclipse has some scientists (but mostly end of the world paranoids) predicting massive earthquakes and tsunamis off the coast of Japan — the theory is that the tidal pull created by such a solar event will rattle the tectonic plates in the area, which are notoriously picky about being shaken about.

Tourism is also a huge even for some cities in the path of the totality — there are reports that the very small and poor Indian village of Taregana is enjoying the massive increase in tourism and influx of cash that comes with the honor of being labelled the “ideal vantage point” for viewing a total eclipse. Naturally, Chinese scientists disagree that Taregana is the best spot for viewing the totality, claiming instead that parts of China are the best place to be. In actuality, the best spot to view the totality event is probably the island of Iwo Jima, since the maximum duration of eclipse won’t be anywhere near the mainland of Asia.

There won’t be an eclipse like this for another 12 decades — unless you’re planning on being unfrozen in a hundred years it is unlikely there will be a more engaging eclipse event in your lifetime. If that fact alone doesn’t send you into a state of reverie and awe, you’re unlikely to be excited by any solar or space event.