2020 ends with the final total solar eclipse of the decade, when the entirety crosses the southern tip of South America on December 14th.
Did you catch the slight lunar eclipse with Penumbral last Monday? Sure, a penumbral is perhaps the most anticlimatic of all types of eclipses … but this event also prepares us for the ultimate astronomical events as a total solar eclipse will cross South America on December 14, 2020.
This book ends with the last solar eclipse season of the decade, though the entirety will only briefly span a 90-kilometer strip from Chile to Argentina.
The footprint for the solar eclipse on December 14th, with times for the entirety and percentages for partial phases. Photo credit: Michael Zeiler / Atlas of Solar Eclipses: 2020 to 2045.
Eclipse chasing in a time of Covid19
This is because many Eclipse chasers had to cut their travel plans due to the ongoing global pandemic. The trail even misses the big cities in Chile and Argentina as it jumps over the Andes and adorns only a few small villages, while it takes about 20 minutes from the Pacific to the Atlantic coast of South America. The Path of Totality passes through several active volcanoes (including Villarrica in Chile) and offers several fascinating photogenic opportunities. Patagonia, central Argentina, has the best clear sky prospects, and the chances of cloud increasing towards the Chilean border to the west and the Argentine Atlantic coast to the east.
At the time of writing, we haven't seen any planned efforts to broadcast the solar eclipse live from the Path of Totality, but we will include a link to a webcast that will appear before the eclipse day.
Times for the solar eclipse
The entire solar eclipse, from the first partial phases over the remote Central Pacific at 1:34 p.m. Universal Time (UT) to the departure of the outer penumbra of the moon near Ascension Island in the Atlantic at 6:53 UT, extends over 5 hours and 19 Minutes.
An animation of the solar eclipse of December 14th. Photo credit: NASA / GSFC A.T. Sinclair.
The maximum duration for the entirety along the Umbra Trail is much shorter and is 2 minutes and 10 seconds near Sierra Colorado, Argentina.
Partial phases for the solar eclipse extend from Antarctica to the north to the Amazon basin in Brazil and Guayaquil in Ecuador.
Here is a selection of circumstances for partial phases from the region:
Location: part percent / time
Palmer Station Antarctica: 30% / 16:28 UT
Falkland: 70% / 16:32 UT
Buenos Aires: 82% / 16:29 UT
Santiago, Chile: 80% / 16:02 UT
Montevideo, Uruguay: 78% / 16:33 UT
La Paz, Bolivia: 30% / 15:50 UT
Asunción, Paraguay: 45% / 16:27 UT
Lima, Peru: 25% / 15:22 UT
Rio de Janiero, Brazil: 41% / 17:15 UT
The passage of the shadow over South America. Photo credit: Michael Zeiler / Atlas of Solar Eclipses: 2020 to 2045.
Stories of the Saros
A solar eclipse occurs when the moon moves between the earth and the sun near one of its nodes that intersects the plane of the ecliptic and, by definition, must appear in the new phase. The total solar eclipse next Monday is a member of 23 of 72 eclipses in the Solar-Saros cycle 142, which runs from 1624 to 2904. This cycle did not begin to produce total solar eclipses until 1786.
If you are lucky enough to be in the shadow of the Moon on the 14th, be sure to check out brilliant Venus 24 degrees west of the Sun and Jupiter, which is approaching Saturn on December 21st for a historic 6 foot conjunction. Just 35 degrees east of the sun on the day of the solar eclipse. Another special guest could also show up: Comet C / 2020 S3 Erasmus with a power of +4 to +5. The comet will be only 11 degrees from the darkened sun and will be fresh from perihelion on December 12th.
The sky formation in the middle of the solar eclipse. Image credit: Starry Night.
As a kind of cosmic consolation prize, the slender waning crescent moon on the morning of December 12, less than 48 hours before the solar eclipse, will also occult Venus for the northwestern Pacific and Far East of Russia (passing before it).
The footprint of the occultation of Venus by the Moon on December 12th before the total solar eclipse. Credit: Occult 4.2.
What will the corona look like? This is always a key question as the shape and intensity of the Sun's outer atmosphere can actually vary from one solar eclipse to the next. Eclipse trackers can look at photos of previous Eclipses and tell you which Eclipse they are from.
The predicted shape of the corona during this month's total solar eclipse. Photo credit: Predictive Science, Inc.
The sun also awakens from its long sleep. Just last week we had a massive sunspot, which is by far the largest so far for the currently otherwise lackluster solar cycle No. 25. Although it has been spinning out of view since then, we could easily expect more, adding to a very photogenic solar eclipse during the sub-phases. Whatever becomes visible in the next week will be visible on the earth side of the sun when the day of the solar eclipse comes.
Observation of the 2017 total solar eclipse. Photo credit: Dave Dickinson.
Are we getting views of the solar eclipse … from space? This is out of the question as multiple solar observation missions occasionally also intercept views of eclipses from orbit. One such high-flying mission is the European Space Agency's Proba-2 observatory:
If you are fortunate enough to personally observe this month's total solar eclipse, you should practice proper eclipse observation and safety. Use suitable ISO 12312-2-certified Eclipse glasses and filters with aperture adjustment for solar observation with all optics during all partial phases of the solar eclipse. NASA has a good site devoted to solar observing safety. An interesting option is to build a safe binocular solar filter with a tea box and an additional set of Eclipse glasses:
When is the next? Well, 2021 is home to two solar eclipses: an annular solar eclipse that crosses the Arctic on June 10, and a total solar eclipse that crosses Antarctica on December 4th.
Hopefully by then worldwide travel will open up again so that we can experience the whole thing again personally.
Lead Image Credit: The Total Solar Eclipse 2017. Credit and Copyright: Sharin Ahmad.