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“It suddenly struck me that that tiny pea, pretty and blue, was the Earth. I put up my thumb and shut one eye, and my thumb blotted out the planet Earth. I didn't feel like a giant. I felt very, very small.” – Neil Armstrong (1930-2012)

Fresh Reads from the Science 'o sphere!

Monday, January 26, 2009

Solar Eclipse In Singapore

It's the first day of the Ox Year today, and after a hectic day of visiting relatives, I managed to catch the partial solar eclipse that occurred this evening.

I don't have any sophisticated equipment for taking eclipse photos directly, so I used my old solar projection rig (which I built in 2004 to observe the Transit of Venus) to project an image of the Sun onto a piece of card instead.

All the times indicated are in local Singapore time:

4:38 pm

Here you can see the solar disk projected onto a piece of white card, with the top part looking a little flat as the Moon slowly drifts in "downwards".

The image is inverted, which means the Moon is actually at the lower left (southwest) moving upwards (towards northeast).

My solar projection rig was constructed using a cheap 8x21 monocular mounted on pieces of cardboard - don't use expensive optics for this application because there is a good chance that the intense solar heat will gradually destroy the rear lens elements.

And it's unnecessary to use large aperture binoculars for this purpose (eg. 7x50 or 8x40) because the Sun is already insanely bright and the greater light gathering power of such equipment will only ruin your optics faster. Reserve your good binos for night use.

Of course, you don't need any complex optics to observe a solar eclipse. Eclipse glasses or a simple pinhole camera will suffice (however pinhole cameras are totally rubbish for planetary transits, which is why I had to build my rig to project a big enough image).

4.46 pm

The Moon has moved in further and you can clearly see the curvature of its shadow.

Some people are surprised by the fact that the Moon actually travels from the west towards the east while orbiting the Earth.

The Moon appears to rise in the east and set in the west because of the Earth's rotation on its axis. Since the Moon's orbital motion is much slower, it is more easily perceived from night to night.

If you observe the night sky at the same time on successive nights, you will notice that the Moon gradually drifts towards the east, relative to the Sun and the background stars.

5:06 pm

The Moon takes a bigger bite out of the solar disk.


One of the problems with amateur astronomy as a hobby is that it is highly weather-dependent - there will be many occasions when spectacular astronomical phenomena will simply be blocked from view by clouds, haze or good old light pollution.

It can be deeply frustrating, especially for people who have travelled all the way to the Science Centre or some remote dark sky location only to be confronted with useless seeing conditions.

Unfortunately, there is no way around it. You just have to get used to facing disappointment.

Just like real life!

This solar eclipse was no exception; the sky was filled with thick clouds near the western horizon, and half the time the Sun was behind clouds looking all blurry and shapeless.

When that sort of thing happens all you can do is to sit and wait.

(Now you understand why far more people are into photography - it's an all-weather hobby!)

5:38 pm

Fortunately the sky cleared up temporarily so I managed to catch this shot where over 70% of the solar disk was covered by the Moon.

A nice, sharp crescent!

Maximal coverage was supposed to be at 6:02 pm, but unfortunately from my vantage point the Sun had descended into increasingly thicker clouds and so I couldn't follow the eclipse any further.

If you have missed this solar eclipse, the next one will occur in India on 22th July 2009. That one will be a total eclipse - the sort where you can see the solar corona, stars in the daytime, hear birds singing and all that.

If you intend to wait it out in Singapore, then the next substantial one will be in January 2010, although less than a third of the solar disk will be covered.

A more exciting one will be the annular (ring-shaped) eclipse of December 2019 where over 90% of the solar disk will be covered.

Would you like to know more?
Eclipses visible in Singapore (Science Centre)
- Photos of the 26 Jan 2009 Partial Solar Eclipse (ClubSNAP Forums)


Edgar said...

Cool. And there I was playing with my HP and smiling politely at relatives while I could have tried to get a glimpse.

Anonymous said...

hey i miss it fuck this
hope to see it next time :-)