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A Solar Eclipse Will Darken Pacific Skies This Week

Though the actual eclipse can only be seen from select locations, don’t miss the live stream of the event online

An annular solar eclipse is observed in Yantai, Shandong province, China, January 15, 2010. (CHAIXIANGYANG/Cpressphoto/Corbis)
smithsonian.com

This week, people in parts of Indonesia and Australia will get a chance to watch the sun briefly slip behind the moon. Starting at around dawn on March 9, the eclipse will sweep east over Indonesia and drift to the northeast towards Borneo and the Pacific ocean for the next three hours.

While the full solar eclipse, known as the totality, will only be visible along a narrow corridor, people in southeast Asia, the Pacific, and even parts of Hawaii and Alaska can catch a glimpse of a partial eclipse, Bec Crew writes for ScienceAlert.

The eclipse’s path of totality will stretch about 8,800 miles over its course, but it will only be about 97 miles across at it’s widest. While the totality will only last about four minutes in most locations, the sight is sure to be a good one, according to NASA.

“You notice something off about the sunlight as you reach totality,” NASA researcher Sarah Jaeggli says in a statement. “Your surroundings take on a twilight cast, even though it’s daytime and the sky is still blue. The moon blocks the light of the sun's surface very, very precisely. You can see all the way down to the roots of the corona, where the atmosphere meets the sun’s surface.”

Solar eclipses have a reputation as rare occasions, but they actually happen fairly regularly—about once every year and a half. The precise geometry that makes them possible, however, also limits where they can be seen. 

The sun is about 400 times wider than the moon and about 400 times farther away from Earth, which means they look as if they're about the same size. If you’re standing in the path of totality during a solar eclipse, the moon will appear to block out the sun while actually only covering a tiny part of it, NASA says in a statement.

For the most part, the eclipse will trace a path across the Pacific Ocean, where most won't witness the full effect. And once it makes it to land in Indonesia, many may still miss the view—the weather is frequently cloudy and rainy at this time of year, Alan MacRobert writes for Sky & Telescope.

But never fear: chances are you’ll have a better shot at seeing the next one, which will take place on August 21, 2017. And while it’s more than a year away, it will be the first to pass directly across the continental United States since 1979, Crew reports.

Can't wait? There are still a few ways you can check out next week’s solar eclipse without hopping on a last minute flight to Borneo. San Francisco’s Exploratorium will live stream the eclipse from Micronesia, which can be viewed online or in person at the museum, Gizmodo’s Maddie Stone writes.

But if you do have the chance to go in person, remember: Don’t look directly into the sun.

About Danny Lewis

Danny Lewis is a multimedia journalist working in print, radio, and illustration. He focuses on stories with a health/science bent and has reported some of his favorite pieces from the prow of a canoe. Danny is based in Brooklyn, NY.

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