Solar eclipses have been cherished and feared by cultures across the the course of human history. What makes them so special is rarity of the event and the sheer beauty of nature which one can see when the Moon obscures the Sun and the pearly white strands of solar atmosphere flow gracefully. A solar eclipse is the only time when we, the mortals can see the atmosphere of the Sun ( Corona ), its coloured layer ( Chromosphere ) and surface features ( Prominences ) from our naked eyes. For any other time when you want to see these, you need to pay a visit to the nearest solar observatory, but even that doesn’t guarantee the same view.
Astronomers have chased eclipses and travelled various countries in the process. Solar eclipse chasing makes you a total globe trotter and to ensure the few minutes of totality, astronomers and enthusiasts have taken the route of sea and air often. They say longer the totality, more memorable the experience and the century’s longest eclipses had their path crossing India and gave astronomers a vivid experience of being in the zone of totality. The years 2009 ( Total Solar Eclipse ) and 2010 ( Annular Solar Eclipse ) saw hundreds of thousands of people flock to south asian countries for getting a view which they will never see in their lifetime again.
When is the next Solar Eclipse visible in India??
First we need to understand how solar eclipses happen.
A solar eclipse happens because of a very strange coincidence. The moon is 400 times smaller than the Sun and is also 400 times nearer. The slight variations in its orbit cause it appear slightly bigger and smaller than the sun on different occasions. If its a total solar eclipse, it means that the Moon is nearer to its Perigee ( closest point ) and if its an annular eclipse , it means that the moon is nearer to is Apogee ( farthest point ). Another factor which contributes to this geometry is the distance between the Earth and Sun at the the time of the eclipse.
The Orbit of Moon is tilted at an angle of 5° and this is the exact reason why we don’t get to see a solar eclipse every month. It would have been great though if we could have seen a solar eclipse every month.
In any given year, one can see two solar eclipses, but they might not be total solar eclipses. Most of the time, due to the tilt of the Moon’s orbit, it missed the alignment by a tiny fraction hence causing no eclipse or a partial eclipse.
Similarly, you might see a partial eclipse even when the rest of the crowd is seeing a total eclipse . Geographical location plays a very important role in chasing ecllipses. If you are in the Umbral Shadow zone you will definitely see the eclipse whereas the Penumbral Shadow region guarantees a partial eclipse only. Astronomers spend months at times in planning eclipses which are to occur years later.
So basically, a partial eclipse happens because of either of these two reasons
- You are not it the spot where the total eclipse is happening
- The Earth-Sun-Moon alignment is not precise enough for a total eclipse
Occasionally a very rare eclipse happens when the size of the disc of the moon and sun appears exactly the same. This type of eclipse is called a beaded annular eclipse.
One can see a garland like appearance of the Sun as valleys and craters allow tiny bits of sunlight escape the obscuration caused by the Moon. If you get to see one these, you will be really lucky would be seeing it most probably during a hybrid solar eclipse, when due to the curvature of the earth and the elliptical path of the moon, the distance between the observer and the moon changes enough for the moon to transition from an Annular to a Total solar eclipse.
In 2016, there are several Lunar events which are going to take place and the bonanza starts with a Total Solar eclipse belting the South Asian Islands of Indonesia while the maximum eclipse is going to occur on water of the Pacific Ocean. A maximum eclipse point, the eclipse crosses the 4 minute mark making this a spectacular opportunity for professional and amateur astronomers to see the solar corona and other solar features like prominences and chromosphere which are otherwise impossible to see without a solar filter.
If you are in India and want to see the glimpse of at least a partial eclipse, your best bet is to go towards North-East India. The closest spot is Varanasi ( Uttar Pradesh) but if you can be as far as Guwahati ( Assam ), your chances of seeing the eclipse get far better.
The Sun is going to be eclipsed even before it rises and the view is going to be spectacular when it rises according to your position. Your best bet would to be at the highest point possible in the area to get a clear view of the horizon.
The eclipse animation shows the various spots on earth where the eclipse can be seen