Solar Eclipses Then and Now

21 July, 2009

Photo: McKay Savage

This sundial at the Jantar Mantar Observatory in Jaipur, India was built by the Maharaja Jai Singh II in 1730.

The curved stone at the back lets you read the time in AM and PM, and it is calibrated to the North Star, Polaris.

The Jantar Mantar sundial was used for marking the time and position of the astrologically important stars, planets and constellations and contains 14 major geometric instruments that map the time and location of the sun, stars and planets.

It was also used to predict eclipses.


Today, science has taken us to places we never imagined possible.

We can calculate key moments of the 22 July, 2009 eclipse down to the millisecond. We know this eclipse will be the longest total eclipse of the 21st century, and that the next longer total eclipse will happen only on June 13, 2132.

We can predict and chart the path of totality of the eclipse accurately.

We can predict the percentage of obscuration of the eclipse in over a hundred towns and cities. In English: create a cool animation to show what view of the eclipse each city will get to see.

In this day and age, we can even view the path of totality, down close or way up high, with the aid of Google Map.

And then, to top it all off, when the total eclipse happens along that narrow corridor of northern India, central China and the Pacific Ocean, we can bring it to the majority of the world who are not able to see it via live feed on the Internet. On

‘Nuff said.

22 Jul 2009 Solar Eclipse Animation Shanghai_China_2009Jul21_anim


That’s us somewhere down there. We’ll be on Yangshan Island outside Shanghai, capturing the eclipse to feed back LIVE.

Watch it on, it’ll start at 08:50AM Shanghai/Singapore time , which is 00:50 UTC/GMT.


Shanghai in the dark

20 July, 2009

Shanghai in the dark

No, no. It’s not the total solar eclipse yet. Just Shanghai by night.

But it’s less than 24 hours away!

When in Shanghai, do as the Shanghainese do

20 July, 2009

And that’s to get a pair of those funky solar filter glasses to catch the Eclipse of the Century tomorrow!

The Sun Stoppers are in Shanghai

20 July, 2009

We have arrived in China, land of the longest eclipse of the 21st century on Wednesday,22 July 2009. First things first — tweet. (Follow our tweets.)


We arrived at dawn. After some hiccups with our cab — it overheated; Shanghai is in the middle of a hot, hot summer, btw — we made it to our destination, equipment, luggage and all, and set up base immediately.

We had a couple of meetings and started preparations, all for our eclipse team to beam the eclipse back LIVE on come Wednesday morning.

Everyone’s talking about the eclipse, by the way. It’s on television, in the newspapers. Drivers are receiving warnings to prepare them for the temporary darkness in two days’ time.

The air’s a little hazy. The weather’s a bit cloudy. It’s really hot and humid. But everyone, the entire city, is hoping it’ll all clear up for Wednesday morning.

DayEclipse MeetingFilter glassesFilter glassesTestDusk

That’s it for now. We’ve got more work to do. Then a good night’s rest before we set off bright and early for another long day of eclipse activity.

And then off to Yangshan Island, which is our location for viewing the century’s most dramatic eclipse. Woot!

DIY solar filters for camera

20 July, 2009

From our earlier post on the topic, here is how we made our solar filter holders for some of our cameras.

Plastic bottleFirst we got plastic soya sauce or pepper bottles from the local sundries store. The kind you find in kopitiams or the local coffee shops.

They’re made of soft plastic, so they’re easy to cut up with scissors.

To start, we cut a hole in the bottom, and cut off the edge of the top as well.

For our filters, we exposed a roll of black-and-white film to light and got that developed it. The silver nitrates in the film will serve as the protective filter for the camera.

Cut two layers of the developed film together and glue them down to the plastic holder.

And voilà — protective filters for your camera.

Secure this to your camera with tape. Works great for digital cameras and handicams.


Legends of the Eclipse — Japan

20 July, 2009

All good epics come in a trilogy. We had action, love and now, the most timeless of the classical themes, drama.

Nothing plunges your world into total darkness like a spat between siblings.

Show me the eclipse!

20 July, 2009

Wanna see an eclipse? Show me the money.

The 11 August 1999 solar eclipse that fell across Europe left such an impression on the people of Romania, they decided to print it on their money, the Romanian Leu.

How cool is that?

Romanian Leu (Obverse)

Romanian Leu (Reverse)

Weather up in Shanghai is a little hazy. Hope it clears up in time for a glorious eclipse on Wednesday morning.

That’s just 2 more days left!

Then Eclipse vs Now Eclipse

20 July, 2009

Here’s a picture of the total solar eclipse of 1900 taken from USA.

1900 Eclipse, Photo: Thomas Smillie

To capture this image, scientists loaded several railroad cars with scientific equipment and travelled from Washington D.C. to Wadesboro in North Carolina, where they had calculated would be the best location in North America for viewing this total solar eclipse.

Called the Smithsonian Solar Eclipse Expedition, they hoped to record photographic proof of the solar corona for further study.

The team included Smithsonian photographer Thomas Smillie, who headed up the missions photographic component. Smillie rigged cameras to seven telescopes and successfully made eight glass-plate negatives, ranging in size from eleven by fourteen inches to thirty by thirty inches. At the time, Smillies work was considered an amazing photographic and scientific achievement.

Today, besides powerful radars on ground, we have satellites orbiting in space specially to study the Sun, such as SOHO (SOlar and Heliospehric Observatory) and STEREO (Solar TErrestrial Relations Observatory), just to name a couple.

As for capturing eclipses, besides the sophisticated equipment of professional astrophotographers, solar eclipse buffs and media crew, we have digital cameras and handicams.

Thousands and thousands of them will surely be pointed to the sky come Wednesday morning.

"Oooh" Photo: Carlos Fernández

Legends of the Eclipse — Tahiti

19 July, 2009

Legends of eclipses are filled with tales of creatures of all manners eating the Sun. Or deities fighting one another. Or biting the Sun. Or stealing the Sun. Or…

Tsk, tsk. So much violence. They should take the example of Tahiti. On this Pacific Island paradise, the legends of the eclipse take on a different direction. Nudge nudge wink wink that’s all we’re gonna say.

The Eclipse Ring of Fire

19 July, 2009

In eclipse-speak, a Ring of Fire is the view of an annular eclipse of the Sun by the Moon.

(An annular eclipse occurs instead of a total eclipse when the Moon is on the far part of its elliptical orbit around the Earth. It results in the apparent size of the Moon being visibly smaller than the apparent size of the Sun.)

The name is kinda self-explanatory, but its effect is incredibly beautiful: at the peak of the eclipse, the dark Moon will appear to be surrounded by the bright Sun, creating a brilliant, burning “ring”.

This picture of a magnificent “ring of fire” was photographed in January 1992 by Dennis L Mammana and appeared on Astronomy Picture of the Day in January 2009.

Photo: Dennis L Mammana

Wednesday’s eclipse will be a total eclipse. The next annular eclipse will take place in January 2012.