Africa gets ready for another sun and moon show



Africa gets ready for another sun and moon show
Graham Jones | Mail & Guardian Africa | 17 February 2017

Six months after Africa played host to a spectacular eclipse of the sun, it will happen all over again. Shortly before sunset on February 26th, an annular solar eclipse – where the sun forms a ‘ring of fire’ around the moon – will be visible in parts of Angola, Zambia and the DRC. Across the rest of continent, most places will experience a partial eclipse.

Solar eclipses occur when the moon passes between the earth and the sun. But there’s a catch: the moon’s orbit around the earth is slightly tilted, which means it is rare for the earth, moon and sun to line up exactly. Although the most recent African eclipse occurred on September 1st last year, when an annular eclipse swept across the continent from Gabon to Madagascar, the next annular eclipse in Africa won’t be until 2020; for the next total eclipse in Africa (where the moon covers the sun completely) we’ll have to wait until 2027.

In the very late afternoon of February 26th, a partial solar eclipse will be visible across western, central and southern Africa. In Lagos, 24% of the sun’s disk will be covered by the moon, starting at 4:46 pm, with the maximum eclipse at 5:41 pm (all the times given in this article are local times). In Kinshasa it will be a 69% partial eclipse (4:31 pm start, 5:36 pm maximum); in Johannesburg it will be 52% (5:14 pm start, 6:13 pm maximum).

The ring of fire will be visible along a narrow ‘path of annularity’ running from the small town of Bentiaba on the coast of Angola, through the northern tip of Zambia’s North-Western Province, to the city of Likasi in the south-east of the DRC. The dramatic effect is caused by the moon being too far away from the earth to cover the sun completely, so the dark moon becomes surrounded by a thin ring of the sun’s bright disk. (The world annular means ‘ring-shaped’.)

The largest city on the path of annularity is Huambo, in Angola’s central highlands. Here the ring of fire will begin at 5:28 pm, and last up to half a minute in the southern part of the city. (The city lies right on the northern limit of the path of annularity, so the ring of fire is not visible in the northernmost areas of the city.)

Huambo is the focal point of a series of educational events being planned for the eclipse. The Angolan Ministry of Higher Education, and the Provincial Government of Huambo, have given their backing to a Global Communication and Science project taking place at the Instituto Superior de Ciências de Educação do Huambo (ISCED). The planned activities include a public workshop and seminar at ISCED, classroom activities for schools, and a live broadcast of the eclipse in partnership with the astronomy network Slooh.

The events in Huambo are being sponsored by, the world’s largest time-zone related website, and a leading supplier of eclipse information. “We are very excited about this collaboration,” commented Steffen Thorsen, the chief executive officer of the website’s parent company. “People everywhere will be able to follow the annular eclipse in Angola as it happens, and we hope to inspire people of all ages about the wonders of eclipses.”

The project is also being backed by Angola NCR, the leader in Angola’s IT sector, who are sponsoring solar eclipse glasses being given to members of the local community. “The February 26th eclipse creates an exciting and important educational opportunity,” said Eduardo Lobato, NCR’s operations manager. “Over the past year we’ve been focussed on strengthening our relationship with universities and students, in an effort to promote the values of innovation and technology, and support developments in Angola’s education sector.”

In the map at the top of this article, the path of annularity is shown as a thin red line. The other shadings indicate the areas where a partial eclipse is visible: dark orange – more than 90%; medium orange – up to 90%; light orange – up to 40%. No eclipse is visible in the white areas. You can obtain full details for your town or city here.

NEVER look at the sun with the naked eye. Even if the sun is 99% covered by the moon, the remaining sunlight is extremely bright and can cause permanent damage to the eye. Click here for information on how to protect your while eyes watching the sun.