Did solar eclipses help kick-start human curiosity?

Astronomy magazine has published an article I wrote about the pump of curiosity.

For fun, we can ask two questions. First, are the kind of solar eclipses we experience on Earth rare within the universe? Second, have solar eclipses had any impact on the development of nature? In a forthcoming paper in Proceedings of the International Astronomical Union No. 367, I suggest the answer to both questions is maybe. And that raises a third question: What are the implications?

Anne “reaches out to over a million viewers worldwide”

My timeanddate.com colleague Anne Buckle has been profiled in the Norwegian newspaper Solabladet, talking about tomorrow’s annular solar eclipse across the northern hemisphere.

Image: Line Njaa Viste, Solabladet

Meanwhile, I’m quoted in Andrew Fazekas’s excellent piece about the eclipse in National Geographic.

The May-June 2021 eclipse season

EarthSky has re-printed our timeanddate.com article about the forthcoming eclipse season: a total lunar eclipse on May 26, and an annular solar eclipse on June 10.

Between the years 1600 and 2599, there are 2108 eclipse seasons. Of these, 126 seasons contain a pair of full eclipses: one total or annular solar eclipse, plus one total lunar eclipse. At timeanddate.com, we looked at the worldwide duration of each eclipse in these pairs. This is the length of time between the first and last moments the eclipse is visible from somewhere in the world, including partial and penumbral phases.

Sharing the sky

Back in February 2017, an annular solar eclipse swept across the southern hemisphere, and ended at sunset in central Africa. I was privileged to be with a fabulous team of educators at the Instituto Superior de Ciências de Educação do Huambo (ISCED) in Angola.

Recently, a teacher at ISCED, Eugênio Calei, contacted me about obtaining a telescope. I spoke to Zoe Chee at Astronomers Without Borders (AWB), a remarkable organisation that “builds and cultivates community through astronomy”.

After asking some excellent questions to learn more about ISCED’s needs, Zoe came up with a donated Orion SpaceProbe 130ST telescope that has never been used:

Orion SpaceProbe 130ST telescope donated to Astronomers Without Borders

AWB does astonishing things across the globe, such as sending 46,000 safety-checked and recycled eclipse glasses to low-income school districts and rural communities in South America for the December 2020 solar eclipse.

Thank you Zoe, and thank you AWB.

Eclipses: a pump of curiosity?

Even though the wiring of the human brain evolved in an exceptional way, if novelty had remained below a certain threshold, early humans may not have received a sufficient trigger to begin forming the concept of reasons.

My accepted manuscript for the Proceedings of the International Astronomical Union Symposium No. 367, 2021, is available under the journal’s Green Open Access policy.

Earth in a spin

The Earth … has been spinning unusually fast lately. 2020 included the 28 shortest days since 1960.

Graph showing the length of days in 2020.Image: timeanddate.com

Our timeanddate.com story on the Earth’s quickening rotation is generating a lot of interest, from the Daily Express to Live Science to USA Today.

Update (17 January): There’s also coverage of the story in Spanish-language media, including an interview with BBC Mundo.

Screenshot from BBC Mundo

Visualizing the music of the spheres

We have known for thousands of years that the sky is full of harmonies and rhythms. Pythagoras called it the “music of the spheres.”

As part of the build-up to next week’s great conjunction, Steffen Thorsen (CEO of timeanddate.com) and I have written a piece for Sky & Telescope on the pattern of closer-than-usual approaches between Jupiter and Saturn.

Our team of programmers, astronomers, and enthusiasts at timeanddate.com wanted to visualize the roughly 400-year rhythm of super-close conjunctions between Jupiter and Saturn. For fun, we created an algorithm to run through a mathematical model of Jupiter’s and Saturn’s movements over a 16,000-year period.

16,000 years of Jupiter-Saturn conjunctions

Image credits: Steffen Thorsen & Graham Jones, Sky & Telescope

Extraterrestrial intelligence and the Fermi paradox

The Milky Way and ESA's Gaia spacecraftThe Milky Way contains 100 billion stars. So where is everybody? (The spacecraft shown in this artist’s impression is one of ours: it’s ESA’s Gaia space observatory.)
Image credit: ESA/ATG medialab; background: ESO/S. Brunier

One of the highlights of IAUS 367 is Nikos Prantzos, from the Institut d’Astrophysique de Paris, on “the quest for extraterrestrial intelligence and the Fermi paradox”. He’ll be presenting a general overview of the topic, as well as an original analysis of the Fermi paradox in terms of the Drake formula — a framework for thinking about the number of technological civilizations within our galaxy.

Other highlights include Jay Pasachoff on “the science and the magnificence of observing total solar eclipses”, and Alex Young on “engaging the public through solar eclipses”.

IAUS 367 is a virtual symposium that was originally going to be held in San Carlos de Bariloche, Argentina. On 14 December a total solar eclipse will cross Chile and Argentina, about 125 km north of Bariloche.

timeanddate.com map of the total solar eclipse on 14 December 2020The (very narrow) dark red line shows the path of totality for the December 2020 solar eclipse. Areas covered by lighter shading will see a partial eclipse.
Image credit: timeanddate.com

We’re planning to broadcast the eclipse on timeanddate.com. (It will be the second part of an eclipse season double-header that began with our livestream of the penumbral lunar eclipse on 30 November.)