The moon, the earth’s shadow, and some clouds…

We are enormously grateful to the brilliant teams around the world who supported our live coverage of yesterday’s total lunar eclipse on timeanddate.com. Alas, it seemed like most of the night-time side of earth was covered in cloud… However, we obtained some truly spectacular images from timeanddate’s mobile observatory in Ouarzazate, Morocco, and the Griffith Observatory in Los Angeles, California.

Enormous thanks to Cleyciane Da Costa Maciel and the team at the European Space Agency office in Kourou, French Guiana; Theo Wellington and the fabulous folks at the Warner Park Nature Center in Nashville, Tennessee; and Diego García Lambas and his wonderful colleagues at the Instituto de Astronomía Téorico y Experimental (IATE) in Córdoba, Argentina.

The fascinating rhythm of the sun and the moon

Fascinating rhythm
You’ve got me on the go
Fascinating rhythm
I’m all a-quiver
Fascinating Rhythm (George & Ira Gershwin, 1924)


The motions of the sun and the moon across the sky will create a fascinating rhythm in 2019, producing five different kinds of eclipses. There will also be a rare-ish transit of Mercury.

The first new moon of the year (Sunday 6 January) will produce a partial solar eclipse across most of north-east Asia. Two weeks later, the first full moon of the year (Sunday 20/Monday 21 January) will produce a total lunar eclipse visible across North and South America, Europe and the western half of Africa. (In the US, this eclipse falls on the Sunday night of the Martin Luther King Jr holiday weekend, making it a prime-time event…)

Jumping forward six months — when the earth, moon and sun become aligned once again — the new moon of Monday 2 July will produce a total solar eclipse. Totality will be visible along a narrow corridor (about 150 km or 90 miles wide) that begins in the South Pacific and ends close to Buenos Aires in Argentina (map below). The following full moon on Tuesday 16/Wednesday 17 July will produce a partial lunar eclipse across every continent except North America.

2 July 2019 total solar eclipse (timeanddate.com)

Another six-month jump brings us to the year’s final eclipse: an annular solar eclipse on Thursday 26 December. An annular eclipse occurs when the moon is too far from the earth to cover the sun completely: the result is an annulus, which is the shape of a ring (picture below).

Image: Juan Carlos Casado

During the new moon of 26 December, this ‘ring of fire’ will be visible along a narrow path stretching from Saudi Arabia to Guam in the North Pacific (map below).

26 December 2019 annular solar eclipse (timeanddate.com)

One more thing: over the course of five-and-a-half hours on Monday 11 November, the planet Mercury will cross the face of the sun. Transits of Mercury are rare-ish events — they happen about 13 times a century — and can only be seen with a telescope equipped with a telescope solar filter.

I’ll be part of the team at timeanddate.com providing live coverage of the 20-21 January lunar eclipse, 2 July solar eclipse, and 11 November transit of Mercury.


IMPORTANT: NEVER look at the sun with the naked eye.

Getting ready for three Japanese eclipses in the next 18 months…

“OK, so if the earth is here…”

In 2019 Japan will experience two partial solar eclipses. The first comes at the start of the year, on the morning of Sunday 6 January 2019. The second comes at the end of year, on the afternoon of Thursday 26 December 2019. Six months after that, on 21 June 2020, Japan will witness its third partial eclipse within 18 months — but it will then have to wait ten years until the next one…

This week I gave a presentation about the eclipses at a study camp organised by Omikyodaisha, an amazingly inspiring high school in the city of Omihachiman. We had fun thinking about how big — and how far away — the moon and sun would be if the earth was 10 centimetres in diameter. We also asked ourselves: if the moon goes round the earth every 29.5 days, why isn’t there an eclipse every month…?

The school funded 200 pairs of eclipse glasses to give to its students. Thank you to Takeshi Taniguchi, Noriko Nishimura, and the fabulous students at Omikyodaisha for a hugely enjoyable session!


IMPORTANT: NEVER look at the sun with the naked eye.

Astronomy beyond sight

Our favourite astronomy professor Richard Gelderman (Western Kentucky University) and I have produced two stories for EarthSky about astronomers who are exploring the universe through hearing and touch.

In Listening to the patterns of the universe, Richard talks to Wanda Díaz Merced (International Astronomical Union) about using ‘sonification’ to find signals hidden in large data sets; in Astronomy beyond sight, Amelia Ortiz-Gil (University of Valencia) tells me how she uses tactile models to bring people into contact with the constellations, moon and planets.

The complicated relationship between science and sci-fi

How important is the science in science fiction? I talked to three big thinkers – physicist and philosopher David Deutsch, film-maker Olga Osorio, and scientist turned novelist Gianfranco D’Anna – for a piece in Physics World.

How to help people in Palu, Indonesia

In March 2016 the city of Palu gave an incredible welcome to people from across the world for the Indonesian total solar eclipse. Following last Friday’s earthquake and tsunami in Palu, The New York Times has published some guidance on how to help those affected.

On awareness and understanding of different cultures

Image: Takobou/Wikimedia Commons

The dynamic Keisuke Tabata, of Kobe Shinwa Women’s University, will be talking about our recent Japan-Indonesia-China-Vietnam project at the annual convention of the Japan Association for Educational Media Study in November. The convention is being held at Kagoshima University on the island of Kyushu.

Our project involved an online movie read-through with university and high-school students. It also featured a workshop on cultural differences, including a discussion of the Lewis Model of communication.

Image: Richard Lewis/CrossCulture

A paper will also be published in the Bulletin of the International Education Research Center at Kobe Shinwa Women’s University. Thank you to Keisuke Tabata and his wonderful students, Ritsuko Anzai (formerly at Amagasaki Kita High School), and the fabulous team at Tadulako University in Palu, Indonesia.

Sublime eclipse images on timeanddate.com

Once again, timeanddate.com put together an amazing global team to cover the lunar eclipse on Friday night/Saturday morning. Company CEO Steffen Thorsen provided sublime telescope images from Santorini in Greece; Matt Woods at the Perth Observatory, and Jerome Jooste at the Old Republic Observatory in Johannesburg, gave us absolutely stunning pictures from Australia and South Africa; and Anne Buckle, Coby Wijnands and the rest of the phenomenal team at timeanddate.com HQ in Stavanger, Norway, pulled everything together – including some gorgeous graphics – in spectacular fashion.

Below is a clip at the end of totality, where Anne and I talked about the turquoise band, and Christopher Columbus…

What can lunar eclipses do for science?

As part of the build-up to the July 27th/28th total lunar eclipse, Sky & Telescope have published an interview I did with Noah Petro, Project Scientist for NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter mission.

Longest lunar eclipse until 2123

We are entering an eclipse season…

The moon’s orbit around the earth is slightly tilted. This means that – for most new moons and full moons – the earth, moon and sun are not aligned, and there is no eclipse.

About every six months, however, the moon’s tilted orbit lines up with the earth’s orbit around the sun. This period lasts for 34 days or so, which means we always have two or three eclipses during this time. In this current eclipse season we have two solar eclipses – which happen at new moon – and one lunar eclipse – which happens at full moon.

The solar eclipses take place near the beginning and end of the season, when the earth, moon and sun are still not perfectly aligned. This means they are small, partial eclipses that are only visible from near the poles. They occur on July 13th and August 11th (maps below, from timeanddate.com).

Partial solar eclipse, July 13th 2018
Click here for full details

Partial solar eclipse, August 11th 2018
Click here for full details

The lunar eclipse, on the other hand, takes place bang in the middle of the season, when the moon, earth and sun are aligned precisely. This gives us a big, total eclipse. In fact, if we throw in the fact that it’s a micromoon (where the moon is slightly further away and moving more slowly than usual), and the earth is at aphelion (its furthest point from the sun, which means its shadow is larger), it will be the longest total lunar eclipse for the next 105 years…

The lunar eclipse takes place on the night of July 27th/28th, and will be visible across Europe, Africa, Asia, Australia and parts of South America (map below). We’ll once again be providing live coverage on timeanddate.com, with live images from Santorini (Greece), Johannesburg (South Africa) and Perth (Australia) – weather and gremlins permitting, of course ^_^

We are tremendously grateful to Matt Woods and the team at Perth Observatory, and Jerome Jooste and his colleagues at the Old Republic Observatory in Johannesburg.

Total lunar eclipse, July 27th/28th 2018
Click here for full details


Did you know (1)…?
During the total phase of the eclipse, the moon will turn a reddish colour as light is filtered and bent through the earth’s atmosphere.

Did you know (2)…?
On the night of July 27th, the moon will appear to be next-door to Mars in the night sky (image below, from EarthSky).

Image: EarthSky

Did you know (3)…?
On the same day, Mars will be at opposition, which is near its closest approach to the earth. In other words, the red planet will be shining brightly next-door to a red moon. So get reddy for a spectacular sight. (Sorry, I mean, get ready.)

Image: timeanddate.com