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November 13th: 2012 – An Astronomical Trifecta


Date: November 13, 2011

Title: 2012 – An Astronomical Trifecta

Podcaster: Michael Zeiler

Link: eclipse-maps.com

Description: In the year 2012, the world will experience three major astronomical events; an annular eclipse of the sun, the rare transit of Venus, and a total solar eclipse. This podcast will take you around the world scouting the best locations to witness each of these events.

Bio: By day, Michael Zeiler is a GIS professional and writes books and documentation. By night, he applies his professional skills to producing detailed, accurate, and expressive maps of solar eclipses. Michael shares his collection of historical eclipse maps and newly published eclipse maps on his website, eclipse-maps.com.

Sponsor: This episode of “365 Days of Astronomy” has been sponsored by Michael Zeiler, curator of eclipse-maps.com which is your guide to the world of modern and historical maps of eclipses and other astronomical phenomena.


In this coming year of 2012, the world will witness three remarkable astronomical events; an annular solar eclipse, the rare transit of Venus, and a total solar eclipse.

My name is Michael Zeiler and I curate a website on historical and new maps of solar eclipses and transits called eclipse-maps.com. I collect and study old eclipse maps and publish new eclipse maps with what I learn from the past masters.

In today’s podcast, I will take you on a journey around the world to scout locations for the best views of the 2012 eclipses and the transit of Venus. To guide you along this journey, I’d like to encourage you to visit my website, eclipse-maps.com, and view the maps that show global and local perspectives of these three events. When you go to eclipse-maps.com, you’ll find a summary list of upcoming eclipses and the transit in the right column. You can click on each small map to view it in detail, or you can visit the map galleries that contain dozens of detailed maps for the two eclipses and the transit of Venus.

I will discuss the optimum locations for observing the eclipses and transit with consideration to the position of the sun in the sky and the weather prospects for candidate locations. As I discuss weather, I will summarize the analysis of a professional meteorologist, Jay Anderson, who has decades of experience predicting the weather for the many solar eclipses that he has personally observed. You can find a link to Jay’s eclipse weather website on the map galleries for the 2012 annular and solar eclipses.

On May 20, 2012, an annular solar eclipse will pass over China and Japan and then sweep across the Pacific, touching the Oregon/California border, and ending at sunset over Texas. An annular solar eclipse occurs when the Moon’s apparent disk is slightly smaller then the Sun’s disk in the sky. Hence, the sun has an appearance of a ring at greatest eclipse.

One of the most dramatic views of an annular eclipse happens at sunset and sunrise. This is an otherworldly scene not to be missed. I attempted to view an annular solar eclipse at sunset in 1994 on Catalina Island, but was thwarted by a marine cloud layer. My experience underlines the fact that while an annular eclipse is most dramatic at sunset, it is also a high-risk venture because clouds many miles away can obscure the eclipse.

The May 20 annular eclipse begins at sunrise over the southernmost tip of mainland China and Hainan Island. From that point, the eclipse arcs over much of the south-eastern coast of China and southern Japan. The eclipse visits a number of major cities including Guangzhou, Shenzhen, Hong Kong, Taipei, Osaka, and Tokyo. Despite the favorable eclipse track for millions of Asian eclipse observers, this region is in the midst of a cloudy monsoon season during May.

After racing across the northern Pacific, the annular eclipse touches down on the Pacific coast and crosses Oregon, California, Nevada, Utah, Arizona, a corner of Colorado, New Mexico, and ends at sunset in Texas. The weather prospects are much better in the western United States in May compared with Asia. This will be an easy eclipse for anyone in the western United States who is prepared to drive to a location with good weather prospects and who is ready to use the extensive interstate highway system in case of local cloud cover.

As I mentioned, an annular eclipse can be most dramatic right on the horizon and the favored location for this view will be to the southeast of Lubbock, Texas.

Next, the world will view a rare transit of Venus on June 5th and 6th, 2012. Unlike solar eclipses where you want to be within the narrow path for the best view, a transit can be well viewed from anywhere on the side of the globe in which it is daytime during at least part of the transit. Since the transit lasts for about 4 hours and 40 minutes, most of the world’s population can see at least part of the transit of Venus.

These areas will see all of the transit of Venus: eastern Australia, New Zealand, eastern Asia, Siberia, Alaska, and northwest Canada. All of North America and northwestern South America will see the beginning of transit in the afternoon until sunset. Southern and western Asia, eastern Africa, the Middle East, and most of Europe will see the transit from sunrise to the end of transit in the morning. Persons in Iceland will have a unique view: the transit will begin in the afternoon, the sun will briefly set, and at sunrise, the transit will still be in progress.

If you were to travel anywhere in the world to find the best overall weather prospects to see all of the transit, meteorologist Jay Anderson estimates that region will be northern Australia. Another choice location for many transit tourists will be the Hawaiian Islands, which will see all of the transit plus the dramatic end of transit at sunset. Imagine the view from the top of Mauna Kea surrounded by many of the greatest telescopes of the world!

If you can, make every effort to see this transit of Venus, because if you miss it, your next chance will be in the year 2117. Good luck with that!

Finally, the greatest show on Earth, a total solar eclipse. If you have never been directly in the shadow of the Moon, you must add this to your bucket list. You’ve seen many photographs of a total solar eclipse, but the in-person view is far more spectacular and is guaranteed to be a peak moment in your life.

The next total solar eclipse is on November 13th and 14th, 2012. The eclipse begins at sunrise at Arnhem Land, a northern region of Australia with many aboriginal communities. After passing the Gulf of Carpentaria, the path of the eclipse slices through the Cape York region of northern Queensland, Australia. Most eclipse tourists will be clustered on the beaches just north of the city of Cairns.

The weather prospects in this area are mixed. The popular conception of Australia is that of widespread sunny skies, but the Cairns area is in a tropical zone with high humidity. Serious eclipse chasers will study the weather and decide within the last day whether to stay on the populated tropical coast or drive towards the interior which is much drier.

After the total solar eclipse departs the Great Barrier Reef, it will make no further landfall across a sweep of nearly the entire South Pacific. Several cruise ships, though, will head towards the central line of eclipse east of Australia, south of Caledonia, and north of New Zealand.

Once you’ve seen your first total solar eclipse, your first question will be “When’s the next one?” In the coming years, there will be total solar eclipses in Africa in 2013, the far northern Atlantic and Arctic in 2015, Indonesia in 2016, and the United States in 2017. You can find maps for these eclipses at my website, eclipse-maps.com.

Thank you and I hope to see you under the shadow of the Moon!

End of podcast:

365 Days of Astronomy
The 365 Days of Astronomy Podcast is produced by the Astrosphere New Media Association. Audio post-production by Preston Gibson. Bandwidth donated by libsyn.com and wizzard media. Web design by Clockwork Active Media Systems. You may reproduce and distribute this audio for non-commercial purposes. Please consider supporting the podcast with a few dollars (or Euros!). Visit us on the web at 365DaysOfAstronomy.org or email us at info@365DaysOfAstronomy.org. Until tomorrow…goodbye.

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