Moon takes a bite out of the Sun, as the colloquial saying goes, during the start of the year 2011. This year's first partial solar eclipse will be seen on Tuesday, in view from much of Europe, North Africa and central Asia. In addition, this week saw a lesser known meteor shower, the Quadrantid, dazzle the night sky on Jan. 3.
For north Africa and much of Europe the partial solar eclipse began at sunrise, though in central Russia, Kazakhstan, Mongolia and northwest China the spectacle occurs at sunset. It is the UK's first partial eclipse since 2008 and comes after the full eclipse of 1999.
Wintry skies darkened over Switzerland on Tuesday morning, but Romanians were treated to a pinkish ethereal light and Swedes to a beautiful sunrise, as a partial solar eclipse that began over the Mideast extended across much of Europe, reports Associated Press.
The eclipse was first seen Tuesday over Jerusalem, where the sun appeared to have taken a large bit out of its upper right section. Polish viewers were treated to live television coverage of the eclipse from the southern city of Krakow, where the shadow of the moon could be seen gradually blotting out the sun, according to the report.
As is always the case for solar eclipses, the public has been warned to take great care. Viewing the Sun's harsh light should only be done through protective equipment - proper solar glasses and solar telescopes, or through a pinhole projection system.
The penumbral shadow first touches Earth's surface in northern Algeria at 06:40:11 UT (01:40:11 EST). As the shadow travels east, Western Europe will be treated to a partial eclipse at sunrise.
The eclipse magnitude from European cities like Madrid, Paris, London, and Copenhagen will give early morning risers an excellent opportunity to photograph the sunrise eclipse with interesting foreground scenery.
Greatest eclipse occurs at 08:50:35 UT (03:50:35 EST) in northern Sweden where the eclipse in the horizon will have a magnitude of 0.858. At that time, the axis of the Moon's shadow will pass a mere 510 kilometers above Earth's surface.
Most of northern Africa, the Middle East and Central Asia also lie in the penumbra's path. The citizens of Cairo, Jerusalem, Istanbul, and Tehran all witness a large magnitude partial eclipse. The instant of greatest eclipse for solar eclipses occurs when the distance between the Moon's shadow axis and Earth's geocentre reaches a minimum.
A sunset eclipse will be visible from central Russia, Kazakhstan, Mongolia and northwest China. The partial eclipse ends when the penumbra leaves Earth at 11:00:54 UT (6:00:54 EST).
As seen from the Earth, a solar eclipse occurs when the Moon passes between the Sun and the Earth, and the Moon fully or partially covers the Sun as viewed from a location on Earth. This can only happen during a new moon, when the Sun and Moon are in conjunction as seen from Earth.
A partial eclipse occurs when the Sun and Moon are not exactly in line and the Moon only partially obscures the Sun. This phenomenon can usually be seen from a large part of the Earth outside of the track of an annular or total eclipse.
However, some eclipses can only be seen partial, because the umbra passes above the Earth's polar regions and never intersects the Earth's surface.
The Sun's distance from the Earth is about 390 times the Moon's distance, and the Sun's diameter is about 400 times the Moon's diameter. As these ratios are about the same, the Sun and the Moon as seen from Earth appear to be about the same size: about 0.5 degree of arc in angular measure.
Total Solar Eclipse
At least two, and up to five, solar eclipses occur each year; and not more than two can be total eclipses. Total solar eclipses are nevertheless rare at any particular location because totality exists only along a narrow path on the Earth's surface traced by the Moon's umbra.
The last total eclipse was the solar eclipse of July 11, 2010, while the next will be on November 13, 2012. It has been estimated that total eclipse recur at any given place only once every 370 years, on average, while lasting only for a few minutes at that location, as the Moon's umbra moves eastward at over 1700 kilometers/hour.
Totality can never last more than 7 minutes 31 seconds, and is usually much shorter: during each millennium there are typically fewer than 10 total solar eclipses exceeding 7 minutes. The last time this happened was June 30, 1973 (7 minutes 3 seconds), while the next eclipse exceeding seven minutes in duration will not occur until June 25, 2150.
The longest total solar eclipse during the 8,000-year period from 3000 BC to 5000 AD will occur on July 16, 2186, when totality will last 7 minutes 29 seconds. For comparison, the longest eclipse of the 21st century occurred on July 22, 2009 and lasted 6 minutes 39 seconds.
List of 2011 Eclipses
During 2011, four partial solar and two total lunar (moon) eclipses will be observed in different parts of the world, according to National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA). The next solar eclipse will occur on June 1. The eclipse will begin at sunrise in Siberia and northern China. Another solar eclipse will occur on July 1, but this time the moon will cast its shadow on less then 0.1 perecent of the sun.
On November 25, a partial solar eclipse will occur, when the moon will cover a total of 90.4 percent of the sun's diameter, but the eclipse will be visible only from Antarctica and its surrounding seas.
On June 15, first total lunar eclipse will take place, which will be visible from India, the Middle East, Africa and southern Europe. People of the entire Eurasia region, as well as of Australia and the northwestern part of North America will have a chance to observe the second and the last total moon eclipse on December 10 this year.