The Eclipse Progresses

As the partial phase progresses, you are moving deeper and deeper into the Moon's penumbra, as sketched in Figure 2-3. In Figure 24 we saw the lunar shadow cast on a largely cloud-covered globe in August 1999, as photographed from a low orbit above the atmosphere. Better images, of the annular eclipse in February 1999, are shown in Figures 15-2 and 15-3. These show the shadow over Western Australia, the coastline of that country plus parts of Southeast Asia being obvious.

In the last 10 to 20 minutes prior to totality the ambient light diminishes considerably. Not only its intensity alters, but also its tone, obtaining an eerie quality and a grayish hue, almost metallic in guise. As Percy Bysshe Shelley wrote:

FIGURE 15-2. An annular eclipse swept across Australia on February 16, 1999. This image, obtained by the Japanese high-orbiting GMS-5 satellite, shows the globe soon after the shadow entered Western Australia, leaving that area much darker than the similarly cloud-free regions of Southeast Asia visible further to the north.

FIGURE 15-2. An annular eclipse swept across Australia on February 16, 1999. This image, obtained by the Japanese high-orbiting GMS-5 satellite, shows the globe soon after the shadow entered Western Australia, leaving that area much darker than the similarly cloud-free regions of Southeast Asia visible further to the north.

With hue like that which some great painter dips His pencil in the gloom of earthquake and eclipse.

Some people report that a green coloration appears, but that is generally because they have looked too closely at the Sun itself (recall the quote from Shakespeare's Taming of the Shrew in Chapter 12). Way back in 1185 an eclipse viewed in Russia produced this report: "On the first day of the month of May, during the ringing of the bells for the evening service, there was a sign in the Sun. It became very dark for an hour or longer and the stars were visible

FIGURE 15-3. This image obtained with the NOAA-14 meteorological satellite shows the lunar shadow over Western Australia in more detail. Although there were banks of cloud to the far north and south, the many observers concentrated just below the town of Geraldton, where the eclipse path met the coast, had clear skies. This picture was obtained a few minutes later, when the whole shadow was over land.

FIGURE 15-3. This image obtained with the NOAA-14 meteorological satellite shows the lunar shadow over Western Australia in more detail. Although there were banks of cloud to the far north and south, the many observers concentrated just below the town of Geraldton, where the eclipse path met the coast, had clear skies. This picture was obtained a few minutes later, when the whole shadow was over land.

and to men everything seemed as if it were green. The Sun became like a crescent of the new moon and from its horns a glow like a roasting fire was coming forth." One must avoid affecting one's eyes in this way because it takes some minutes for them to recover and by then the totality will be over. Appropriate goggles will do the trick.

It is at this stage of gathering darkness that animals (and some humans) start to get confused. Birds land in the trees and go quiet, their anxiety being palpable. Conversely insects start to scrape and sing, as they do at dusk. Bats and nocturnal moths take to the wing, while butterflies settle and flowers begin to close their petals. Dogs may start to howl. Bees can get especially confused because they navigate by the polarization of the sky, and that depends on the angle of the Sun. Similarly, people may be psychologically affected in various ways, few being left unmoved by the experience of totality. That is very much an individual thing.

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