'Deep eclipse' presents a rare chance

01:06, Nov 14 2012
tdn eclipse stand'
President of the NP astronomical Society Rod Austin

Taranaki people will not be seeing stars this morning, but there might be some odd lighting effects when a solar eclipse takes place to the north of New Zealand.

Astronomer Rodney Austin said Taranaki would see only a partial eclipse, where 81 per cent of the sun would be hidden by the moon, but it would be the deepest seen in the region since 1991.

"It's a very deep eclipse. We won't have another one this deep until we have a total eclipse go across Otago in 2028."

He said that, during a total eclipse, the sky would grow dark and the stars could be seen.

Today's event would not be deep enough for that to happen. "You're not going to notice it get any darker. At 81 per cent it's not quite deep enough to get any real lighting effects because your eyes compensate for it, but you will notice something odd about the lighting."


He said that, during a very deep eclipse, the light "gets a sort of steely look to it".

"It's the only way I can describe it, it's a most peculiar look."

The eclipse will begin at 9.21am in New Plymouth, and reach maximum contact at 10.29am before it ends at 11.44am.

Mr Austin said that, because the sun would be narrower in one direction, it could create an unusual effect on shadows.

"Shadows cast on objects can also look funny. If you hold up a piece of cardboard, the shadow one way will be quite sharp and the other way it will be quite blurry."

"When you look under a tree on a nice sunny day and you get all those nice little round circles of light all over the place, they're images of the sun cast by what are effectively pin-hole cameras between the leaves.

"During an eclipse of the sun they will all become nice deep crescents all over the ground underneath the tree."

An eclipse of this depth was quite rare, he said.

"It's just unfortunate it's occurred about three hours too early from our point of view. If it was three hours earlier it would have been right above us."

Mr Austin said the last total solar eclipse above Taranaki took place in 1748.

The next one will not occur until November 12, 2357.

"They're pretty rare in anyone's book. The next one is just two days shy of 345 years from now."

Mr Austin warned against watching the eclipse without proper equipment.

"Particularly when you've got an eclipse that goes very deep, the tendency is to look at the thing and, if you don't have the right filters, it can still damage your eyes, even with a total eclipse, just before and after totality will damage your eyes if you gaze at it."

He said the New Plymouth observatory would be open for people who wanted "to trundle up and learn to observe the eclipse safely without blinding themselves".

Taranaki Daily News