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China Total Solar Eclipse Tour 2009
– Longest Total Solar Eclipse of Our Lifetime –
(2009 July 19 – August 6)
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A SUMMARY OF THE 2009 JULY 22 ECLIPSE

The Year 2009 Brings the Longest Duration Total Solar Eclipse in Your Lifetime.
This Eclipse also Provides an Excuse to Visit Ancient and Exotic China
During the International Year of Astronomy


Introduction Eclipse
Path
Maximum
Duration
The Saros Weather &
Eclipse Site
The Eclipse &
Eclipse Sky
References


Eclipse Movie
Total Eclipse of the Sun (Movie Cred. H.L. Cohen)

On 2009 July 22 a most wonderful and singular event will occur for those willing to undertake a journey to distant lands once considered by Europeans as the mysterious east — the longest duration total solar eclipse that anyone now alive can witness (6m39s in the Pacific Ocean). This is the longest in nearly twenty years and not to be exceeded until 2132.

This eclipse also comes during an auspicious time for astronomy — The International Year of Astronomy 2009 (IYA2009) as declared by the International Astronomical Union (IAU) and affirmed by a United Nations General Assembly proclamation (2007 December).


If not sure why you should see a total solar eclipse or want to know more about them:

Although no part of the great 2009 eclipse will be visible from the continental United States, its eclipse path is easily accessible and provides exceptional opportunities to visit and discover the hidden secrets of the People's Republic of China.

Eclipse Path

Fig. 1. Total Eclipse of 2009 July 22. Path of totality begins in eastern India and ends over 2,000 mi south of Hawaii. Greatest eclipse duration is 6m39s, longest of the 21st Century but is still nearly 6m in eastern China. Curved lines adjacent to path of total eclipse show regions of decreasing partial eclipse with eclipse magnitudes from 80% to 0%. Click diagram to enlarge. (Cred. Diagram adapted from Fred Espenak, NASA's GSFC.)

To observe the 2009 event as a total eclipse, one must locate within a long total eclipse corridor that traverses nearly half the Earth's surface (more than 9,000 mi) but is never more than about 160 miles wide (Fig. 1). Even then, one must be near the central path line ("curve of central eclipse") at the point of maximum duration — situated out in the wide Pacific Ocean — to achieve fullest duration. Nevertheless, one can still achieve a maximum duration of nearly six minutes in accessible regions of eastern Asia near or on the east China coast.

In addition, a partial eclipse will also be seen over a much larger area extending north to the polar regions of Asia and south into the East Indies. None of the eclipse is visible from the United States except as a slight partial eclipse during late afternoon in the Hawaiian Islands where the Moon will obscure about 12% of the solar diameter (called the eclipse magnitude — the fraction of the Sun's diameter covered by the Moon at moment of greatest eclipse). See Figure 1 for regions of partial eclipse and Figure 2 (below) for an animation of the eclipse path.

The 2009 July total eclipse path first begins early morning on the west cost of the Indian subcontinent north of Bombay before crossing India's midsection. Unfortunately here, monsoon rains will likely dampen views of this extraordinary event. After moving eastward through northern Bangladesh, the path crosses the vast southeastern regions of the People's Republic of China where dramatic mountains often alternate with broad, lush green valleys. Monsoons too, oscillating frontal bands and potential smog may reduce chances of observing this eclipse. However, China still offers promising prospects of seeing this long eclipse and the opportunity to plan a trip to see the mystery of China.

After exiting the China mainland through populous Shanghai, the total eclipse path enters the Pacific Ocean south of Japan. Here the Moon's shadow moves quickly through enchanting and sometimes battle scarred tropical islands including sacred Iwo Jima more than 700 miles south of Tokyo. In waters about 200 miles further to the southeast, totality reaches maximum duration of not quite seven minutes. The Moon's shadow then heads into the huge expanse of the remote South Pacific Ocean where totality ends late in the day more than 2,000 miles south of the Hawaiian Islands.

With restricted access to many Pacific islands, as hallowed Iwo Jima, and the prospects of severe storms during the midst of typhoon season, China probably offers some of the best prospects for a successful eclipse trip while still having a long total eclipse duration.

Unfortunately, this longest eclipse of the 21st Century does come during summer weather that often brings cloudy skies and extreme heat and humidity. (See "The Weather" below.) Still, for veteran eclipse chasers, the prospect of standing in the Moon's shadow for more than five minutes far outweighs less than optimal weather conditions. With a careful choice of an observing location, one can still have a moderately good chance of experiencing the chilling and awesome phenomenon of totality.

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Animation of Eclipse Path

Animation of Eclipse Path

Fig. 2. Animation of the 2009 Total Solar Eclipse. The small black dot and large grayish area represent the umbral and penumbral shadows. The moving dark blue area shows nighttime areas. To see an animation of the umbral shadow over Asia, click this animation. (Animation Credits: Andrew Sinclair.)

The animation in Fig. 2 shows the path of the Moon's umbral and penumbral shadows during this solar eclipse. As the animation runs, the upper right corner shows the Universal Time or UT (essentially Greenish Civil Time, now also called Greenwich Mean Time). Lower right corner shows instantaneous duration of the total eclipse. (Maximum duration in the animation seems several seconds longer than expected.)

The penumbra appears as a large grayish region (over 4,000 mi or 6,400 km in diameter) that sweeps across the Earth from west to east. Everyone within the penumbra's path sees a partial eclipse of the Sun. Outside the path, no eclipse is visible.

The Moon's dark umbral shadow appears as a tiny black dot (about 160 miles or 260 km wide) at the center of the penumbra. Near the point of greatest eclipse the umbra moves across the Earth at a speed of about 850 mi/hr (about 1,360 km/hr). In eastern China the umbral speed is over 900 mi/h (about 1,500 km/h). Only those within the narrow umbral path see a total eclipse, which reaches maximum duration (6m39s) far out in the Pacific Ocean roughly 1,500 mi east of the China coast.

The moving dark blue area shows the nighttime areas of the Earth. From start to finish, the umbra takes approximately 3-1/2 hours to sweep across the Earth as it travels from the east coast of India to the South Pacific Ocean. These animations were written by Andrew Sinclair, who has formerly worked in the Space Geodesy Group and in The Nautical Almanac Office at the former Royal Greenwich Observatory.

Animation Over Asia: To see an animation of the eclipse over Asia, click the animation in Fig. 2. The dark spot in the second animation shows the area of visibility of the total eclipse at each time step. This animation is also by Andrew Sinclair. (Times are in UT.)

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The maximum duration of totality for a solar eclipse is about 7-1/2 minutes (nowadays 7m32s according to Belgiun astronomer Jean Meeus) and this is almost never achieved — usually totality lasts only a few minutes. Almost half are approximately three minutes or less. The longest duration of the 20th Century occurred over a half century ago, 1955 June 20 (7m08s). A seven minute duration will not happen until 2150 June (7m14s) while a total eclipse with a duration near maximum is nearly two centuries in the future. This will not happen until the remarkable 2186 July total eclipse (7m29s), the longest duration of totality during the years -2000 to +4000. Unfortunately, this long duration will take place about 400 mi (640 km) east of South America in the Atlantic Ocean, 500 mi (800 km) north of the equator.

Currently maximum total eclipse durations are declining with the 2009 July eclipse longest of the 21st Century. Not until 2078 will total eclipse durations begin to increase when Saros cycle 139 begins to bring eclipses of longer and longer durations. (See "The Saros" in next section.)

Thus, the total solar eclipse of 2009 gives us the longest duration of totality of the 21st century (6m39s). Since the duration varies along the path of totality, maximum duration will happen only for those near the central line at the point of greatest eclipse out in the Pacific Ocean.

Nevertheless, even areas near the east China coast will still see total eclipse durations of nearly six minutes and this is where our tour will locate.

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The 2009 July eclipse belongs to a series of now long eclipses that are members of an eclipse cycle called Saros 136. Eclipses occur in families. The Saros cycle is a period of about 6,585.3 days (18 years 11 days 8 hours). Two eclipses separated by one Saros cycle have similar geometry (similar duration, same time of year, etc.) although separated in longitude about one-third of Earth's rotation since the Saros cycle ends in approximately one-third of a day. The periodicity and recurrence of solar eclipses as governed by the Saros are useful for organizing eclipses into families. A typical Saros series lasts about 12 to 13 centuries and contains 70 or more eclipses. Eclipses in a given cycle typically start as partials and later become central with increasing and then decreasing durations, the longest durations occurring halfway through the period. Finally the cycle ends with partial solar eclipses more than one thousand years after the cycle first began.

Saros 136 brought us most of the long eclipses of the 20th century and will do so until late in the 21st century. Then eclipses of another cycle (Saros 139) will begin producing longer durations of totality, (The incredible 2186 eclipse of 7m29s duration belongs to this Saros.) The last long eclipse that brought more than six minutes of totality occurred 1991 June 11, the last occurring eclipse in Saros 136. Readers who witnessed totality from regions near Baja California Sur remember this incredible event and have been patiently waiting eighteen years for the next eclipse in Saros 136!

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Unlike the "Great 1991 Baja California Sur Eclipse" that came with the promise of good weather, finding viewing locations with high probabilities of success is much more daunting for the long 2009 eclipse than most others in recent memory. Much of this eclipse path occurs during midsummer in northern latitudes in regions of subtropical climate. Like Florida, weather in China during this time can be very uncertain. Here, average cloud cover usually varies between about 50-60% over most of the total eclipse path including the Pacific Ocean. (In India conditions are much worse with average cloud cover about 65-85%.) Nevertheless, some places have reasonable weather prospects, especially on or near the Shanghai coast (Fig. 3).

Cloud Cover

Fig. 3. Average Cloud Amount Along the Eclipse Path. Areas near the China east coast have some promising locations for viewing the eclipse. Click diagram to enlarge. (Cred. Jay Anderson.)

Although cloudy summer weather and smog in eastern Asia can interfere with viewing this eclipse, China offers promising locations and the opportunity to visit this still mysterious land. Still, everyone should know that this eclipse comes during the height of summer when temperatures and humidity may be overbearing and oppressive. (Floridians, however, should know how to deal with this!) Visitors will need to take proper precautions to ward off the energy-sapping heat and wet air.

Our exclusive 2009 eclipse tour to China will provide drinks, shade and an early breakfast at our eclipse location. To increase the probability of observing the eclipse, we will view from a site near the east China coast about 125 miles (200 km) southwest of Shanghai in Anji County, Zhejiang Province. Here, at the Tianhuangping Pumped Storage Power Station Reservoir, weather prospects are among the best possible along the total eclipse path—a location the Chinese Academy of Sciences considers one of the best viewing locations for this long eclipse (Fig. 3).

Here also the duration of totality still has an impressive length of nearly six minutes. (See "The Eclipse and Eclipse Sky" below.) Furthermore, the total eclipse occurs during midmorning before the day's heat builds and before summer storm clouds often form. In addition, China has worked hard to improve air quality and improve its infrastructure including roads and accommodations because of last year's 2008 Olympics.

(Also see note on "China's Climate and Weather" on our More Info Page)

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Eclipse Sky

Fig. 4. The Eclipse Sky During Totality. Map is drawn for locations near the China east coast. Venus, Mercury and the star Sirius are the three brightest planets and stars. Click diagram to enlarge. (Cred. H.L. Cohen.)

In eastern China the eclipse duration remains impressively long, 5m38s at our intended observing location 20 miles (32 km) south of the center line. Here, the partial phases of the eclipse will begin at approximately 8:21 a.m. local time. Totality will follow about 72 minutes later with mid-eclipse about 9:36 a.m. and the Sun a comfortable 54 degrees above the eastern horizon (Fig. 4). After totality, the partial phases will run their course and end before lunch about 10:58 in late morning. A morning eclipse is fortunate too since convective clouds often build later in the day.

See Table 1 below for a summary of eclipse times, durations and Sun's position for our intended location.

The eclipse backdrop will be the bright northern winter sky, usually hidden from view by the Sun's glare during summer months. Depending on sky brightness during totality, at least some bright winter stars should become visible along with a few bright planets. Brilliant Venus will shine nearly overhead (mag. -3.9*) along with the brightest nighttime star, Sirius, in the south southeast (mag. -1.4). An extra eclipse treat will be Mercury, which will be near greatest brilliancy (mag. -1.9) and just 9 degrees below (east) of the Sun.

*Note: The use of the word magnitude (abbrev. mag.) here refers to the magnitude scale, an astronomical scale of brightness. (When applied to solar eclipses, magnitude refers to the fraction of the Sun's diameter obscured.) See Glossary for more details.

Eclipse Event Check List See List of Eclipse Events for a check list of phenomena to look for during a solar eclipse

Table 1. Eclipse Location, Duration & Times *
Intended Observing Location  
    East China Zhejiang Province, Hyzhous City, Anji County
(abt. 20 mi or 32 km south of center line)
    Latitude   30º 27' N
    Longitude 119º 35' E
    Time Zone +8h (later than Greenwich or UT)
Info About Totality  
    Duration of Totality 5m 38s
    Width of Shadow 248 km (154 mi)
    Apparent Diameter of Moon to Sun 1.08
    Eclipse Magnitude 1.03 (fraction of Solar diameter hidden)
    Sun's Area Obscured 1.16 (fraction of Sun's area covered by Moon)
    Velocity of Shadow 0.42 km/sec (0.26 mi/sec)
Local Eclipse Times (approx.)
    Partial Eclipse Begins 08:21 a.m. (00:21 UT)
    Totality (Max. Eclipse) 09:36 a.m. (01:36 UT)
    Partial Eclipse Ends 10:58 a.m. (02:58 UT)
Location of Sun  
    When Partial Eclipse Begins Altitude 38º; Azimuth 87º
    At Totality Altitude 54º; Azimuth 97º
    When Partial Eclipse Ends


Altitude 71º; Azimuth 119º

*Local zone times are given in the table along with Universal Time (UT), which is 8h earlier. (Universal Time is essentially Greenwich Civil Time.) Thus, UT is 4 hours later than Eastern Daylight Time, 5 hours later than Central Daylight Time, etc.
(See World Standard Time Zone Map.)
Note: East China local time is UT + 8h. (No daylight time.)


Solar Filters: Guests will be given safe solar filters for non-optical use to allow viewing the partial phases of the eclipse. (No filters needed to view totality.) For more information see our page about Eye Safety.


If you still have doubts about touring China and the eclipse:


Attractions More Information: Overview, Attractions, Itinerary, Hotels, Eclipse, Escorts, Costs, Why Go?
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Page last updated March 27, 2009
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