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Starts With A Bang

Five Eclipse Phenomena You’ll See Better With A Camera Than With Your Eyes

A wide-angle, long-exposure view of a total solar eclipse can reveal incredible features that are otherwise invisible during the day. These features include background stars, plasma loops on the Sun, the solar corona extending a great distance, and much more. The 2009 eclipse also showcases the Moon’s surface illuminated by Earthshine. Image credit: Miloslav Druckmuller, Peter Aniol.

Totality is a time to look at the eclipsed Sun, enjoy, and marvel at it. But for photographers, there’s even more in store.


“Having totality means being capable of following ‘what is,’ because ‘what is’ is constantly moving and constantly changing. If one is anchored to a particular view, one will not be able to follow the swift movement of ‘what is.’” –Bruce Lee

During a total solar eclipse, the Moon’s shadow falls on Earth, creating darkness during the day.

An image of the 1999 total solar eclipse as seen from space, with the Moon’s shadow clearly visible on the surface of the Earth. Image credit: Mir / RSA, 1999.

Thanks to the incredible, unique eclipse photography of Miloslav Druckmüller, here are five sights you won’t want to miss.

Plasma loops which rise above the photosphere of the Sun can be seen, eventually linking up with the corona and extending far into space. The 2015 eclipse was an excellent showcase of this effect. Image credit: Miloslav Druckmuller, Shadia Habbal, Peter Aniol, Pavel Starha.

1.) Plasma loops above the Sun’s photosphere.

The pink ‘fringe’ around the circumference of the Moon is actually due to plasma loops rising above the photosphere of the Sun. This hot plasma links up with the corona, eventually, and extends great distances into space. Image credit: Upice observatory, Petr Horalek, Jan Sladecek, Miloslav Druckmuller.

The Sun’s magnetic field diverts hot plasma along loops thousands of kilometers high, which become visible during totality.

During the 2005 total eclipse, the Sun was very close to solar minimum, like it is now. The north and south magnetic poles of the Sun, during this time, will likely trace out ‘rays’ clearly identifying them, similar to what we might see on August 21, 2017. Image credit: Fred Espenak, Miloslav Druckmuller.

2.) The Sun’s corona.

Immediately following the first moments of totality, the sky will darken and the Sun’s corona will appear. While it appears perhaps twice as large as the Sun to human eyes, in reality it extends for millions of kilometers, many times the radius of the Sun, into space. Image credit: © 2008 Hana Druckmüllerová.

Partially visible to the naked eye, this hot, X-ray-emitting matter extends over 5,000,000 kilometers into space.

A total of 66 images taken during the 2008 solar eclipse were stacked and combined to reveal the presence of 137 stars, visible during the few minutes of totality. Only a very small number of stars will be visible without the aid of binoculars, a telescope, or photography. Image credit: Hana Druckmullerova, Upice Observatory, Miloslav Druckmuller.

3.) Stars, near the Sun, during the day.

Actual negative and positive photographic plates from the 1919 Eddington Expedition, showing (with lines) the positions of the identified stars that would be used for measuring the light deflection due to the Sun’s presence. This was the first direct, experimental confirmation of Einstein’s general relativity. Image credit: Eddington et al., 1919.

While longer eclipses are better, a stack of time-lapse photos can reveal stars — which proved relativity — easily during the 2017 eclipse.

32 images of the 2016 eclipse were combined in order to produce this composite, showcasing not only the corona and the plasma loops above the photosphere with stars in the background, but also with the Moon’s surface illuminated by Earthshine. Image credit: Don Sabers, Ron Royer, Miloslav Druckmuller.

4.) The face of the new Moon.

With the reflected light from Earth striking the Moon’s surface, a long-exposure photograph is able to reveal the faintly illuminated features on the Moon. Images were taken in 2010 from Tatakoto Atoll in French Polynesia. Image credit: Miloslav Druckmuller, Martin Dietzel, Shadia Habbal, Vojtech Rusin.

The “dark disk” covering the Sun is the new Moon, but reflected light from Earth lands on the lunar surface, rendering it visible with long enough exposures.

The shorter the duration of a total solar eclipse, the smaller the region of sky darkened by the Moon’s shadow appears. In 2013, totality lasted a mere 19 seconds, producing this small shadow visible here. Image credit: Upice observatory, Petr Horalek.

5.) Skyward views of the Moon’s shadow.

A panorama of the 2012 solar eclipse shows a region of darkness in the night sky, surrounded by the bright region where the Moon’s eclipse shadow does not land. Image credit: Jan Sladecek; Miloslav Druckmuller.

The entire sky won’t become dark-as-night; only the portion within the Moon’s shifting shadow.

A simulated picture of the sky as it might appear during the upcoming total solar eclipse during August 21st. Regulus (next to the Sun), Mars (top) and Mercury (bottom) may all be visible with clear skies and favorable conditions. Image credit: E. Siegel / Stellarium.

Farther away from the Sun, you can view daytime planets, like Mars and Mercury.

Beautiful iridescent clouds, Baily’s beads and the diamond ring just after the third contact is surely a superb once-in-life experience. Even clouds may have a silver lining. Image credit: Cornelia Firsching, Miloslav Druckmuller.

Finally, if you’re plagued by clouds, look for iridescence just as totality ends.

This image was made from 98 images obtained by means of four different cameras. These 98 images were chosen from totally 275 images in order to minimize the influence of rolling clouds. Images taken during the 2010 solar eclipse. Image credit: Miloslav Druckmuller, Martin Dietzel, Shadia Habbal, Vojtech Rusin.

Many breathtaking sights will be visible, but binoculars, telescopes, or photography reveal spectacularly more.


Mostly Mute Monday tells the astronomical story of an object, process or phenomenon in pictures, visuals, and no more than 200 words. All images used with permission of Miloslav Druckmüller.

Ethan Siegel is the author of Beyond the Galaxy and Treknology. You can pre-order his third book, currently in development: the Encyclopaedia Cosmologica.

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