July 21, 2024

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Kuipers and the universe: a solar eclipse?  Feeling like an astronaut on Earth

Kuipers and the universe: a solar eclipse? Feeling like an astronaut on Earth

There are people who chase tornadoes, there are people who spot airplanes, and there are people who want to see as many rocket launches as possible. I personally “collect” solar eclipses. Sometimes I travel around the world to see one. Because only during a solar eclipse do I feel for a moment as if I am back in space.

“During a solar eclipse, I feel like I'm back in space.”

From the space station I saw the Earth as a big ball. The sun and moon rise and set sixteen times a day. It's hard to describe what you feel. Colleagues sometimes talk about a religious experience or something supernatural. I call it a “cosmic” feeling.

The moon makes a ring of light

I hope to experience it again next week. Monday to be exact, April 8th. Then the next total solar eclipse will be visible in large parts of Mexico, America and Canada. I'm in Fredericksburg, Texas. There, the moon passes in front of the sun exactly at 1:32 pm local time.

Tristan Savatier//Getty Images

During such a solar eclipse (eclipse) you first see a metallic glow around you. Then complete darkness sets in and a ring of light appears: the solar corona. When I see the moon and sun together like this, I feel like we are flying in space with our Earth. That we are part of something bigger, of the universe.

Next solar eclipse
Thanks to computer calculations, astronomers know exactly where and when the next total solar eclipse will occur. The closest will be in northern Spain (2026) in the next 10 years. In the Netherlands, the next date is October 7, 2135.

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A solar eclipse can always be seen elsewhere

You have to put in a little effort to see a total solar eclipse. This is because the shadow cast by the Moon on Earth is not very wide: from one hundred to one hundred and sixty kilometers. Are you out of it? Then you don't see anything special. To experience this scene, you really have to stand completely in that shadow.

“I have taken eclipse trips to France, Indonesia, the USA and China.”

A total solar eclipse occurs on average every eighteen months. This seems often. But the moon's shadow falls in a different place on our planet each time. This is why you have to travel a long distance to see a solar eclipse.

I saw my first eclipse in Libya, in the middle of the desert. After that, I made eclipse viewing trips to northern France, Indonesia, the United States, and elsewhere. I had bad luck in China and Antarctica. There the sun hid behind a thick cloud cover. I saw the sky darkening, but nothing else.

Tips for viewing the eclipse from Kuipers
Tip 1:
Are you traveling to see the total solar eclipse? Always use eclipse glasses. If you look directly at the sun when it is not yet 100% dark, you can become permanently blind.
Tip 2:
Don't take pictures. A total solar eclipse is a unique experience. You want to experience it fully and not through the camera lens or on the phone screen.

Hole in the sky

Of course I hope the weather is nicer in Texas. No doubt I will be watching the eclipse there with many other enthusiasts around me. This is an extra pleasure: you feel the tension building. Until suddenly you see that black ball with a halo around it. We all know that we are part of the solar system. But only during a solar eclipse can you really see it. This is magical.

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Do you have tips for Kuipers and the universe or a question about the universe, space travel or sustainability? Send an email to [email protected]. André Kuipers answers the most original posts in this section each month.

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