Foreword from AfAS

Foreword from the President

A good part of Africa has an appointment on June 21 with a magnificent celestial spectacle, namely, the coming annular solar eclipse. The circumstances under which we will be observing it are quite  exceptional as the world is in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic. Yet nature on that day will reclaim its right to our attention. It is indeed with great pleasure that I preface this exceptional document to be a guide to this treat of the eyes. A product of our Outreach Committee ably headed by Niruj Ramanujan, it is meant to be a guide for the eclipse observation. This unique handbook, the first sizeable publication from AfAS, is worth reading, annotating, and using as a guide to watching the eclipse. It is also a document with great pedagogical value which is meant to outlive the phenomena… and the Coronavirus itself!

As for the lucky ones who will be in the zone of annularity, even if the solar corona won’t be seen for obvious reasons, have a tender thought for those in this good African land and beyond who have become unfortunate victims of an regrettably named namesake disease.

Jamal Mimouni
African Astronomical Society

Foreword from the Chairperson, Outreach Committee

An eclipse is a play of shadows that occurs as celestial bodies move along their orbits. Humanity has been familiar with two kinds of eclipses for many centuries now – solar and lunar eclipses. These eclipses are the most awe-inspiring astronomical events that we can witness, and the sudden disappearance of the sun or the moon used to be a frightening experience for ancient cultures. With time, we came to understand that these are simply natural phenomena, and have learnt to calculate and predict them as well. Eclipses have been studied for centuries by astronomers to better understand the nature and motion of the sun and the moon and our Universe as whole. Nonetheless, they continue to fascinate all of us, and are some of the most beautiful celestial experiences we could possibly have.

A solar eclipse will occur in the morning of 21 June 2020 and will be visible across central and eastern Africa, the Arabian peninsula and the middle East, and large parts of Asia. A solar eclipse happens when our moon comes in between us and the sun and proceeds to cover the sun over a duration of a few hours. On 21 June, in mid-eclipse, the moon will not be able to cover the sun completely, causing the eclipsed sun to appear like a thin ring of fire along a narrow path of annularity. The rest of the region will see a partial solar eclipse. 

In normal times, a solar eclipse is a cause for joy and celebration, for all of us to gather in large numbers to enjoy the grand spectacle together, as one community under the sky. The science outreach community usually prepares months ahead to organise events in which the maximum number of people can see the eclipse, and safely. Unfortunately, this eclipse will occur when large parts of the world are in lockdown due to the Covid-19 pandemic. In this handbook, we have focussed on methods by which you might be able to enjoy the eclipse from your houses or neighbourhood using household material. The sun and the moon appear to be close together during an eclipse, but are actually far apart. They clearly practice social distancing. Let us do so too, and keep ourselves and our communities safe while enjoying this eclipse. The coronavirus is indeed keeping us apart, but maybe seeing the eclipse from our houses will unite us in a more meaningful way – as people sharing a home in a solar system that creates such grand spectacles for us all to see.

We would like to emphasise that looking at the sun directly with your naked eyes or through a telescope, binoculars or a lens, may permanently damage your eyes. Please read this handbook to learn of safe ways of seeing the eclipse.

Niruj Mohan Ramanujam
Chairperson, Outreach Committee
African Astronomical Society