TOKYO – Rare natural phenomena like solar eclipses can be inspirational but also unsettling.
The ancient Chinese believed that solar eclipses occur when a legendary celestial dragon devours the Sun. The Bible also recorded an eclipse this way: " ‘And on that day,' says the Lord God, ‘I will make the Sun go down at noon, and darken the Earth in broad daylight'."
Image Credit: NASA/SDO/AIA
This image from the Solar Dynamics Observatory’s Atmospheric Imaging Assembly (AIA) shows in great detail a solar prominence taken from a March 30, 2010 eruption. The twisting motion of the material is themost noticeable feature.
Tokyo residents are going through the modern version of this phenomenon, with the highly anticipated appearance of the solar “ring of fire,” expected at 7:35a.m., Monday, May 21st. If the weather permits, Tokoyites will see a circular strip of sunlight will completely surrounding the dark lunar disk, as the Moon crosses the sun dead-center.
I have to confess. I’m not an eclipse chaser and I wasn’t even aware of all this hoo-ha ‘til last week at LAX when I bumped into a geophysicist – who was on route to a GeoScience conference in Japan.
In the airport lounge, Jeffery Love, US Geological Survey advisor for Geomagnetic Research could hardly contain his excitement about being in Tokyo at the same time as the eclipse. “To see something like that, it doesn’t take a scientist to appreciate it,” he said.
Lo and behold, once I landed in Japan, I discovered that Love wasn’t kidding, and he wasn’t the only excited guy. The whole country was burning with solar mania. Media coverage was everywhere and every minute. On a daily basis, NHK – Japan’s national broadcaster – was issuing detailed instructions on the proper usage of eclipse glasses.
While I’d been forewarned by friends that eclipse glasses were already sold out on the Internet, I fortunately found a few leftover pairs on display at a local bookstore. Japan’s craze over the annular solar eclipse is so heated that I later learned that even corner stores in ordinary neighborhoods have been doing a land office business in these once-in-a-lifetime “sunglasses.”
But hang on. On NASA’s website, I found out that eclipses aren’t as rare as I thought. There are at least two solar eclipses every year. So, why was a jaded scientist like Jeff Love telling me about his trip to Bulgaria to see an eclipse? And why such a big fuss over this partial eclipse in Japan?
The answer is that each annular eclipse covers a very small fraction of the Earth’s surface. In fact, the “path of annularity” for each event is only about 200 miles wide.
But the reason why this one is turning into such a big “event” is because this “path of annularity,” stretching almost halfway around the world, passes extremely densely populated areas on route -- including southern China and Tokyo. It’s a prime-time eclipse!
It’s also something that hasn’t hit Tokyo for 173 years.
Of course, an opportunity like this isn’t likely to escape the notice of a solar-savvy Japanese technology company like Panasonic Corp. The company, seeing it as the ideal mmoment to pitch its video and solar energy technology, launched a project named “Filming the Sun, Using the Sun.” Panasonic is broadcasting the eclipse live over the Internet from the top of Mt. Fuji — which happens to lie right in the middle of the eclipse’s path across the Japanese archipelago. So, the chance to film the eclipse from Japan’s most iconic mountain – snow-capped Mt. Fuji – is dumb luck disguised as marketing genius.
Hoping to be better known as an “eco-friendly” energy technology company (at a time when no Japanese companies are making money selling TV sets anymore), Panasonic has built an array of eco-gear to store all the needed electrical power for this broadcast. The company has laid out 30 of the company’s solar panels at the 5th Station base camp on Mt. Fuji. The main batteries loaded in the container will be charged using solar energy, which then will be used to power the equipment.
The cameras working at the summit, according to Panasonic, are using some of this power carried up the mountain in the company’s Lithium Ion batteries, which are charged from the solar energy of the main batteries prior to the climb up the mountain.
That’s right. Even though this whole Panasonic show is about solar energy, they still need batteries to make it go. After all, during an eclipse, the sun don’t shine.Editor's Note: This story is updated with more pictures of the annular solar eclipse observed at Chigasaki, near Tokyo.