Will I be able to see the shadow of the Moon streaking towards me in a total solar eclipse? (Beginner)

I will be privileged enough to observe a total eclipse of the sun during early December from the northern parts of The Republic of South Africa. Standing on a hill and observing the SURFACE OF THE EARTH as the total eclipse approaches - will I be able to see the shadow of the moon streaking towards me? (i.e. like an aeroplane's shadow streaking over the surface of the earth?) And if so at what speed will it approach?

The speed of the shadow will depend on the time of the day. The shadow will move faster during evenings and mornings than during noon. This is due to the spherical geometry of the Earth. During noon, the speed of the shadow is about 0.55 km/s, whereas near mornings and evenings, the speed is higher at about 1.7 km/s. As you can see, this is really fast, and so it is unlikely that you will be able to see the shadow streaking towards you. Further, the brightness of the day is continuously decreasing as the eclipse progresses and it will be harder to see the shadow as it is quite dim before totality.

This page was last updated June 28, 2015.

About the Author

Jagadheep D. Pandian

Jagadheep D. Pandian

Jagadheep built a new receiver for the Arecibo radio telescope that works between 6 and 8 GHz. He studies 6.7 GHz methanol masers in our Galaxy. These masers occur at sites where massive stars are being born. He got his Ph.D from Cornell in January 2007 and was a postdoctoral fellow at the Max Planck Insitute for Radio Astronomy in Germany. After that, he worked at the Institute for Astronomy at the University of Hawaii as the Submillimeter Postdoctoral Fellow. Jagadheep is currently at the Indian Institute of Space Scence and Technology.

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