China, cool, earth, light, science

Nerd Ecstasy: Exploratorium Eclipse Extravaganza

wide view of the total solar eclips in china on august 1, 2008, from the exploratorium

This morning, NASA and the Exploratorium webcast live from Xinjiang, China. You can watch their hour-long production at the Exploratorium’s Total Solar Eclipse web site. (That’s a photo from the Exploratorium blog above.)

The broadcast starts about 30 minutes before totality, when the moon completely blocks out the sun. The first fifteen minutes include a lesson from scientists on the ground about what happens during an eclipse. That’s followed by some back-and-forth between the scientists and a local Chinese news anchor, which includes a few minutes of classic Chinese journalism/propaganda/travelogue that touts the wonders of Xinjiang. Xinjiang has quite a few ethnic minorities, notably the Uighur, some of whom agitate for independence from China. Words like peace, harmony, and unity are sprinkled in this section of the show. The astro-drama begins at about the 33-minute mark.

Ah, to be in China again. The story I want to see stemming from this is the story of Yiwu County, perched among desert and mountains, a 16 hour drive from Urumqi and its airport, with, according to Wikipedia, 20,000 inhabitants. Over the last couple days, busloads of telescope-toting nerds and media have laid siege. In anticipation, the government set up a tent city to accommodate all 10,000 of them (as well as what one scientist calls a “Gobi Stonehenge.”). All that planning leading up to a two hour show. And now that this place has had its moment in the sun, so to speak, what next?

Here’s what the moon’s shadow looks like on earth during a total solar eclipse. Taken on the Russian Space Station Mir, 11 August 1999.

View of total solar eclipse from Russian Space Station Mir. 11 August 1999.

The next total solar eclipse is scheduled for 22 July 2009. Totality will occur from northern India, across Bhutan, and along the Chang Jiang (Yangtze River) to Shanghai.