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Unique total solar eclipse over Antarctica dazzles ... "The Penguins"

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  • Tip Bones

Did any of the waddling birds of the southern continent peek up to see the sky show?

Anyone in Antarctica today would have witnessed the year's only total solar eclipse, implying that the southern continent's penguins would have been among the largest numbers of people to witness the spectacular display. And that's a lot of people watching.

During a solar eclipse, the moon moves between the sun and the Earth, casting a shadow on the latter. Today's total solar eclipse occurred when the sun, moon, and Earth, in that sequence, were perfectly aligned. According to NASA, this occurred at approximately 2:44 a.m. EST (0744 GMT).

Totality, or when the umbra, or darkest part of the moon's shadow, covers the face of Earth, lasted no more than 1 minute and 54 seconds.

According to NASA, people (or animals) who saw the solar eclipse (via special glasses, as you should never gaze directly at the sun) were in the middle of the moon's shadow at the time it impacted Earth. And when the moon's shadow moved across our world, the sky darkened for those people.

If you were lucky enough to be in the line of the total solar eclipse, you would have seen the corona, the sun's outer atmosphere, through solar-eclipse glasses. (According to NASA, this outer atmosphere is outshined by the sun's face on most days.)

Antarctica is currently in its summer (which lasts from from October to February), when the sun is nearly always visible in the sky. According to the World Population Review's anticipated summer population, up to 4,400 to 5,500 persons could have been on and around the continent as researchers and personnel employees.

That may appear to be a large number of humans on Earth's coldest continent, yet they are vastly outnumbered by the waddling birds who live at the bottom of the planet. According to the British Antarctic Survey, Antarctica is home to an estimated 20 million breeding pairs of penguins.

Fortunately, the penguins are well-equipped for skywatching at any time of year in their chilly home, which during the winter can drop to average temperatures ranging from about 14 degrees Fahrenheit on the coast to minus 76 degrees Fahrenheit at the highest points in the continent's interior (minus 10 to minus 60 degrees Celsius), according to the Australian Antarctic Program, which is part of the government's Department of Agriculture, Water, and the Environment.

Though individuals outside of Antarctica were unable to witness the total solar eclipse, they were treated to a partial eclipse, which occurs when the sun, moon, and Earth (in that order) are not directly aligned.

The partial solar eclipse might be seen from sections of Saint Helena, Namibia, Lesotho, South Africa, South Georgia and Sandwich Islands, Crozet Islands, Falkland Islands, Chile, New Zealand, and Australia, according to NASA.