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Coronal shadows

The Sun's outer atmosphere may provide some surprises on eclipse day.
When it comes to a total solar eclipse, like the one coming up this month on the 21st, the Moon’s shadow steals the show — but it doesn’t have to.

Prior to totality, we watch for the Moon’s gloomy shadow as it gathers, like brooding thoughts, above the western horizon. In the minute leading up to totality, we search for mysterious shadow bands rippling across the landscape like ephemeral serpents.

In the seconds before totality, we scan the sky for the Moon’s shadow rushing toward us like a Death Eater out of a Harry Potter novel. And during totality, we simply bathe in the Moon’s shadow after it plunges us into darkness — but not total darkness. And therein lies our opportunity to forget the Moon’s shadow for a moment and appreciate our own.

I’m not aware of any detailed reports of shadows cast by the solar corona and what they look like. But there have to be shadows, because there’s light coming from both the corona and from outside the shadow cone in all directions toward the horizon.

So the situation is a bit like stage lighting: a full-on spotlight from the corona with colored side lighting from just above the horizon. It’s actually a rather complex situation.

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