Shadow bands

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Shadow bands observed during the total solar eclipse of 21 August 2017. The video shows a white sheet (36 x 66 inches, 0.91 x 1.7 meters) laid out on the ground under the sunlight. The shadow bands start faintly, grow dramatically intense as the remaining crescent of sunlight shrinks, and suddenly vanish at the moment of darkness of the total eclipse second contact. The crowd ambiance can be heard on the audio, reacting to the visual spectacle of the shadow bands and eclipse darkness.

Shadow bands are thin, wavy lines of alternating light and dark that can be seen moving and undulating in parallel on plain-coloured surfaces immediately before and after a total solar eclipse.[1] They are caused by the refraction by Earth's atmospheric turbulence[2] of the solar crescent as it thins to a narrow slit, which increasingly collimates the light reaching Earth in the minute just before and after totality.[2][3][4]

The shadows' detailed structure is due to random patterns of fine air turbulence that refract the collimated sunlight arriving from the narrow eclipse crescent.

The bands' rapid sliding motion is due to shifting air currents combined with the angular motion of the Sun projecting through higher altitudes. The degree of collimation in the light gradually increases as the crescent thins, until the solar disk is completely covered and the eclipse is total.

Stars twinkle for the same reason. They are so far from Earth that they appear as point sources of light easily disturbed by Earth's atmospheric turbulence which acts like lenses and prisms diverting the light's path. Viewed toward the collimated light of a star, the shadows bands from atmospheric refraction pass over the eye.


  • In 1842, George B. Airy, the English astronomer royal, saw his first total eclipse of the Sun. He recalled shadow bands as one of the highlights: "As the totality approached, a strange fluctuation of light was seen upon the walls and the ground, so striking that in some places children ran after it and tried to catch it with their hands."[8]
  • In 1905, Catherine Octavia Stevens observed shadow bands at the start of the total eclipse of August 30 at Cas Català, Majorca. "As to the character of their appearance and mode of progression, it was observed that they swept along with a flight that was at once rapid and orderly, there was no confusion of the wavy lines with one another, but all bore along in one and the same direction in parallel formation, traversing the ground as water-wave reflections may be seen to do on the under surface of a boat, only that there seemed in the case of the shadow-bands to be a more distinct expression of a forward movement." Clouds prevent observations after totality.[9]
  • In 2008, British astrophysicist Stuart Eves speculated that shadow bands might be an effect of infrasound, which involves the shadow of the Moon travelling at supersonic speed and inducing an atmospheric shock wave. However, astronomy professor Barrie Jones, an expert on shadow bands,[10] stated, "The [accepted] theory works; there's no need to seek an alternative."[11]


  1. ^ Effects During a Total Solar Eclipse Archived 2012-07-30 at
  2. ^ a b J. L. Codona (1986). "The Scintillation Theory of Eclipse Shadow Bands". Astronomy and Astrophysics. 164 (2): 415–27. Bibcode:1986A&A...164..415C. ISSN 0004-6361. Retrieved 18 July 2017.
  3. ^ Jones, Barrie. "Explanation from Barrie Jones, Open University". Retrieved 2010-07-24.
  4. ^ Strickling, Wolfgang (2007-01-26). "Wolfgang Strickling's eclipse observations 2001 page". Retrieved 24 July 2010. The best theory for the emergence of the shadow bands is published by Codona 1986 [2]. His theory meanwhile accepted by the most scientists. ... movement of the shadow bands is caused by winds in the different atmospheric levels.
  5. ^ Guillermier, Pierre; Koutchmy, Serge (1999). Total Eclipses: Science, Observations, Myths and Legends. Springer Publishing. p. 151. The phenomenon of shadow bands – a success of light and dark striations – is somewhat random. German astronomer Hermann Goldschmidt was the first to remark upon this complex refraction phenomenon, in 1820.
  6. ^ Maunder, Michael J. de F.; Moore, Patrick (1998). "Eclipses – General Principles". The Sun in Eclipse. Springer Publishing. p. 55. Shadow Bands. In 1820 the German astronomer Hermann Goldschmidt was the first to notice wavy lines seen across the Earth's surface just before totality. These so-called shadow bands [...]
  7. ^ "Chapter IX: Shadow Bands". Memoirs. Vol. 41. Royal Astronomical Society. 1857. pp. 40–41.
  8. ^ M. Littmann, K. Willcox, F. Espenak: Totality: eclipses of the sun 2nd edition. Oxford University Press. p. 119
  9. ^ Stevens, Catherine O., The Problem of "Shadow Bands", Journal of the British Astronomical Association, Volume 16, No 2, 1906, pp60-62
  10. ^ Jones, Barrie W. (1999). "Shadow bands during the total solar eclipse of 26 February 1998". Journal of Atmospheric and Solar-Terrestrial Physics. 61 (13): 965–974. Bibcode:1999JASTP..61..965J. doi:10.1016/S1364-6826(99)00072-3.
  11. ^ "Sound 'cause of shadow spectacle'". BBC News. May 21, 2008. Retrieved 2009-11-14.