Society & Culture & Entertainment Education

See a Sliver of the Sun!

There's a partial eclipse of the Sun occurring on Thursday afternoon, visible to people throughout most of North America (except for the Eastern Seaboard) and a chunk of far east Russia. It begins mid to late afternoon and ends at or after sunset for most observers, so if you happen to live as far east as western Pennsylvania or find yourself on a Russian trawler off the Kamchatka Peninsula, you'll be able to see at least some of this eclipse.

It's one of several special sky sights for October. 

How to View It

Since this is a partial eclipse, that means that only PART of the Sun will be block by the Moon as it passes between Earth and the Sun. As most sensible people know, looking at the Sun is a no-no, even during a partial eclipse. There's still enough light streaming out to do major damage to your eyes in just a few seconds. So, don't risk it. NEVER LOOK DIRECTLY AT THE SUN WITH YOUR NAKED EYE.

The safest ways to observe this eclipse are:

1. Online.  There are several online observatories offering streaming observations of the Sun and I've provided their links below. The first is Griffith Observatory in Los Angeles. It's a well-known tourist destination, beloved by locals as well. In fact, they will have safe viewing on sight through a telescope with a specialized filter. So, if you're in the area, head on up. If you're not, click on their link and you'll be watching the partial eclipse like a pro.

Another online site to observe this eclipse from is Slooh.com, an online observatory dedicated to providing professional quality observations to anyone who is interested in doing them.

Check out their website for details.

2. If you want to observe from your own home or office, use the pinhole projection method. This is a pretty easy and very safe way to see the eclipse without looking directly at the Sun. You simply use a pin to punch a round hole in a piece of paper. Then, let the sunlight shine through that hole onto a white wall or sidewalk. You should "see" the eclipsed Sun on the projection surface.

3. Check out your local planetarium to see if they are having an observing event. They may have special eclipse glasses on sale, which you can use to look at the Sun.

4. If you know someone who is a regular sky observer, see if they have a telescope fitted with the appropriate filter to safely observe the Sun. You might have to buy them lunch or something, but it's worth it, right? 

 What Am I Seeing, Exactly?

Eclipses are normal events that happen every year. They've fascinated people since prehistory, and have often been wrongly associated with magical, mystical imaginings. 

We see them if the Sun, Moon, and Earth happen to be in the correct positions with respect to each other. Since this is a solar eclipse, what you're observing (safely!) is the Moon passing between Earth and the Sun.

  As a result, we pass through the Moon's shadow. The shadow has three major components: the umbra (which is the darkest part of the shadow) and the penumbra, which is a secondary shadow. 

On the ground, if you're in the umbra, you would see the Sun completely blocked by the Moon. That's a total solar eclipse. If observers see only the penumbra, then they are experiencing a partial eclipse. (There's also an antumbra, and observers in the antumbra would see an annular eclipse.)

During the upcoming partial eclipse, we will pass through the penumbra, and thus will see only part of the Sun blocked. If you get a chance to observe it through any of the SAFE methods listed above, be sure and look for a giant sunspot on the surface of the Sun. It's called AR 2192 and astronomers have been tracking it since it first rotated from the far side of the Sun. It will appear close to the lower center of the Sun's disk and is worth checking out.

Sunspots are associated with solar outbursts called flares and coronal mass ejections, which in turn cause space weather disturbances in Earth's ionosphere and just beyond.

The Sun is going through an active phase right how, and sunspots are just part of it.

Have fun and don't forget: BE SAFE!  Don't risk your eyes unnecessarily. 

Leave a reply