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This Weekend: A Partial Solar Eclipse

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This Weekend: A Partial Solar Eclipse

For people living in the eastern United States and eastern Canada, a partial eclipse of the sun will be in progress this coming Sunday morning at sunrise. Folks able to see very low on the eastern horizon and having suitable filters in hand — and clear skies — will see this event.

Most of the United States and Canada will unfortunately miss out on the eclipse, because it will have ended by the time the sun comes above the east-southeast horizon.

The boundary line for the eclipse zone runs from Sudbury, Ontario south to Port St. Joe, Florida. If you live west of this line, no eclipse will be seen. If you live east of the line, then the eclipse will be visible; the farther east you go, the larger the eclipse will be and the longer the event will last.

The best views will be along the Atlantic Seaboard of the United States and Canada. Remember also that earlier that morning, daylight saving time will end at 2 a.m.

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The sun’s diameter will be over 60 percent covered by the silhouette of the moon at sunrise in Boston and New York, nearly 55 percent at Halifax and about 50 percent covered in Washington, D.C., and Miami.

The eclipse will come to an end soon after 7 a.m. (after 8 a.m. for the Canadian Maritimes which observe Atlantic Time). Prospective eclipse watchers will need a true horizon level with them, not hindered by even low, distant buildings, hills, or mountains.

Here’s a Google map showing the eclipse path. You can zoom into it and click at any location to see your local circumstances.

Once again, it needs repeating: to look at the sun without proper eye protection is dangerous.

If you live in the zone where it will be visible, no doubt early on Sunday morning the eclipse will top the local news, followed of course by the usual dire warnings to the public not to risk blindness by carelessly looking at it. This has given most people the idea that eclipses are dangerous. Not so! It’s the sun that’s dangerous — all the time! Ordinarily, we have no reason to gaze at it. An eclipse gives us a reason, but we shouldn’t.

There are some safe ways, however. The only recommended safe filters — those known to block invisible but damaging infrared and ultraviolet rays — are a rectangular arc welder’s glass that dims the Sun comfortably in visual light (shade #14 for a normal bright sun) or a metalized filter such as Mylar made specifically for sun viewing. On a telescope, binoculars, or camera, the filter must be attached securely over the front of the instrument, never behind the eyepiece.

The safest way to watch is by means of projecting the sun’s image onto a white sheet of paper or cardboard. Poke a small hole in an index card with a pencil point and hold a second card two or three feet behind it. The projected image will undergo all the phases of the eclipse. A large hole makes the image bright, but fuzzy; a smaller hole makes it dim but sharp. You can also enclose this setup in a box to keep out as much daylight as possible. For a nice, sharp image some have used a tiny pinhole pierced in aluminum foil.

A leafy tree can form a profusion of natural pinhole projectors. Watch the dappled ground in the shadow of a tree for images depicting the eclipsed sun instead of the usual round disks.

Better yet, make use of a “pinhole mirror” by covering a pocket mirror with a piece of paper that has a 1/4-inch hole punched in it, and then reflect a spot of sunlight onto a nearby wall. The image will be one inch across for every 9 feet from the mirror. Of course, don’t let anyone look at the sun in the mirror!

Of course, telescopes and binoculars can project a much larger, sharper and brighter image of the sun which can also show any sunspot groups that may be present. Just be sure no one looks at the sun through the instrument!

Good luck and safe viewing to all who are in the eclipse zone. Here’s hoping for clear skies!

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