Unusual solar eclipse late Monday

By PHIL BERARDELLI, UPI Deputy Science and Technology Editor  |  June 10, 2002 at 7:32 PM
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A partial solar eclipse will be seen across much of North America during the late afternoon and early evening Monday and astronomers said the eclipse will be "particularly dramatic" in the Western and Southwestern United States, where more than half of the sun's disk will be blocked by the moon.

The eclipse will be visible from every part of the country except New England and down the Eastern Seaboard.

Astronomer David H. Levy said he believes the eclipse belongs to the series, called saros cycle 137, that Shakespeare mentioned when he wrote the play, "King Lear": "These late eclipses in the Sun and Moon portend no good to us."

In October 1605, Londoners saw 90 percent of the sun covered by the moon, and the eclipse was preceded by a lunar eclipse also visible in London. The lunar eclipse in the current cycle was visible from the Pacific and Southwestern United States on May 26 before sunrise.

Solar eclipses occur when the moon moves between the sun and Earth. On Monday, the moon will begin to eclipse the sun around 8:30 p.m. EDT, about 7:30 CDT, between 6:15 and 6:25 MDT, and between 5:00 and 5:15 PDT, astronomers said.

The sun will set Monday while the eclipse is in progress in the eastern, midwestern and south-central states, but viewers in the north-central and far western states will be able to see the entire eclipse, including the period called maximum eclipse, when the highest percentage of the sun is blocked by the moon. Maximum eclipse will occur about one hour after the eclipse begins, astronomers said.

"Viewers in the east won't notice any unusual darkening of the sky during the eclipse," said Robert Naeye, editor of Mercury magazine, published by the Astronomical Society of the Pacific. "But during the period of maximum eclipse on the West Coast, the sky will appear a little darker than it would normally be, and shadows will be sharper."

Naeye cautioned it is "extremely dangerous" to look directly at the sun, even during an eclipse. "A partially eclipsed sun is just as dangerous to look at as a non-eclipsed sun," he said.

"The sun's visible and invisible rays can cause serious damage to sensitive eye tissue, often without the person being immediately aware of it," said Andrew Fraknoi, also with ASP. "When an eclipse happens, astronomical enthusiasm can overwhelm common sense," he said, "and people, especially children, sometimes stare at the sun for too long."

The best way to view the eclipse, astronomers said, is to project an image of the sun, such as with a "pinhole projector." This device is made by taking a piece of cardboard or thick paper and punching through it with a pin or needle. Then, standing with your back to the sun, let the sunlight pass through the hole and onto a smooth surface, such as another piece of cardboard or sheet of paper.

Despite the need for caution, Naeye said, "People should take full advantage of this eclipse because it's the last solar eclipse of any kind visible from the United States until April 8, 2005."

The times when the eclipse will be visible from particular areas are available on the Web site: sunearth.gsfc.nasa.gov/eclipse/ASE2002/ASE2002city1/ASE2002city1.html.

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