For those of us living on the east cost of the United States, it will be well worth our time to be up before sunrise this Sunday morning to try to catch a glimpse of a solar eclipse. No matter where you are, however, you’ll also want to be watching the Web as well in order to catch the show when it is at its absolute best.
This Sunday’s eclipse is considered a hybrid – millions of observers on the eastern edge of the Americas, in southern Europe and nearly all of Africa have the potential to see a partial eclipse. There will be an annular eclipse, with a tiny portion of the sun’s disk remaining visible as a “ring of fire” over a narrow strip of the western Atlantic. Then as time moves on, the eclipse will turn total, treating sky watchers along a thin band of African territory, stretching from Gabon to Somolia, to the possibility of witnessing a completely blacked-out sun.
Only 5% of all eclipses are annular-total hybrids, the most recent being in 2005. All solar eclipses involve the moon getting right in front of the sun and casting its shadow on the earth. Sunday’s hybrid eclipse is special because during the course of the day the moon’s distance from the spot where its shadow falls on Earth changes just enough to make the transition from leaving some of the sun exposed to covering up the entire disk. (More detailed information about the eclipse’s track can be found at Eclipse-maps.com, NASA’s eclipse website.
Reminder: For East Coasters and others in the partial-eclipse zone, this is essential: Do not gaze at the sun without proper eye protection.
Special eclipse-viewing filters can be purchased at planetariums or science centers. You can also look through #14 welding glass or make a “pinhole camera,” hold out a colander or knit your fingers together to create projected images of the crescent sun. Trying to see a partial solar eclipse with unprotected eyes will lead to serious vision problems.
No matter where you are on the East Coast, the partial eclipse will be over within an hour after sunrise. Keep in mind, however, that daylight saving time ends on Saturday night. Of course, if you watch the eclipse online, you won’t have to worry about any of the logistics.
After the eclipse is over, there should be lots of great images to view on SpaceWeather.com. If you happen to snap some good shots of the eclipse, NBC News asks that you share it with them via the NBC News Facebook page or tweet it with the hashtag #NBCeclipse.