Rare solar event on Sunday evening

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A solar eclipse is a sight to behold. Throughout history, the sight of the moon passing across the sun has influenced art, religion, and society.

On Sunday, a solar eclipse will pass over New Mexico, making for sunning viewing at sunset. Albuquerque will have an amazing view of the full annular eclipse, but Socorroans won’t have to go far to see an amazing partial eclipse.

Wait, annular eclipse? Partial eclipse? What’s the difference?

Here’s the basics: A solar eclipse occurs when the moon passes in front of the sun, and the sun casts the moon’s shadow on the earth. When the moon appears smaller than the sun during the eclipse, leaving a ring — or annulus — of light around the shadow, that’s an annular eclipse, and the part of the shadow we see is called the antumbra. This is what will occur over Albuquerque. But when they don’t quite line up and the moon’s shadow isn’t a full circle, that’s a partial eclipse, and the part of the shadow we see is called the penumbra. An annular eclipse is only visible across a small part of the sun’s path — too far north or south and only the partial eclipse is visible.

According to Dave Finley, public information officer at National Radio Astronomy Observatory, the eclipse will not be visible in Socorro, as first contact will be at 6:35 p.m. local time and the sun will be behind Socorro Peak around that time. However, the VLA will be holding an event to celebrate the eclipse. There will be two free guided tours on Sunday: one at 1 p.m. and one at 3 p.m. From 4 p.m. to sunset, there will be safe telescope options available to view the event itself. At the same time, researchers will be using the VLA to observe the event, and watching those cyclopean structures in synchronized motion is always impressive.

According to Finley, there will be about an hour and 20 minutes of viewing time at the VLA site, and while the moon won’t form that perfect annulus, it will still block over 90 perfect of the sun.

Up north, in Albuquerque, the full annular eclipse will be visible. According to predictions made by Frank Espenak of NASA, the eclipse will cover 94 percent of the sun, and the eclipse proper will be visible for about five minutes. The sun will be partially covered from about 6:30 p.m. until after the sun has set — about two hours.

Finley warned that looking directly at the sun is always dangerous, even with sunglasses. Eclipse glasses — specialized lenses for viewing the sun directly — are highly recommended. The VLA will have special telescopes with filters to prevent eye damage. Alternatively, a thick piece of paper with a pinhole can be used to project an image of the eclipse onto a surface.

This rare event will occur Sunday evening. Keep your eyes on the skies.

 

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