Solar show in sky or on the Internet

Eclipse: At dawn tomorrow, Marylanders can catch a glimpse of what will be a spectacular total masking of the sun elsewhere in the world.

August 10, 1999|By Frank D. Roylance | Frank D. Roylance,SUN STAFF

It's too late to jet off to France or Iraq to join the millions gathering to watch tomorrow's total eclipse of the sun. But it's not too late to watch from home.

Early-rising Marylanders might be able to witness the early minutes of the event, visible here briefly at dawn as a partial eclipse, weather permitting.

Better still, live images of the Great European Eclipse of 1999 are scheduled to air during the morning on cable TV and on elaborate Internet "Webcasts."

"This may be one of the most-viewed eclipses ever," said Jim O'Leary, director of the Maryland Science Center's Davis Planetarium.

A total solar eclipse is one of nature's greatest spectacles. It occurs when the moon's orbit carries it between the sun and Earth.

As seen from the ground, the moon's disk moves slowly in front of the sun, blotting out its thermonuclear fires and revealing the wispy traces of its hot, roiling outer atmosphere, or corona.

People in the narrow path of totality typically watch in awe as the light fades to a late-evening hue.

Temperatures drop, winds fade and bright stars and planets come out. Confused birds and insects often head for their nests, as if night were falling.

Scientists have spread out along the path of totality to gather data for a variety of studies.

Some will examine the sun's corona, measure its diameter and gauge the effects of the eclipse on radio transmissions. Others will watch for evidence of subtle changes in Earth's gravity.

Marylanders eager to witness something of the events will have to make do with a brief partial eclipse.

"The sun is going to be in eclipse as it rises at 6: 15 a.m. locally," said O'Leary.

Viewed from Maryland, only about 11 percent of the surface of the sun will be darkened by the moon. Look for a curved, darkened "notch" at the lower left-hand portion of the sun's disk as it rises. By 6: 27 a.m., the show will be over.

Although the sun will be extremely low on the horizon, and might be at least partly dimmed by clouds and haze, it is never truly safe to look at the sun directly. The sun's light can cause permanent eye damage in seconds.

O'Leary urged anyone hoping to see the eclipse to invest in a piece of No. 14 welder's glass, available at a nominal cost from local welder's supply companies. "It's the only thing that is really safe," he said. "Sunglasses, layers of film or CDs aren't."

Eclipse chasers must also find a spot with a clear view of the eastern horizon, free of trees, buildings or hills. The western shore of the bay or the Atlantic beaches are ideal.

The view from the Science Center will be obscured by buildings. But 165 science center members hold sold-out tickets for lectures and a special eclipse program tonight in the Davis planetarium. They'll sleep over tonight, then rise at 5 a.m. to watch the eclipse via Internet links and the Discovery Channel.

The same coverage -- live or taped -- will be available to regular Science Center visitors when the Inner Harbor attraction opens at 9: 30 a.m.

The eclipse will begin tomorrow about 5: 30 a.m. EDT as the moon's shadow appears on the Atlantic Ocean off Nova Scotia. During the next five hours, the 69-mile-wide shadow will sweep across the Atlantic, grazing the southwestern tip of England before making landfall in France.

At speeds up to 1,500 mph, the shadow will zip across Europe, Turkey, Iran, Iraq and Pakistan before vanishing over the Bay of Bengal. The likelihood of the eclipse being obscured by clouds is highest in Western Europe. Romania will witness the longest period of totality: two minutes and 23 seconds.

The moon's shadow will cross some of the world's most densely populated territory and might be witnessed by as many as 100 million people. Millions more living thousands of miles from the path of totality will experience a partial eclipse.

Here are particulars on some of the TV and computer coverage. Electronic traffic at the Web sites is likely to be heavy.

Discovery Channel: 6 a.m. to 9 a.m. EDT. Live broadcasts will follow the eclipse across Europe and the Middle East, providing solar images, interviews and background on the history and cultural impact of eclipses. The events will be rebroadcast at 10 p.m.

www.exploratorium.edu/ From the Exploratorium in San Francisco, this site will follow the path of totality across Europe, with special reports from an expedition in Turkey. The site features interactive maps, history and extensive eclipse-related links.

www.eclipse99.nasa.gov/ This NASA site will feature live video from the cruise ship Constanta in the Black Sea. There are also data feeds showing temperature, light levels, wind speeds and satellite data tracking the ship's position.

www.eclipsecast.com/ This NASA site will feature "live sights and sounds" from the path of totality, including solar images from Monampteuil, northeast of Paris, beginning at 8: 30 a.m. EDT.

Pub Date: 8/10/99

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