Get set for the Partial Solar Eclipse

Get set for the last eclipse of 2014!

The eclipse will happen October 23 — unless you’re in extreme northeastern Maine, where you will be out of luck; the sunset will occur just as the eclipse gets underway. In general, the farther north and west you go, the more of the eclipse you`ll be able to see. Along the Eastern U.S., you’ll want to look toward the western sky a little before sunset today, while residents in the West will get to see the entire eclipse while the Sun is still fairly high in the sky.

Credit: Matt Hecht

Credit: Matt Hecht

As the name implies, a partial solar eclipse is when the Moon only blocks out a portion of the Sun’s surface. It will appear that the sun has a “bite” taken out of it. Doesn’t it remind you just a little of Pac-Man?

A much rarer total solar eclipse occurs when the Moon completely covers the surface of the Sun, turning day into night and allowing only the solar corona and prominences to be seen. The last total solar eclipse visible from the U.S. was in 1991 over Hawaii.

On February 21, 2012, the Moon moved in between NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory satellite and the Sun and produced a partial solar eclipse from space:

In between these two is the annular solar eclipse. This happens when the Moon appears to completely moves over the Sun’s surface but doesn`’ block out the sunshine entirely. During an annular eclipse, the Moon appears slightly smaller than the Sun, so it allows a ring of sunshine to still shine through. This produces a “ring of fire” or doughnut-shaped sun effect. This was the last type of solar eclipse seen by most of the U.S. in May 2012.

So when can you see today’s eclipse? The exact time will vary depending on where you live. Fortunately NASA has graciously produced this table to help you find the time.

Be careful while viewing the eclipseLooking directly at the Sun, even for a moment, can cause permanent eye damage and blindness. The safest way to view it will be through a pin-hole projector or through an eclipse filter. You can find eclipse filters and viewing glasses on-line and in some specialty stores, but make sure you do your research. Do not use sunglasses, smoked glass, or x-ray film to view the eclipse.

But above all, enjoy one of our solar system`s most spectacular shows… Happy sky watching!

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