Today marks a rare occasion, one where alignment makes a spectacle in the sky. While you can expect the autumn day to have cool weather and an added air of sunshine, you can also expect quite a surprise when part of the sun disappears in the mid-afternoon shade. It's a rare occurrence that you won't catch for another 3 years at the soonest, but the partial solar eclipse won't be enjoyed by everyone. Mostly it'll be a show for the northern United States.
As the autumn's off-center new moon passes in front of the sun in the early afternoon, onlookers will find that the sky is illuminated in a red crescent of light, with anywhere from 40-65% of the solar system's central star covered by the Earth's only satellite. Unlike a total eclipse of the sun, wherein the viewing event is concentrated into only a few fleeting moments, the partial solar eclipse will linger in the sky for several hours in the late afternoon leading up until sunset. And most of the United States will be in for the viewing party of the year.
While observers nationwide will have varying views of the eclipse, those in the northwestern states will see the event in its greatest clarity, reaching its peak phase at 2:59pm PST and perhaps even better at sunset. With only 48% of the sun's face visible at the maximum peak of the eclipse, NASA eclipse expert, Fred Espenak says, "[you] will see a fiery crescent sinking below the horizon, dimmed to human visibility by low-clouds and mist."
But as solar eclipses are finicky, dangerous events to watch, most viewers will find that while they could simply look up for a glimpse, live-streams of the events online may be a safer, clearer alternative throughout the day. "People who live east of the line running from roughly Quebec City to Montauk Point, NY, will miss out on the solar show, since the sun will set before the dark disc of the moon begins to encroach upon it" meteorologist for Space.com, Joe Rao says. And they won't be the only ones with an obstructed view.
As partial eclipses undermine your natural reaction to avoid peering directly into the face of the sun, researchers warn that viewers must take caution when glancing up at the event. Staring into the eclipse, which will still allow nearly half of the sun's intense UV and light waves to pass through, can cause pain, permanent eye damage and even temporary or permanent blindness depending on the exposure of the light. And so researchers have posted pinhole solutions for those interested in viewing the shadows the sun casts throughout the eclipse (Instructions HERE). But for those stuck in the office, or with eyes prone to sensitivity to light, they suggest that live streaming may be a safer, and simpler way to watch the eclipse from the comfort of your own home.
And while we're more prone to the adventurous side of these cosmic events, we too will be streaming the event, watching as day and night merge, and keeping our eyes safe from the harmful rays of the sun. How will you be watching?