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How to view tomorrow morning’s partial solar eclipse…

Stargazers and skywatchers across the UK have their fingers, toes and everything else crossed today, hoping for clear skies tomorrow morning, to allow us to watch a partial eclipse of the Sun! These are pretty exciting at any time – the Moon moves across the Sun’s face, blocking part of it from our view and making it look like a crescent Moon, or even a Pacman! – but tomorrow morning’s will be particularly fascinating to watch because it will already be underway when the Sun rises. Yes, given clear skies, we will see a crescent Sun rising up from the horizon at dawn tomorrow..! 🙂

BUT… the forecast – at least for here in Cumbria – is pretty awful, so it’s not looking too good at the moment. But let’s be optimistic. If the weather does co-operate, what will we see? What will we need TO see the eclipse?

First of all, the TIMINGS:

Wherever you are in Cumbria, the Sun will rise at approx 08.30 local time. ( If you’re north or south of Cumbria, your local sunrise time will change accordingly. ) As I said, the Sun will already be partially eclipsed at this point…

As the Sun climbs higher the Moon will start to move clear of the Sun. By 08.45 the Sun will look like this…

… and by 09.15 it will look like this…

By 09.30 the eclipse will be all over, and the Sun’s disc will be completely visible again. So, in summary: we need to have a clear sky – actually, just a clear south-eastern sky! – between 08.30 and 08.90. Not too much to ask for, surely..?

OBSERVING THE ECLIPSE – SAFELY.

How do you observe this eclipse? Well, first of all let’s look at how NOT to observe it…

No, you CAN’T use sunglasses to observe the eclipse. They’re nowhere near dark or dense enough.

Do NOT, under ANY circumstances, look directly at the Sun through a pair of binoculars. Why? Well, do you remember doing this as a horrible little kid?

Well, if you look at the Sun through binoculars you’ll be doing exactly the same thing but TO YOUR EYES! Your eyes are really big balls of wet, squidgy jelly, and if you focus and concentrate the Sun’s heat onto them with binoculars… well, they’ll turn into these

I honestly don’t know why anyone would be tempted, even for a moment, to look at the Sun directly through binoculars; it’s slap-across-the-face obviously a Very Bad Idea. But tomorrow morning a few will try it, and they’ll either damage their eyes or go blind, and to be honest they’ll only have themselves to blame, because if you give it even a moment’s thought it’s a seriously stupid thing to do, isn’t it?

BUT, you CAN use binoculars to watch the eclipse – by using them to project the Sun’s image, onto a card, or a wall, or anything that’s to hand. It’s really simple. You just cover up one side of the binoculars with its lens cap, and then – WITHOUT LOOKING THROUGH THEM!!! – roughly aim the binoculars towards the Sun. You then just move them about, up and down, left and right, until a bright “spot” appears behind the binoculars – that’s the Sun! Now you have to focus the binoculars, and steady them as well as you can, and you’ll be able to follow the eclipse in absolute safety!

In this way you’ll be able to watch the Moon drifting away from the Sun’s disc in absolute safety – and people around you will be able to see it too! 🙂

If you don’t have any binoculars, there’s the old faithful “pinhole projection” method. Just take two pieces of card, and make a small hole – maybe 2mm across – in one of them. Then hold this one up towards the Sun with the other card behind it. Move them apart and at some point a small image of the Sun will appear on the piece of card without the hole. And that will be more than enough to let you watch the eclipse safely!

By the way, if you’re wondering “Can I use smoked glass?” the answer is “no!”, because it’s all too easy to smudge the soot off the glass accidentally, letting the full glare of the Sun into your eye. If you have a welding visor, or some very dark welding glass, you can use that, but only for brief glimpses. If you want to follow the eclipse properly, binocular projection is THE way to go, trust me. 🙂

Of course, if you have a small telescope the same technique will work with that, too, and you’ll get a much bigger, much clearer image…

One thing worth bearing in mind is that because this eclipse is happening at sunrise, and ending just an hour after sunrise, the Sun will be low in the sky throughout all of it. So, if you live somewhere with lots of mountains or hills around you, or if your horizon is cluttered with trees and buildings, then there’s a very real chance you might miss the whole thing. You really need to either a) get as high as locally possible, or b) get to somewhere with a flat south-eastern horizon, ideally on the coast, so you see the Sun rising up from the sea. If you leave it to chance and think “Oh, I’ll be alright” you might be waiting and waiting and waiting for sunrise, and only see the Sun poke above the horizon after the eclipse has ended. So, have a think, do a bit of planning, and find a good observing spot. Then cross your fingers…!

And if you do get to see the Sun, you absolutely MUST try taking some photos. Just snap away at the Sun’s image projected onto the piece of card, and you WILL get something, I promise…

So, there you are, all you need to know to enjoy the eclipse tomorrow morning, if your local weather co-operates. Good luck! 🙂

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