view counter

Taking a Bite Out of the Sun

Even a partial eclipse can be blinding

The last day of October marks the mid-point between autumnal equinox and winter solstice, one of four cross-quarter days in the passage of the earth around the sun. The day has been recognized for millennia, celebrated as Samhein, The Day of the Dead and All Hallow’s Eve, or Halloween.
    It will be a near-moonless Halloween this year, with the last vestiges of the waning crescent rising in the wee hours before dawn. If you’re out walking with your trick-or-treaters shortly after sunset, look to the southwest for Venus. Directly overhead is the first-magnitude star Deneb, the tail of Cygnus the swan, also called the Northern Cross. It is one of the three fading stars of the Summer Triangle; the others are brighter Vega to the west and dimmer Altair to the southwest. Above the south-southeast horizon look for Fomalhaut, the only bright star in that section of sky. And rising in the northeast is golden Capella.
    Don’t forget before going to bed Saturday night to set back your clocks one hour for Daylight Saving Time.
    Sunday morning as the sun rises, even a passing glance upward will show something amiss: a bite is missing from the lower third of the sun’s sphere. But without a proper solar filter, this is all you’ll be able to see of this partial solar eclipse without risk of permanent eye damage or even blindness. Never look at the sun through binoculars or a telescope without a filter — no matter how briefly.
    At that moment, the new moon is crossing between the sun and earth, its silhouette obscuring our view of the sun. The whole thing lasts less than an hour, the sun regaining its shape as it rises higher and away from the moon’s shadow.
    The new moon bodes well for the annual Taurids meteor shower, which peaks late Monday and early Tuesday. The Taurids average only about five to 10 meteors an hour but continue to produce for several days.