(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
Three busloads of Tel Aviv University geophysicists and other astronomy buffs have flown to Antalya in Turkey to view Wednesday afternoon's solar eclipse, which will offer 100 percent coverage by the moon of the sun there - but in Israel, it will be closer to 85%.
Parts of Brazil, Africa, Turkey, central Asia and Mongolia will be the best places to view the eclipse, and astronauts on board the International Space Station will have the rarest view of all, because the station will pass over Turkey when the eclipse is in progress there.
But if you won't be there, go outdoors and view the eclipse safely and indirectly, or go to one of the numerous Web sites that will broadcast the action live. Free eclipse viewing events, with explanations, will be held from 11 a.m. at the Hebrew University's Givat Ram campus, the National Science Museum in Haifa, Ben-Gurion University, Mount Bental on the Golan Heights, the Weizmann Institute of Science in Rehovot, and the Oranim College in Kiryat Tivon.
The March 29 total eclipse, viewed from parts of Africa and Turkey, will last about four minutes. The partial eclipse from Israel can be viewed (if the sky is clear) from 11:37 a.m. to 2:13 p.m. in Jerusalem, with the most moon cover at 12:56. The time schedule varies slightly in other parts of the country, with it beginning and ending earlier in Eilat and later in Kiryat Shmona. The sun is very "quiet" at this time of year, with no visible sunspots on its surface, but light on its edges should make the view interesting.
Solar eclipses occur about every 18 months, but not all of them are total, and totality is the spectacular part. This can happen only at new moon, and Wednesday evening is the beginning of the Hebrew lunar month of Nissan. The next total solar eclipse will occur in Canada, Greenland, Siberia, Mongolia and China on August 1, 2008, followed by July 22, 2009 in India, Nepal and China. It won't happen in New York until 2024.
The eclipse occurs gradually, with the much smaller moon slowly aligning itself between Earth and the Sun. Air temperatures fall, daylight is reduced and then the nearer moon covers the distant giant sun, which becomes a black sphere with a thin halo of light around it.
Under normal conditions, one can't look at the sun for more than a split second, as the light is to intense. Although most of the sun will be covered during the eclipse, looking directly at the solar-lunar phenomenon is very dangerous, even for a few seconds: The remaining rays can cause permanent damage to the retina and result even in blindness. Even though one is tempted to look at an eclipse, make sure you and children (who will be in school) do not look at it directly. As the retina contains no pain sensors, it will not hurt even if damage has occurred.
Observing the sun directly through binoculars, a telescope or even a regular camera viewfinder is even more dangerous because the intensity of the rays is magnified. Unless you have glasses with special eclipse-viewing filters (not regular sunglasses or camera film!), you should best watch the eclipse indirectly, with your back facing the sun and holding a piece of cardboard with a pinhole in it. Focus the hole on a piece of white paper below to see the black-and-white image.
If you want to photograph it, you need a special solar filter on a film or video camera, but you can use a digital, filmless camera without one, according to experts. In both cases, make sure not to look at the sun when taking the photo but only indirectly via the small image-display screen.