Last updateWed, 18 Oct 2017 10am


Solar eclipse Sunday, more events on horizon

Foothill Observatory in Los Altos Hills sits in a prime viewing position for the partial eclipse expected Sunday (May 20). The observatory, located on the Foothill College campus, will open to the public from 5 p.m. until sunset.

Nearly 85 percent of the sun’s disc will disappear behind the moon’s silhouette by 6:34 p.m., and scientists at the observatory predict interesting optical effects created by the sun’s relatively low elevation angle.

Andrew Fraknoi, an astronomy professor at Foothill College, said that many people may not even realize that the eclipse is happening if they don't happen to glance at the sun.

"Eighty-four percent still leaves 16 percent of the sun shining – that's what makes it both dangerous and not so noticeable," he said. "If you've got proper glasses or a telescope with filters, yes, it's amazing, there's a gigantic bite taken out of the sun."

A second celestial event, the Venus Transit on June 5, should prove even more unusual.

The planet Venus crosses between the sun and earth, becoming a visible spot against the sun. The rare event occurs in a pairing spaced eight years apart only once every 120 years.

Eight years ago when the first transit of this lifetime began, it wasn’t visible from California, so June marks the lone chance for locals to experience the phenomenon. The observatory will open 3:30 p.m. to 7 p.m. June 5.

Historically, astronomers used the Venus Transit to measure the “astronomical unit,” the distance between the earth and sun sought since Archimedes’ day.

For more information, visit Foothill Observatory’s website.

To watch a NASA video explaining the eclipse, visit Town Tube.

And check out eclipse expert Fred Espenak’s guide to safe viewing.

[Photo courtesy of Sancho Panza]



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