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View partial solar eclipse at pop-up observatory on campus

Rothney Astrophysical Observatory to bring tips and tools to viewing event Thursday
October 21, 2014

Professor Jeroen Stil looking at the sun through a solar viewing telescope. He teaches an introductory astronomy class and will be taking students outside Thursday afternoon to get a glimpse of the partial solar eclipse. Photo courtesy Alan Dyer, AmazingSky.net

A partial solar eclipse happens when the moon covers only part of the sun. We do not see an eclipse every new moon because the moon’s orbit follows a path called the lunar orbital plane that is tilted with respect to the Earth’s orbital plane. Photo courtesy Alan Dyer, AmazingSky.net

Faculty, students and staff will be able to observe the partial solar eclipse on Thursday afternoon, weather permitting, with the help of the Rothney Astrophysical Observatory (RAO). The RAO, part of the Department of Physics and Astronomy, is organizing a pop-up observatory complete with solar observing telescopes and specialized solar viewing glasses for up to 500 people to view the eclipse. There will also be astronomers on hand to answer any out-of-this-world questions about the skies.

“We’re bringing a number of the items we have at the observatory to our campus community so that everyone can see the great things going on in the sky," says Jennifer Howse, education specialist with the RAO. “This is a fun way for everyone to learn more about astronomy and be introduced to the observatory.”

The partial eclipse coincides with professor Jeroen Stil’s introductory astronomy class (ASTRO 207) this semester. Stil will be taking the class and students outside on on Thursday to get a better understanding of what they have been learning in class. “Partial eclipses are fairly rare events. Even though it will not get noticeably darker during a partial eclipse, it is always impressive to see the dark limb of the new moon move in front of the sun," he says. "Eclipses give us an opportunity to see the dynamics of the solar system in action over a couple of hours, because the motion of the moon in its orbit around the Earth makes it all happen.”

What is a partial solar eclipse?

A partial solar eclipse happens when the moon covers only part of the sun. We do not see an eclipse every full moon because the moon’s orbit follows a path called the lunar orbital plane. The angle of the lunar orbital plane is about five degrees to Earth’s orbital plane. The points where the different orbital planes meet are called lunar nodes. The sun must appear near one of the two lunar nodes for an eclipse to occur and when it does, the sun and moon form a straight line if observed from Earth. Standing on Earth looking towards the sun, the moon appears to pass in front of the sun during an eclipse.

The next total solar eclipse that will be visible from Calgary takes place 30 years from now on Aug. 22, 2044.

Safely viewing an eclipse

Howse reminds everyone to not look directly at the sun during the eclipse.

“You might be tempted, but even a partial eclipse can cause permanent eye damage,” explains Howse. “We’ll have specialized solar viewing glasses on hand for up to 500 people, so we encourage you to come and view the phenomenon safely.” The moon will reach the sun’s edge at 2:44 p.m. It is closest to the sun at maximum eclipse at 4:07 p.m. The eclipse ends and the moon moves away from the sun at 5:23 p.m. 

How to take part

Solar telescopes and viewing glasses will be set up in the green space area 7 near the LRT station on the east side of campus.

Weather permitting, the event will start at 2:30 p.m. and run through to 5:30 p.m.

About the observatory

The RAO is a key research facility within the University of Calgary's Department of Physics and Astronomy. It is one of Canada’s best-equipped astronomical teaching facilities, providing university students with the opportunity to use research-grade telescopes, an integral part of the undergraduate astronomy curriculum. It is also an astronomy resource for school children, teachers and community groups. The RAO strives to serve the community as a resource to science educators and as a catalyst for science education in Alberta.

For more on the observatory visit the Rothney Astrophysical Observatory.