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Partial Eclipse of the Sun, Thursday Feb 7 2008

22nd January 2008

MEDIA RELEASE - Stardome Observatory

Eclipse-Hunters Get Ready for Partial Eclipse of the Sun on Thursday February 7th 2008

A partial eclipse of the sun will be visible from all parts of New Zealand on February 7th 2008.

These events occur when the Moon passes between the Earth and the Sun, but does not completely block our view of the Sun. "The sun will look like it has a bite out of it, but the bite is the moon," says the Stardome's Graham Murray.

Some 3,400km further south in parts of Antarctica and the Southern Ocean, the moon will pass across the centre of the sun's face and almost - but not completely - cover it producing what astronomers call an "annular" eclipse.

The orbit of the Moon is not a circle - it is a stretched circle called an ellipse. So sometimes the Moon is closer making it appear larger in the sky and other times it is further away making it appear slightly smaller. An annular eclipse happens when the Moon is at its smaller size, a size that is not quite large enough to completely cover the sun's face. The uncovered portion of the sun appears to be a bright ring, hence the name "annular" eclipse.

This differs from a total solar eclipse which occurs when the sun's light is completely blocked by the moon.

In Auckland the partial eclipse starts at 4.48pm when the sun is half way up the sky in the west and finishes about 2 hours later at 6.51pm. At the time of maximum eclipse (5.52pm) 47% of the Sun will be covered as seen from Auckland. Maximum eclipse will occur in Christchurch at 5.37pm when 53% of the sun's face will be covered by the Moon. The times are similar for other parts of the country.

"It's absolutely essential to use a safe method of viewing the sun in order to watch the eclipse. Looking at the sun directly, or through a camera, binoculars or telescope can cause permanent damage, including the possibility of blindness," says Graham.

One safe method of watching an eclipse is to project the sun's image onto a screen, through a telescope or a pin-hole camera, to watch it in real-time like a movie.

The last good partial solar eclipse was 22 August 1998 and the next opportunity will not be until 14 November 2012.

For further details please contact Stardome Observatory on 624 1246 or visit Stardome is located in One Tree Hill Domain Auckland.


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