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This article is from the In-Depth Report It's Back! Total Solar Eclipse Hits Skies Friday

Europe in the Moon's Penumbra

Guide for eclipse-watchers in Europe
eclipse path



The Living Earth/F. Espenak/NASA/Sterne und Weltraum

The only total eclipse of the sun in 2008 will be visible on August 1 over a narrow but long swath of land, beginning in Canada and ending in China after traversing northern Greenland, the island of Novaya Zemlya in the Arctic Ocean, Siberia and western Mongolia. Those who wish to enjoy the whole 147 seconds of totality will just have to travel to some of the most out-of-the-way places on the globe.

Only a partial eclipse will be visible in Germany. Although that is not nearly as impressive as a completely "black" sun, for most Europeans it won't cost anything to see it. With the exception of the Iberian peninsula, southern Italy and the Greece's Peloponnese, you will be able to view the partial eclipse all over Europe. The farther north you happen to be, the more of the solar disk will be obscured by the moon as it transits.

Visitors to the North Cape, in Norway, for example, will see a sun that is about 80 percent in shadow. That is enough to cause twilight conditions. (What makes this situation particularly appealing is that the eclipse takes place at the end of the two-month-long midnight sun). Only a maximum of about 20 percent of the solar disk will be covered by the moon in Hamburg and Berlin; in Stuttgart and Munich, only about 8 percent.

In Berlin, the eclipse will start at 10:44 Central European Summer Time (2:44 A.M. Eastern Standard Time) when the disk of the new moon seems to touch the gleaming sun (first contact). After that, the moon will transit across the northern part of the sun. The maximum eclipse can be seen in Berlin at 11:32 CEST (4:32 EST). The moon will then cover 30 percent of the diameter of the solar disk (this measurement is called the "eclipse magnitude") and 19 percent of its surface (called "coverage"). The partial eclipse will end at 12:33 CEST (4:33 EST) when the disks of the sun and moon go their separate ways (fourth contact). These times will differ by a few minutes from city to city.

Because of the relatively small maximum coverage of the solar disk in Germany, the sky will hardly darken at all. In fact, you might not even know that a partial eclipse is occurring unless you go out of your way to observe it. The simplest way to do so is to get a set of special solar eclipse glasses from an optician or a store that specializes in astronomy. The layer of silvery foil on these glasses only permits about one one-hundred-thousandth of the light to pass so the eclipse may be observed safely along its entire course. Or, you can project the image of the sun onto a white sheet of paper using a small telescope. You will then be able to pick out the darkened part of the sun.

Never, ever look directly into the sun with unprotected eyes—especially with binoculars or other magnifying devices. This can cause irreparable retinal damage and blindness! If you are inexperienced in observing the sun, call an astronomy association in your area.

—Uwe Reichert

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