The moon will take a bite out of the sun Tuesday during the first solar eclipse of the year, with skywatchers in Europe, Africa and Asia poised to catch the best views of the event if good weather prevails.
The Jan. 4 partial solar eclipse will be best seen from Sweden's Gulf of Bothnia, near the city of Skellefte where the moon will appear to blot out about 80 percent of the sun's disk at sunrise. From start to finish, the eclipse will last about three hours, according to Sky & Telescope magazine.
Much of Western Europe will be treated to a sunrise solar eclipse. For some early-bird observers, the eclipse will a cap busy morning of skywatching, since it will occur after the peak of the Quadrantid meteor shower at 0100 GMT.
While northern Sweden will see the moon's biggest bite out of the sun, observers in London and Paris will see the sun about two-thirds obscured.
"Europeans won't get another opportunity to see the sun covered to this extent until March 20, 2015," reported Sky & Telescope.
Tuesday's eclipse is the first of four partial solar eclipses in 2011. The last year in which so many occurred was 1982, and it won't happen again until 2029, the Associated Press reported.
There will not be a total solar eclipse this year, unlike in 2010, which had one. [ Photos: The Total Solar Eclipse of 2010 ]
Parts of Africa, the Middle East and Asia are also expected to get ringside seats to the partial solar eclipse. The event will begin over Algeria, and observers in Moscow should see a sun that is 74 percent blocked by the moon.
"The first contact of the penumbral shadow (where the sun rises with a barely perceptible nick in its southern edge) coincides with local sunrise a few hundred kilometers northeast of In Salah, an oasis town in central Algeria, at the heart of the Sahara Desert region of northern Africa," explains Joe Rao, SPACE.com's skywatching columnist.
Skywatchers hoping to observe the solar eclipse should remember never to stare directly at the sun with their unaided eyes, or binoculars or telescopes. [ Video: How to safely observe the sun ]
"Looking directly at the sun is harmful to your eyes at any time, partial eclipse or no," said Sky 7 Telescope's Alan MacRobert. "The eclipse prompts people to gaze at the sun, something they wouldn't normally do. The result can be temporary or permanent blurred vision or blind spots at the center of your view."
Skywatchers can observe a solar eclipse by using glasses equipped with special solar filters, or looking through dark #13 or #14 welder's glass.
Another easy solar eclipse-observing technique is to create a pinhole camera. Here's how to do it:
Start by punching a small hole in a card or sheet of paper. Then face the pinhole toward the sun and project the light coming through it onto another card or paper about 3 feet (1 meter) away in its shadow.
Solar eclipses occur when the moon passes in front of the sun as seen from the Earth's surface.
When the moon completely blocks the sun, a total solar eclipse occurs. But occasionally, the moon passes in front of only a portion of the sun to create partial and so-called annular solar eclipses.
Unlike total solar eclipses, which can be viewed only from the narrow path of the moon's shadow on the Earth, partial solar eclipses can be seen across much wider geographical areas.
NASA astronomer Fred Espenak has calculated the GMT/UT observation conditions for 65 selected cities in Europe, Africa and Asia, which includes both the obscuration and magnitude values. You can see the entire city list by clicking here.
Sky & Telescope Magazine estimates that millions of skywatchers may see Tuesday's partial solar eclipse if the weather allows.
- Photos: The Total Solar Eclipse of 2010
- Video Meteor Shower, Solar Eclipse of January 2011
- Solar Eclipse and Meteor Shower to Launch 2011 Skywatching Season
You can follow SPACE.com Managing Editor Tariq Malik on Twitter@tariqjmalik.
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