Image: Partial solar eclipse
Chris Gardner  /  AP file
This partial solar eclipse was visible from North America on Christmas Day, 2000. The one coming up next week can be seen only in parts of Asia, the Pacific Ocean and Alaska.
By Night sky columnist
updated 10/8/2004 8:43:46 PM ET 2004-10-09T00:43:46

A partial solar eclipse will take place next week, oddly ending the day before it begins.

The eclipse will be visible, weather permitting, from northeastern portions of Asia, including all of Japan, northeastern Mongolia and China, and much of Siberia. Since these regions are located to the west of the International Date Line, the eclipse will take place Thursday, Oct. 14.

To the east of the Date Line, however, the calendar date is Oct. 13. And it will be those lucky skywatchers who live in the western half of Alaska that will be able to see the final moments of the eclipse, when it reaches a spectacular peak just as the sun sets beyond the west-southwest horizon late Wednesday afternoon.

The eclipse will start on Oct. 14, but it will end on the previous day!

It is the second partial solar eclipse of 2004. In the first one, on April 19, the lower-third of Africa saw the new moon partially eclipse the sun.

What will happen
The dark shadow cone of the moon is known as the umbra, and it is what can create the grand spectacle of a total eclipse. But this time, the umbra will completely miss Earth, passing less than 140 miles (220 kilometers) above the North Pole and out into space.

Meanwhile, the moon’s outer shadow (known as the penumbra), from where the Moon will appear to partially eclipse the Sun, will slice into a part of the Northern Hemisphere.

Partial solar eclipses are usually shunned by professional astronomers because they lack the drama and beauty of a total solar eclipse. Yet the setup affords many people the opportunity to view firsthand the dark disk of the moon crossing in front of the sun.

"A partial eclipse, whether or not it leads to totality or annularity, offers a wonderful opportunity to experience the magic of astronomy," Philip Harrington writes in "Eclipse!" (John Wiley & Sons Inc., 1997).

The details
The point of greatest eclipse lies near the town of Kenai (southwest of Anchorage). There, 92.7 percent of the sun’s diameter will be eclipsed at local sunset.

Other Alaskan towns, including Kotzebue (91.2 percent), Nome (91.4 percent) and Bethel (92.4 percent) will also see the sun disappear beyond the horizon while still deep into the eclipse. Because such a large fraction of the sun will be covered by the moon for these locations, an eerie "counterfeit twilight" may appear to fall over the landscape just prior to sunset.

Image: Eclipse viewing area
NASA
The grid on this chart, prepared by NASA eclipse researcher Fred Espenak, shows the area where the partial eclipse will be visible.

Those living across the eastern half of Alaska (except the Southeast Coast) will see the eclipse’s opening stages up until local sunset.

This eclipse will not be visible from virtually any part of Canada (save for a fleeting glimpse for that part of the Yukon Territory immediately bordering Alaska) or any part of the 48 contiguous United States.

But for those living in Hawaii, the moon will appear to obscure about half of the sun’s disk on Wednesday afternoon. The moon’s passage across the sun will result in a large "bite" on the sun’s righthand side, making for a most unusual-looking tropical sunset!

Be very, verycareful about the precautions for eclipse viewing. Neverlook at even a tiny bit of the sun’s disc unless you are using a proper filtration device, such as No. 14 welder’s glass or aluminized Mylar plastic to protect your eyes. Eclipse glasses from reputable astronomy-product dealers are also safe. And there are other safe methods for indirectly viewing an eclipse.

There is more in store later this month. A total eclipse of the moon will be visible from most of the Americas and Western Europe on Oct. 27.

The next solar eclipse will be an unusual "hybrid" eclipse — part annular, part total — on April 8, 2005 chiefly over the Pacific Ocean. However, those living across portions of the southern and eastern United States will be able to see a partial solar eclipse.

© 2013 Space.com. All rights reserved. More from Space.com.

Discuss:

Discussion comments

,

Most active discussions

  1. votes comments
  2. votes comments
  3. votes comments
  4. votes comments