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If you missed the "blood moon" earlier this month, here's your chance to see another unusual arrangement of the heavenly bodies. Thursday brings a partial solar eclipse, with the moon passing between the Earth and the sun just enough to take a "bite" out of our star during the late afternoon or early evening — and for some lucky viewers, during sunset.
Nearly everywhere in America, Canada and Mexico will be able to see the eclipse, though it's those up north who will be treated to the biggest share of the moon's shadow. The action starts at about 6 p.m. on the East Coast, where the sun will appear to lose a piece of its disc as it dips below the horizon — likely to be an extremely striking sight. Unfortunately, New England is left out of the fun; the sun will set there just before the moon's shadow touches down.
On the West Coast, the show begins at around 2 p.m., so no sunset viewing, but the eclipse will be far more distinct. Alaska will have the best view — about 70 percent of the sun will be blocked out. Sky and Telescope has a list of timing and maximum coverage for most major cities, and you can visit this website to see an animated version of what to expect.
If you plan to view the eclipse in person, remember: Don't look directly at the sun! It may be partly obscured, but all it takes is a sliver of sun on an unprotected eye to cause eye damage or even blindness.
To view the eclipse safely, the simplest way is to poke a pinhole in a bit of cardboard or foil and let it project the sun's onto a nearby wall or piece of paper (don't look through the pinhole). You should see a bright spot in the shape of the sun growing more crescent-shaped as the moon advances. Experiment with creating these projections using your hands or more holes — you'll have plenty of time, since it will take a full two hours for the moon to complete its passage.
Alternatively, check with nearby science centers and observatories — some will likely be selling or giving out tinted glasses through which you can safely watch the phenomenon. You may even find a local viewing party where you can see the eclipse with an expert on hand.
Weather isn't always favorable, of course, but if the skies are obscured by clouds in your city, there are still ways to watch the eclipse from the comfort of your home. Griffith Observatory in Los Angeles will be providing a livestream, as will Slooh.