Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Enjoy your morning coffee with a solar eclipse

NASA is offering people the chance to watch tomorrow's solar eclipse in the comfort of their pyjamas.

The solar eclipse, which occurs when the moon's silhouette completely blocks the sun, will only be directly visible in parts of South America, Africa and Asia, but NASA will be broadcasting it on this website beginning at 5 am EST tomorrow.

If you only want to see the phase of the eclipse known as totality, when the sun is most fully blocked, you have the luxury of sleeping in until 5:55 am. But don't be late, because this will only last for four minutes (and that's longer than usual normally, totality only lasts for one to two minutes).

During the eclipse, the sky will darken, and the corona, or outer atmosphere of the sun, will be visible (it is usually impossible to see). Astronomers will take advantage of the rare opportunity to measure certain aspects of the corona, which is of interest because it is a lot hotter than the sun's surface and no one really knows why.

Solar eclipses are rare events, because the tilted orbits of the sun, moon and Earth all have to align at the same time. You may want to seriously consider sacrificing your beauty sleep for the amazing view Americans will have to wait until 2017 for the next directly visible solar eclipse.


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