The University Record, May 9, 1994

U community in front-row seat for tomorrow’s solar eclipse

Michigan skywatchers will have a front-row seat for a solar eclipse tomorrow (May 10), according to astronomer Richard G. Teske.

“A solar eclipse occurs when the moon passes exactly between the sun and Earth, casting its shadow on us. It is a rare event that happens at most only a few times each year,” Teske says.

“This eclipse will be the last one visible in North America until the year 2012. The next ‘Big One’ for Michigan viewers will take place in April 2024.”

While tomorrow’s eclipse will be visible from Alaska to Panama, Teske says the best viewing will be along a 140-mile-wide strip from El Paso, Texas, through Toledo, Ohio, to Halifax, Nova Scotia. Within this narrow band, the moon will blot out all but a tiny fraction of the sun’s light, plunging onlookers into a sunset-like darkness. Over Illinois, Indiana, Ohio, Michigan and Lake Erie the moon will be completely in front of the sun for six minutes and 15 seconds.

“The sun and moon will be almost overhead in Michigan during the period of deepest eclipse. At Lansing, the moon will first encroach on the sun’s disk at 11:31 a.m., with maximum coverage at 1:15 p.m. By 2:59 p.m., the eclipse will be over,” Teske explains. “These times will be the same within five minutes for watchers anywhere in Michigan.”

During the eclipse, the moon will appear slightly smaller than the sun. The moon seems small, because on May 10 it is almost as far away from us in its

elliptical orbit as it ever gets, according to Teske.

“For this reason, Michigan observers living south of a line from Benton Harbor to Port Huron, including the Detroit area, will see a black moon almost centered on the sun, surrounded by a narrow bright rim of sunlight. North of this line, the dark moon will almost cover the sun, giving observers an excellent view of a partial solar eclipse. At Toledo, observers will see the moon exactly centered on the sun because the eclipse track will pass directly over their city,” Teske says.

During the upcoming eclipse, a brilliant sliver of the sun’s rim will remain visible illuminating the atmosphere above us. For this reason the sky stays a bit too bright for observers to get a glimpse of the faint, hot gaseous corona that surrounds the sun. Teske notes that the sun’s corona can be seen only during a rare type of total solar eclipse, when the sun becomes completely obscured and the sky is very dark.

“Some people worry that dangerous ‘solar rays’ are emitted during eclipses, but this doesn’t happen,” Teske says. “It’s perfectly safe to be outside during the event; there are no rays or other side effects to worry about.”