Locally observed in R.I. as a Partial Solar Eclipse

Locally observed in R.I. as a Partial Solar Eclipse

Submitted by Sandi Brenner

What is an eclipse?

An eclipse is when the shadow of one celestial body falls on another. What you see during the eclipse depends on your position with respect to the shadow. Earthbound observers see two types of eclipses: Lunar and Solar. A Lunar eclipse occurs only during a Full Moon when the Earth blocks the Sun’s light from reaching the Moon (the Earth’s shadow falls on the Moon.) A Solar eclipse occurs only during a New Moon when the Moon blocks the Sun’s light from reaching the Earth (the Moon’s shadow falls on the Earth.)

Why does the Earth have eclipses if the Sun is so much bigger than the Moon?

The Sun is about 400 times as large in diameter as the Moon, but it is also about 400 times farther away. Both the Sun and the Moon have an angular diameter of 1/2o, so they appear the same size in the sky. If you hold your pinky finger at arm’s length up towards the sky, the width of your pinky is about 1/2o (but remember that finger sizes will vary.)

If a Lunar Eclipse occurs at Full Moon and a Solar Eclipse occurs at New Moon, then why don’t we experience two eclipses per month?

The answer lies in the geometry and tilting of the orbital axes. The Moon’s orbit is tilted by about 5o with respect to the plane of the Earth’s orbit. This causes the Moon to often lie just above or just below the alignment with the Earth and the Sun.

What are the two conditions that must be met for an eclipse to occur?

  1. There must be an alignment of the three bodies (Earth, Moon, and Sun) in space while the Moon is in the plane of the Earth’s orbit.
  2. The Moon must be at either the Full Moon phase or the New Moon phase.

What type of eclipse is occurring on April 8th?

On April 8, 2024, the Moon will be at the New Moon phase and will be in the plane of the Earth’s orbit. At that time, it will block the Sun’s light from observers on Earth and observers will witness a Solar Eclipse.

Why is this eclipse locally a Partial Solar Eclipse?

As the Moon is a much smaller body, the shadow it casts on the Earth’s surface is narrow. The path that the shadow takes is called the “Path of Totality.” Only the observers along the Path of Totality will see a Total Solar Eclipse. Rhode Island is outside this path, so we will only see a Partial Solar Eclipse.

How much of the Sun will be obscured by the Moon?

At the maximum extent of the eclipse, the Moon will obscure about 91.5% of the Sun’s surface.

Since this is a Partial Solar Eclipse, is it safe to watch it with my naked eyes?

The answer is NO! At no point during the eclipse is the Sun’s entire surface blocked, so the Sun’s light can damage your eyes if the Sun is viewed directly. In addition, wearing sunglasses to watch the eclipse is NOT acceptable – sunglasses are not nearly dark enough to protect your eyes!

How can I safely watch the eclipse?

There are several ways to safely observe nature’s wonder:

  • Obtain a pair of eclipse glasses – these special ‘glasses’ have an especially dark filter that allows you to look at the Sun. These may still be available to be purchased online (just make sure you are purchasing from a reputable seller to ensure the quality/safety of the glasses.)
  • Find an organization that will have eclipse glasses or telescopes with a solar filter that is open to the public on the day of the eclipse. The Greenville Public Library will be hosting an Eclipse Watch Party; see their website for details.
  • Create your own ‘pinhole projector’ – take a piece of white paper and use a thumbtack to create a small hole. With your back to the Sun, hold the paper to your side and allow the Sun’s light to shine on it. In your other hand, hold a second piece of white paper below the first piece – this will be your screen. The Sun’s light will pass though the small hole and will create an image on the screen. As the eclipse progresses, you can watch the progress on the screen. If you have cardstock available, that may be easier to hold steady than white copy paper.
  • You can also use household items to watch the eclipse. For example, a kitchen colander will allow the Sun’s light to pass through it, acting as a pinhole projector, and will project multiple images of the eclipse. As with the pinhole projector, stand with your back to the Sun and hold the colander to your side. The images will be projected onto the ground or a piece of paper/cardstock.

Can I use my smartphone camera to photograph the eclipse?

Yes, but only with proper protection. Aiming your Smartphone at the partially eclipsed Sun to take photos may damage your cell phone. To safely take photos, you must have a solar filter over your phone’s camera lens. These can also be purchased online.

What is the timing for the eclipse on April 8th?

Partial begins: 2:15 pm

Maximum: 3:29 pm

Partial ends: 4:38 pm

View at this eclipse’s Maximum extent: Eclipse Path for this region (red dot is Smithfield):

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