23rd October 2014 Partial Solar Eclipse

RASC_handbookThe Royal Astronomical Society of Canada publishes each year its Observer’s Handbook, which is a wonderful reference of astronomical data and phenomena of the year. Its target time period is mainly relevant for the year of publication, but much of its content is a wealth of information applicable to any time period of the epoch.  The 2014 RASC Handbook noted four eclipses of the year, a total lunar eclipse in mid-April followed by an annular solar eclipse two weeks later (which was visible only in the far southern and eastern hemispheres), then another total lunar eclipse in early October and finally a partial solar eclipse on 23 October. This last solar eclipse was well situated for us observers in the western edge of North America.

direct view
The San Jose Astronomical Association hosted an event at its base camp, San Jose’s Houge Park for this partial solar eclipse. The objective is to allow people to safely view the eclipse, share views with each other and the public, and to simply socialize.  The club’s solar workhorse of a telescope, a 100mm hydrogen alpha scope made by Lunt, was doing its thing. A host of other telescopes were set up by club members and other people, many of which had filters attached for safe viewing, or projection systems installed so that the image could be viewed by many people at once, not unlike viewing the event on a small smartphone screen. Some people even brought out colanders, ie, spaghetti strainers, the holes of which act as numerous pin hole cameras, projecting numerous crescent sun images onto the ground, a white piece of paper, or even a hand.
long focal length imageSpecial solar viewing glasses, which make it safe for people to look directly at the sun, were made available to all attendees.  Kids and adults alike were able to wrap these glasses across their eyes and have a safe, direct view at anytime.  And when we did, we were treated not just to a portion of the moon covering the sun, but there was also an additional treat: An unusually enormous sunspot was clearly visible to the naked eye.  Everyone who knew what they were looking at could easily spot the aberration on the face of the sun.  What made this special is that sunspots are typically much smaller, and not visible without some amount of magnification.  The eclipse today was accentuated by this sunspot, which did not at any time become obscured by the moon’s limb, and whose size is fairly rare.
During the roughly three and a half hours of the event, an estimated seventy five people attended. Some were seasoned amateur astronomers who were ready with their own equipment, while others were families that stumbled across the event and were invited over by friendly volunteers of the SJAA.  Kids and retirees alike viewed the eclipse (and sunspot) in amazement, while everyone enjoyed the mild autumn weather of northern California.
This will be the last solar eclipse that will be visible in California for the next few years. In August of 2017, however, a large swath of North America, in particular the United States, will host a total eclipse come through.  This will be a highly anticipated event, so now is the time to plan for seeing this total eclipse, which should be on everyone’s list of thousand-things-to-do-before-you-die!
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