Solar eclipse on Sunday peaks at sunset in Missouri

Friday, May 18, 2012 | 6:48 p.m. CDT; updated 3:10 p.m. CDT, Sunday, May 20, 2012

COLUMBIA — If clouds don't interfere, you can wrap up your weekend by watching a spectacular sight at sunset on Sunday: a partial solar eclipse.

Some parts of the West Coast lie directly in the moon's path. The states in this path will see the full eclipse before sunset. Missouri, while not in the moon's direct path, will still see a partial eclipse that coincides with sunset.

If you go

Partial eclipse viewing party

WHERE: Laws Observatory, 5th floor of the Physics Building

Off of College Ave., north of Rollins St. (Click here for map)

WHEN: 5 p.m. to sunset

WHO: Free and open to the public

If it's too cloudy this afternoon in Columbia

Don't let weather get in the way of tonight's solar eclipse. If skies are too cloudy to see the sunset, grab a laptop and watch one of several live streams broadcasting from around the world.

SLOOH Space Camera will have two showings on its website along with audio broadcasts. The first show airs as the eclipse passes over Japan at 4:30 p.m., and the second airs at 7 p.m. as it hits the West Coast.

Go to Panasonic's eclipse page to watch a live stream from the top of Mount Fuji.

The Hong Kong Observatory in partnership with the Hong Kong Space Museum will be showing the eclipse as it passes over the city.

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Val Germann of the Central Missouri Astronomical Association said that in the middle of the eclipse, which will occur at about 7:45 p.m., the sun “will look like a cookie with a bite out of it.”

The astronomical association will host a public viewing from 5 p.m. until sunset Sunday at Laws Observatory on the roof of the MU Physics Building. The free event will offer viewing of the eclipse through projection methods or through the observatory’s telescope equipped with special filters.

NASA’s solar eclipse calculator for Columbia puts the beginning of the eclipse at 7:25 p.m. when the sun is 8.9 degrees above the horizon. The eclipse will continue as the sun sets at 8:20 p.m. According to the U.S. Naval Observatory, 69.4 percent of the sun will be covered.

“The most spectacular event will be sunset,” Germann said. “The sun will look like the letter C.”

Solar eclipses occur when the moon passes over the sun in its orbit around the earth, casting a shadow over the earth. Sunday’s eclipse is an annular eclipse. According to NASA’s website, “during an annular eclipse the moon does not block the entirety of the sun, but leaves a bright ring of light visible at the edges.”

This flaming circle around the moon is called the "ring of fire."

Sunday's eclipse is special because it occurs at sunset. Just as you can safely look at a sunset without eye protection, Germann said, you can safely view the final phases of this eclipse with the naked eye when the sun is right on the horizon. He emphasized that it's unsafe to look directly at the sun without a protective filter at any other time.

At sunset, Germann said, “the atmosphere itself becomes the filter.”

If you are unable to attend the public viewing, the cheapest and easiest way to create a projection through which to view the eclipse is to punch a pinhole in a thin piece of cardboard. Holding another piece of cardboard underneath the pinhole, stand with your back to the sun. The sunlight will shine through the pinhole and create a projection of the eclipse on the second piece of cardboard.

The eclipse should be visible anywhere with clear skies and an unobstructed view of the western horizon. The National Weather Service on Friday forecast a 30 percent chance of rain Sunday evening with clouds covering 50 to 64 percent of the sky.

Good weather is important for Sunday, but it's even more important Tuesday, June 5, when Venus will eclipse the sun. That evening, the astronomical association will host another observing party at the Laws Observatory. Germann said the transit of Venus is far more rare and will not occur again for 115 years.

In the not-so-distant future, Columbia will fall in the path of a total eclipse of the sun in August 2017.

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