Israelis Enjoy the Spectacle of a Partial Solar Eclipse

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A partial solar eclipse visible over Tel Aviv on January 4, 2011. Credit: Haim Taragan

Clouds and rain may have darkened their skies Tuesday morning, but Israelis were still among the first to be treated to an eclipse visible in the Mideast and Europe, as the sun appeared to have taken a large bit out of its upper right section.

A solar eclipse happens when the moon lines up between the sun and the Earth, casting a lunar shadow on the Earth's surface and obscuring the solar disk. During a partial solar eclipse, only part of the sun is blotted out.

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The partial solar eclipse is seen through the fog in Vienna, Austria, on January 4, 2011.Credit: AP
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The partial solar eclipse is seen over southern Israel on January 4, 2011.Credit: Eliyahu Hershkovitz
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Israelis watch at the partial solar eclipse in the town of Givatayim, near Tel Aviv, on January 4, 2011.Credit: AP

In central Israel, the eclipse was at its fullest at 10:41 A.M., when the moon covered 46 percent of the face of the sun and 57 percent of its diameter.

The eclipse peaked two minutes earlier in Eilat, and three minutes later in Metula in the north. Overall, the process was to last for three hours, from 9:10 A.M. to 12:15 P.M.

Looking at the eclipse directly, whether with the naked eye, through telescopes or through binoculars, is extremely dangerous, and can cause permanent damage to the eye and even blindness.

The director of the Weitzmann Institute's space observatory, Ilan Manolis, also warned against improvised gadgets like smoked glass and film.

"You can use welder goggles rated 14, which you can find in hardware stores, or special eclipse glasses," said Manolis. Eclipse glasses can be bought at the Givatayim observatory, the Barkat observatory in Maccabim or from the Cosmos company.

Organized viewings were to take place in a number of locations across the country, with the Israeli Astronomy Association holding a viewing at the Givatayim observatory from 9 A.M. until noon. The viewing was to be accompanied by "eclipse hunter," Prof. Jay Pasachoff from Williams College in the United States.

The Astronomy Club of the Tel Aviv University was also to hold a viewing from the plaza in front of the Shenkar - Physics building, from 09:30 to 11:30 in the morning. In the south, the Ilan Ramon center was to set up an observation point in front of the Student Union building at Ben-Gurion University. The Astronomy Association and the Ilan Ramon Center both broadcast the eclipse from their websites.

In Europe, wintry skies hampered vision of the eclipse over Switzerland, but Romanians enjoyed the sight of a pinkish ethereal light and Swedes a beautiful sunrise, as the partial solar eclipse extended across much of the continent.

In Switzerland, the pall of clouds and light snow seemed like dusk with lights twinkling in cities - time in reverse just as people streamed off trains and buses to arrive at work. The solar occurrence was at its height over Geneva, Bern and other Swiss cities in the midmorning, then the grayness at the lower altitudes began to brighten a bit.

As much as two-thirds of the sun slipped from view behind the moon, something that hasn't occurred in Switzerland since August 1999. A more minor eclipse happened in August 2008.

The Swiss federal health office also warned people, especially children, to wear special eye protection rather than use homemade gear to see the eclipse.

Clear skies over southern Romania offered a chance to glimpse a pale pink, otherworldly glow that spread over Bucharest, the capital. People climbed atop snow-coated high-rise buildings to get a better view, or donned sunglasses and huddled outside subway stations in Revolution Square. Some watched it televised live; Romanians won't see their next eclipse until March 2015.

“This morning I saw a strange light,” said Andrei Carlescu, a 21-year-old architecture student who was fascinated by the way the light dipped. “At first I didn't know what was happening. There were children about 9 or 10 who were wearing special glasses and looking at it.”

Western Europe woke up to a sunrise eclipse. Astronomers expected the greatest
eclipse over Sweden, where about 85 percent of the sun will be blocked.

“It's thanks to the position of the moon and so the shadow (of it) is very small,” said Niclas Henricson, head of the Tycho Brahe observatory in southern Sweden.

Ten people had gathered at Henricson's observatory ready to check it out with their mobile telescopes should the cloudy weather disperse. He said Swedes only have such an opportunity about once every 45 years; their next full solar eclipse will be in 2126.

Rather than miss out, Christian Ander, a 31-year-old IT entrepreneur, went to a park to watch it, though he said that because it occurred so early in the morning, it wasn't as noticeable as it might have been if it had happened later in the day.

“It was beautiful,” he said. “It was kind of like a sunrise.”

Polish viewers were treated to live television coverage of the eclipse from the southern city of Krakow, where the shadow of the moon could be seen gradually blotting out the sun.

The golden croissant-like shape was visible in the dark sky in the morning. However, most of Poland was covered by clouds that blotted out the spectacular sight.

A sunset eclipse will be visible from central Russia, Kazakhstan, Mongolia and northwest China.