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Sunday, January 2, 2011

Starting the New Year with a Solar Eclipse in Israel

More good news for sky watchers. Start off the New Year with a partial solar eclipse that is well seen from Israel on Tuesday, January 4, 2011. This is not a total eclipse anywhere, but sky watchers in Europe, Africa, the Middle East and Asia will be able to see it well. The greatest extent of coverage will be in Stockholm, Sweden, where 79% of the sun will be covered at 9:42am local time.

In Israel the eclipse will begin at 9:09am, with maximum coverage of 47% reached at 10:41am local time. If you are without clouds, look carefully and you may be able to see a "dulling" of the sunshine around mid-eclipse, but the sun is so bright that only a total eclipse darkens the sky. Sometimes a perceptible drop in temperature can be felt around mid-eclipse as well.

I must caution you not to look directly at the sun with the naked eye, even during a partial eclipse, and certainly never with any optical instrument, unless it has been designated for solar use. More than a glance at the sun can cause permanent damage to eyesight. This includes smoked glass, exposed negatives or any other home made item, however dark. Also, sunglasses, however dark, are not safe for solar viewing. They can still allow harmful rays to reach the eye. Welders #14 glass can be used to view the eclipse with the naked eye or this projection system that you can make at home. You will be tempted to keep trying to watch the sun with your naked eye. Don't do that. Children's eyes are particularly susceptible to injury. There are special astronomical sun filters and films that can be used. You may find them for sale in various places, including camera shops.

                     Start          Middle         End       Sun Coverage
Tel Aviv    9:09am      10:41am    12:16pm         47%

Visibility of Partial Solar Eclipse, Tuesday, January 4, 2011

This eclipse allows us to directly view the "molad", the birth of the new moon of Shevat, but Rosh Chodesh, the first of the new month, will not occur until Thursday. This is because ordinarily the new moon of a month would not be visible until 12-24 hours after its astronomical occurrence, which is the earliest witnesses could report it to the Bet Din. Rosh Chodesh in the Jewish calendar is an observable event, not one calculated by celestial mechanics.

Barekat Observatory in Israel will webcast the event for those not able to get outside.

Chodesh Tov.

Keep on looking up.

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