On Wednesday, March 29, 2006, a total eclipse of the Sun will sweep across parts of West and North Africa, Turkey, and Central Asia. The eclipse will be partial across a much wider region, including most of Africa, all of Europe, and much of western and southern Asia.

A solar eclipse happens when the Moon crosses the face of the Sun as seen from your viewpoint on Earth. The March 29th total eclipse starts at sunrise at the tip of Brazil, crosses the Atlantic in the morning, the Sahara Desert at midday, Turkey in the afternoon, and ends at sunset in Central Asia.

Although a partial solar eclipse can’t hold a candle to a total one, it’s a memorable celestial event in its own right. Can you see a change in the illumination of the landscape around you? A partial eclipse has to be surprisingly deep to alter the light visibly, because our eyes are very good at adjusting to ambient light levels. But when this does happen, the world seems to take on an odd, silvery feel like no other. Look for crescent-shaped dapplings on the ground where sunlight shines through leaves. In a safely solar-filtered telescope (see below), look for mountain silhouettes on the Moon’s dark edge. Look too for a difference between the Moon’s complete darkness and the not-so-complete darkness of any sunspots that the edge of the Moon approaches.

Warning: Never look at the bright surface of the Sun without proper eye protection! Examples are special “eclipse glasses” properly designed for the purpose, a #14 rectangular arc-welder’s filter, or special astronomers’ solar filters. Staring at the bright Sun can burn your retina, leaving a permanent blind spot in the center of your vision. The only reason a partial eclipse poses a special danger is because it can prompt people to look directly at the Sun, something they wouldn’t normally do.

Looking while the Sun is totally eclipsed, on the other hand, is safe. At that time, of course, none of the Sun’s bright surface is in view.

More about observing and photographing a partial solar eclipse, either through a safe filter or by the “projection method,” can be found at SkyandTelescope.com > Observing > Celestial Objects > Eclipses.

More on this particular eclipse appears in the January and March 2006 issues of SKY & TELESCOPE, the Essential Magazine of Astronomy.

SKY & TELESCOPE is pleased to make several publication-quality graphics available to our colleagues in the news media. Permission is granted for one-time, nonexclusive use in print and broadcast media, as long as appropriate credits (as noted in the captions) are included. Web publication must include a link to SkyandTelescope.com.

Solar Eclipse Map

This orthographic-projection map of Earth shows the path of the umbral shadow for the March 29, 2006, total solar eclipse. Partial phases of the eclipse can be seen over a much broader region, including most of Africa and Asia as well as all of Europe and the Middle East. Click on the image to download a publication-quality version (920-kilobyte JPEG) by anonymous FTP. Sky & Telescope diagram / Source: Fred Espenak

Solar Eclipse over Europe

Although nothing of the March 29, 2006, solar eclipse can be seen from North America, all Europeans can observe the partial phases — weather permitting. Use this map to find when the eclipse begins and ends at your location; times are GMT. The curves labeled with percentages indicate what fraction of the Sun’s diameter is blocked by the Moon at maximum eclipse. Click on the image to download a publication-quality version (982-kilobyte JPEG) by anonymous FTP. Sky & Telescope diagram.

Appearance of Sun at Maximum Eclipse

These views show the Sun’s appearance at the times of greatest eclipse on March 29, 2006, for various cities, as seen by an observer who stands facing the Sun and looks through a safe solar filter. Click on the image to download a publication-quality version (237-kilobyte JPEG) by anonymous FTP. Sky & Telescope illustration.

Partial Solar Eclipse

A partial eclipse of the Sun was widely visible across the United States on May 10, 1994. This view of the event was captured from Ogunquit, Maine. Click on the image to download a publication-quality version (500-kilobyte JPEG) by anonymous FTP. Sky & Telescope photo by Richard Tresch Fienberg.

To download the graphics and read the captions, please see the online version of this press release:


The online release also includes links to other useful eclipse resources.