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Tuesday, Feb. 24, 1998

Eclipse won't be very dramatic here

Only a fraction of the sun will be occluded, with clouds in the forecast as well

By JAMES A. SUYDAM
Staff Writer

   The last total eclipse of the sun for the Western Hemisphere this century will pass largely unnoticed in Corpus Christi, where less than a quarter of the sun will in be shadows and cloudy skies likely will hamper viewing.
   To see Thursday's eclipse in its entirety, scientists have traveled to Colombia, Venezuela and the Caribbean, where the moon will entirely block the surface of the sun, casting a shadow that will cut a 93-mile wide swath across the surface of the Earth.
   Here in the Coastal Bend, only 23.8 percent of the sun's diameter will be occluded, according to a National Aeronautics and Space Administration web-site. And Thursday's forecast doesn't help.
   ``We could be mostly cloudy with maybe a few breaks,'' said Steve Pfaff, meteorologist with the National Weather Service. ``It doesn't look like the best viewing conditions, at this time.''
   Robert Wollman, director of King High School's planetarium, said it's likely that area residents won't even notice the sky getting darker.
   Still, the event is worth taking note of, said Wollman, who will host a special solar eclipse presentation at King High School today and Wednesday.
   ``It's a spectacular event that nature is putting on for us, and it's free,'' he said of the eclipse.
   Thursday's partial solar eclipse begins at about 10:20 a.m. and lasts nearly two hours, reaching its maximum at 11:19 a.m.
   A solar eclipse occurs when the moon passes between the sun and the Earth. Globally, this happens only a few times a year because the moon's orbit of the Earth is on a slightly different plane than the Earth's orbit of the sun. Because of the moon's tilted orbit, its shadow usually passes slightly above or below the Earth as the moon's monthly orbit brings it between the sun and the Earth.
   The best way to view the eclipse locally, said Julian Schreur, associate professor of physics at Texas A&M University-Kingsville, is through the heavily filtered telescopes at the college's observatory, which will be open to the public Thursday morning.
   But the easiest and cheapest way to see the effects of the moon's shadow is with a simple pinhole projector.
   ``All you have to do is to take a piece of paper, prick a hole in it, and then hold it up to the sun with another piece of paper behind it,'' Schreur said. The spot of light that pierces the pinhole will project an image of the sun on the second piece of paper.
   ``Or, you can just take a ladies compact out and reflect the sun's light into a darkened garage,'' Schreur said.
   But, officials warn, don't ever look at the sun with a naked eye. Despite the partial occlusion, the sun's intense rays still can sear a retina, Schreur warned.
   And while scores of scientists from across the world will be in the Caribbean to study parts of the sun visible only during totality, astronomers in Corpus Christi have little to learn.
   Total eclipses, Schreur said, allow scientists to study the sun's corona, the sun's outer layer of high-temperature gases shaped by the sun's magnetic field.
   ``But there's nothing we can do scientifically with this small of an eclipse,'' Schreur said. ``Still, an eclipse is an attraction, so you want to look at the sun.''
   Planetarium show
   
The King High School Planetarium, 5225 Gollihar Road, will feature a program on eclipses at 7 p.m. today and Wednesday. Doors open at 6:30 p.m. There will be no late seating. Admission is $2 for adults, $1 for senior citizens and students. For information, call 994-6917.
   To glimpse eclipse
   
Texas A&M University-Kingsville's observatory will have a free viewing. For information, call 512-595-2618.
   To see a live video feed of the eclipse in its totality, go to:
   www.solar-eclipse.org or www.staigerland.com
   www.discovery/com/area/science/eclipse/eclipse.html
   Other web sites of interest include the home page of astronomer Fred Espenak, a leading eclipse expert at: planets.gsfc.nasa.gov/eclipse/TSE1998/TSE1998.html or www.skypub.com/eclipses/eclipses.shtml

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