Cosmic forces and heavenly bodies will align to create something quite spectacular in the Arizona sky this weekend. An annular solar eclipse will take place late Sunday afternoon just before sunset and will cause the sun to darken considerably.
Since this particular solar eclipse's "path of totality" will cross through Arizona, it will be partially or mostly visible throughout most of the state. And a few local stargazers are planning viewing parties where the public can (safely) witness the cosmic event firsthand.
For those who slept through astronomy class in high school or college, an solar eclipse is when the moon's passes between the sun and Earth, causing that great burning sphere to be partially or totally obscured. Due to the relative position of both the Earth and moon, this is considered to be an annular eclipse in which the sun isn't completely covered and a ring of light peeks out from the edges.
And for the first time in almost 20 years, this cosmic event will be viewable in Arizona starting at 5:31 p.m. on Sunday. The eclipse will reach totality at 6:40 p.m. and will end at approximately 7:20 p.m.
As the map to the right indicates, the best place to spy the eclipse is near Flagstaff. It also will be viewable in the Valley, with the majority of the sun being obscured in the skies over Phoenix.
As any optometrist would tell you, it's not advisable to stare at the sun during an annular solar eclipse since solar rays will be blasting out around the edges. If you don't have a filtered telescope or eclipse glasses, you can use an ordinary CD-R or construct a simple DIY pinhole camera to check out the eclipse. (The eggheads at NASA also have a few tips on how to view the event without damaging your peepers).
The East Valley Astronomy Club will also set up several filtered telescopes for a special solar eclipse viewing party at the Riparian Preserve At Water Ranch in Gilbert starting at 5:15 p.m. on Sunday. Participation is free.
Meanwhile, the Phoenix Astronomical Society will be holding its "Solar Eclipse and Star Party" for the general public that will also utilize specialty telescopes and other equipment at 8030 Golden Spur Lane in Carefree starting at 3 p.m. on Sunday. Admission is also free.
If you're game for getting out of town for the weekend, however, the Lowell Observatory in Flagstaff will offer a viewing experience of its own starting at 5 p.m. on Sunday evening, as well as guest lectures and multimedia presentations on the eclipse.