No Cause to Worry Over Eclipse

Nigeria and some other countries along the West African coast will experience partial solar eclipse in three stages on Sunday November 3

|  By Anayo Ezugwu  |  Nov. 11, 2013 @ 01:00 GMT

NIGERIA and West African Coastal countries will experience a partial solar eclipse on Sunday, November 3. A solar eclipse is an astronomical event that will have the earth thrown into temporal or partial darkness as the moon blocks the sun’s rays from reaching the earth. Sa’idu Mohammed, director general, Nigeria Space Research and Development Agency, NASDRA, said the eclipse will come in three phases.

According to him, it will come as a partial eclipse at about 1.00 pm when the moon will touch the edge of the sun, then the maximum eclipse shortly before 3.00pm when the moon is expected to be closest to the centre and shortly after 4.00pm when the moon will leave the sun’s edge. He however, stated that there is no cause for alarm and Nigerians should not panic.

As seen from the earth, a solar eclipse occurs when the moon passes between the sun and earth, and the moon fully or partially blocks the sun. This can happen only at new moon, when the sun and the moon are in conjunction as seen from earth in an alignment referred to as syzygy.

In a total eclipse, the disk of the sun is fully obscured by the moon. In partial and annular eclipses only part of the sun is obscured. If the moon were in a perfectly circular orbit, a little closer to the earth, and in the same orbital plane, there would be total solar eclipses every single month.

However, the moon’s orbit is inclined at more than five degrees to earth’s orbit around the sun so its shadow at new moon usually misses the earth. The earth’s orbit is called the ecliptic plane as the moon’s orbit must cross this plane in order for an eclipse to occur.

In addition, the moon’s actual orbit is elliptical, often taking it far enough away from earth that its apparent size is not large enough to block the sun totally. The orbital planes cross each year at a line of nodes resulting in at least two, and up to five solar eclipses occurring each year; no more than two of which can be total eclipses.

However, total solar eclipses are rare at any particular location because totality exists only along a narrow path on earth’s surface traced by the Moon’s shadow or umbra. Although an eclipse is a natural phenomenon, in some ancient and modern cultures, solar eclipses have been attributed to supernatural causes or regarded as bad omens. A total solar eclipse can be frightening to people who are unaware of its astronomical explanation, as the Sun seems to disappear during the day and the sky darkens in a matter of minutes.

Since looking directly at the Sun can lead to permanent eye damage or blindness, special eye protection or indirect viewing techniques are used when viewing a solar eclipse. It is technically safe to view only the total phase of a total solar eclipse with the unaided eye and without protection. However, this is a dangerous practice as most people are not trained to recognize the phases of an eclipse which can span over two hours while the total phase can only last up to 7.5 minutes for any one location.

Sunday’s solar eclipse will be the sixth in Nigeria. The first occurrence was in 1898, the second was in 1947 while the third occurred in 1959. Thereafter, it also occurred in 2001 and 2006.

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