x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 25 July 2017

Next eclipse this big? Come back in 1,033 years

When the Moon obscures part of the Sun tomorrow, in some places the eclipse will be longer than any other until 3043.

People in the UAE can witness the Moon obscuring up to a third of the Sun from 9.15am to 12.29pm tomorrow.
People in the UAE can witness the Moon obscuring up to a third of the Sun from 9.15am to 12.29pm tomorrow.

Astronomers in Dubai have their telescopes at the ready and "eclipse glasses" on hand for the longest solar eclipse of the millennium.

People in the UAE can witness the Moon obscuring up to 34 per cent of the Sun from 9.15am to 12.29pm tomorrow, according to the Dubai Astronomy Group, which is organising a viewing at the New World Private School in Tawar. The eclipse will be most complete - and the Sun almost totally obscured - at 11.06am local time over the Indian Ocean, where it will last 11 minutes, eight seconds. There will not be another solar eclipse that long until December 23, 3043, an astronomer said.

"The kind of alignment that is going to happen this time is a rare alignment," said Hasan al Hariri, the head of the Dubai Astronomy Group. "Usually the duration of a normal eclipse does not go beyond five minutes. Eleven minutes, that is something really odd, out of the way." The Dubai Astronomy Group is inviting people to join them from 9am to 11am at the school, where observatory telescopes will be in position and special glasses - which have a darkened film that blocks 99.99 per cent of the Sun's harmful rays, according to Mr al Hariri - will be available for Dh10. The eclipse also will be projected live onto a large screen at the school.

Mr al Hariri warned observers not to stare at the eclipse unprotected, as the Sun can cause permanent damage to the eye. He recommended viewing it through its reflected image on water. "The sensitivity of our eye makes it very difficult to look directly into the Sun," he said. "Sun rays are too powerful for our eye. Take a bucket of water and put it on the ground and look at it there. You can see the image reflected very clearly."

The eclipse will be visible on a 300km track that traverses central Africa, the Indian Ocean and eastern Asia, according to the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (Nasa) in Houston. Amateur astronomers this week also could have had a glimpse of a genuine near-miss of an extrasolar object as an asteroid - a chunk of rock estimated to be about 11 metres in diameter - passed within 13,000 kilometres of the Earth. That is well within the Moon's orbit, and made it visible to anyone with a good telescope last night, experts said.

The object is estimated to have an orbit that is almost exactly one Earth year long. That led to initial speculation that it might be a leftover piece of junk from space missions. But close examination showed it to be an asteroid, according to Nasa, the US space agency. It is estimated to be fainter than most stars in the sky as it passes through the constellations of Pisces, Orion and Taurus. View a graph of the year's first eclipse here. mchung@thenational.ae