Sky watchers hope eclipse not clouded

By Mike Dinsdale, Brendan Manning

Northlanders are in a prime position to see two celestial events this week, but will have to keep their fingers crossed for good views of a partial eclipse of the sun tomorrow.

The partial eclipse should be visible from much of Northland after 9am, with it reaching its peak - when up to 91 per cent of the sun will be blocked, making it look like a crescent moon - at 10.25:12am.

As well, Nasa is giving amateur Northland astronomers the opportunity to spot the International Space Station as it flies across the sky this month.

Northland Astronomy Society president Terry Hickey said the group would have telescopes with special filters available at its Maunu Observatory, in the grounds of Kiwi North, for people to view the partial eclipse.

Mr Hickey warned that the sun, even when eclipsing, should not be looked at directly without some kind of filter as this could cause permanent eye damage.

He said sunglasses were no protection and anybody wanting to watch the eclipse who did not have a special filter or glasses could make a simple "pinhole" system.

MetService media and communications meteorologist Daniel Corbett said Northlanders should keep their fingers crossed that the partial eclipse would be visible from whatever remnants of today's forecast rain were still about.

Mr Corbett said the forecast was for tomorrow morning to be largely clear over much of Northland, but patches of rain and cloud could interfere with viewing the event.

Meanwhile, Nasa's Spot the Station service sends an email or text message a few hours before the space station passes over your house. After the sun and moon, Nasa says the space station is the third brightest object in the sky and is easy to see if you know where and when to look for it.

At over 300km above the ground the space station looks like a fast-moving plane and is best viewed on clear nights. Nasa only notifies of "good" sighting opportunities - sightings that are high enough in the sky (40C or more) and last long enough to give the best view of the orbiting laboratory - anywhere from once or twice a week to once or twice a month - depending on the space station's orbit.

Mr Hickey, said the service was similar to the website which picked up not only the space station, but also other bright satellites and Iridium flares - bright flashes that come off the solar panels of satellites.

"There are a lot of variables for viewing the space station, is it high or low in the atmosphere?, is it in the shadow of the moon or whatever? I look at for a bit more accurate information on when are the best times to see it," he said.

The space station is a habitable artificial satellite in low Earth orbit - its ownership and use established by intergovernmental treaties and agreements. It cost US$150 billion ($183 million) to build and was launched in November 1998.

The space station programme is a joint project between five participating space agencies - Nasa, the Russian Federal Space Agency, the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency, the European Space Agency and the Canadian Space Agency.

Next sightings

  • The next three sightings for the International Space Station from Whangarei are:

  • Saturday, November 17 at 11.20pm for less than one minute.

  • Sunday, November 18 at 10.30pm for two minutes

  • Tuesday, November 20 at 10.27pm for one minute.

- Northern Advocate

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