Press release about the April 8, 2005, solar eclipse


A partial eclipse of the sun will be visible from the southeastern United States on the afternoon of April 8, reports Jay Pasachoff of Williams College, the Chair of the International Astronomical Union's Working Group on Solar Eclipses.  Just before the eclipse reaches the United States, Pasachoff will observe its total phase from a ship in the middle of the Pacific Ocean near the equator.  During the brief, 23-second-long totality, the outer layers of the sun come into view and can be viewed safely without filters.  The partial phases visible in the United States, however, can be viewed safely only by looking through special filters or by projecting the image.


This spring's solar eclipse is very unusual in that the shadow of the moon just barely reaches the Earth, and it does so only where the Earth's curvature sticks up to meet it.  The path traces a shadow across the Earth that is thousands of miles long but less than two dozen miles wide.  The shadow doesn't quite reach the ends of the path, in the ocean near New Zealand at its beginning and in Costa Rica, Panama, and Venezuela at its end.  In those locations, the moon won't quite completely block out the sun's surface, leaving a ring, or annulus visible.  So this eclipse is annular at its ends and total in its middle.


Pasachoff will observe the eclipse from the ship M/V Galapagos Legend.  This ship, carrying 81 passengers, will travel 700 miles west of the Galapagos, sailing four days at sea, to reach the point of totality.  Totality is only 14 miles wide at this location, but all aboard hope that modern Global Positioning Satellite (GPS) systems will put them in its midst.


On the ship, Pasachoff will be joined by Williams College undergraduate Shelby Kimmel (Auburndale, Massachusetts) in imaging the solar corona, with plans to link their images with spacecraft images of the sun that do not cover that region of the sun's atmosphere.  The project continues Pasachoff's work at past eclipses.  They are carrying a gyro system to help balance the camera for long exposures.  Pasachoff is working in collaboration with Glenn Schneider of the University of Arizona's Steward Observatory, who will have a similar gyro system and camera aboard the M/V Paul Gauguin, a ship sailing from Tahiti to intercept the eclipse earlier in its path across the Pacific.  A Williams College electronic camera, readied by Williams Observatory Supervisor Steven Souza, will be on the gyro with Schneider on the Gauguin.  Pasachoff's eclipse work is sponsored in part by the Committee for Research and Exploration of the National Geographic Society.


In the afternoon of April 8, people south and east of a line extending from the Mexican/

California western border to New York City will see a partial eclipse.  This demarcation line crosses southeastern Colorado, and the middle of Illinois, Indiana, Ohio, and Pennsylvania.  Washington, D.C. will have approximately 5% coverage, Dallas and Atlanta 20% coverage, and Miami about 47% coverage at maximum.  During a partial eclipse like this, the everyday surface of the sun remains visible, and it is bright enough to cause damage to your eyes if you look at it without using a suitable filter.  Such filters cut out all but about 1 part in 100,000 of the sunlight.  They are available from various suppliers.  A number 14 welder's glass is also sufficient.  Sunglasses and most darkened films are not safe, either because they don't cut out enough visible light or because they pass infrared radiation even while cutting out most visible light.


With all people able to observe the total eclipse on three ships--the Galapagos Legend, the Paul Gauguin, and the Discovery, fewer than 2,000 people will see this main event.  In contrast, the 2009 total solar eclipse will cross Shanghai, and 10 million people might see it.  For the United States, no partial solar eclipse will be visible after this one until 2012, and no total solar eclipse will be visible until 2017.




 on March 30 and the evening of April 14, Pasachoff will be at:

Four Points By Sheraton Quito

 Avenida Naciones Unidas y Republica de El Salvador, Quito, Ecuador

  011 593 2 2970 002; fax 011 593 2 243-3906



While on the ship, he may be able to receive e-mail at  A satellite phone will all be available, and you can call the Astronomy Department office 413 597 2482 in Williamstown or the Press Office at 413 597 4279 to obtain the number.


Pasachoff will get his regular e-mail at through March 30.


The ship's itinerary is posted at


On behalf of the International Astronomical Union's Commission on Education and Development, Pasachoff maintains a Website with links about eclipse safety and with links to maps.  See


The main maps and calculations are provided by Fred Espenak of NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center.  See

An overall map of the eclipse's path across the Earth is posted at


Solar filters for safe observation of partial phases of solar eclipses are available from Thousand Oaks Optical,, 800 996 9111.