A Rare Solar Eclipse In Kenya Tomorrow


The Sunday Nation


02 October 2005


Whether it is by coincidence or by design, we may never know, but the sun is 150 million kilometres from earth while the moon is 380,000km away. And if you divide the distance of the sun by that of the moon you get 395, or, approximately, 400. On the other hand, the diameter of the sun is 1.4 million km while that of the moon is 3,500km; divide the two and the answer is also 400!

Therefore, when viewed from earth, the two heavenly bodies appear to be the same size even though in reality one is much bigger than the other. And if the moon happens to come directly in between the earth and the sun, it almost completely covers the sun from view. This is a rare spectacle but we will experience it in Kenya tomorrow, October 3rd 2005 in the afternoon.

The moon will block the sun and form a large shadow on the ground. This shadow will sweep through Kenya from Lake Turkana at about 2:10pm, across the northern parts of Eastern Province, Marsabit (2:20pm), Mado Gashi, and finally exit to the Indian Ocean near the Somali-Kenyan boarder at 2:30pm.

Residents of Nairobi, Mombasa, Kisumu and the rest of the country will only see a partial eclipse. The moon will cover only a part of the sun.

In Kenya, the moon’s shadow will travel a distance of about 850km in 30 minutes. That is, it will be moving at about 1,700km/h! It will appear on the ground as a disc measuring about 100km. Therefore, at any point along the path of the eclipse, totality will only last about three and a half minutes.

The total duration from the moment the moon appears to touch the sun to the time it leaves the sun’s disc will be only seven minutes.

 Even though they last such a short time, Solar eclipses cause a lot of excitement because they are rare: they occur somewhere on earth every 18 months and it is estimated that they return to a given spot once every 300 to 400 years. Thus the people of Marsabit should expect another one in the year 2405. The last time it occurred in Kenya was in Februrary 1980 – 25 years ago.

This time round, the eclipse will be annular, meaning that the moon will not cover the sun completely: It will leave a small outer ring of the sun exposed. For this reason, observers must be extremely careful never to look directly with the naked eye. The brightness of the sun can course permanent blindness.

To be safe, use a piece of welder’s glass or project the image on a surface using a binoculars or a pinhole camera. However, it must be emphasised – DO NOT look into the binoculars or camera. Looking at the reflection of the sun on water or a piece of ordinary glass is also dangerous.

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