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A Cover-Up of Cosmic Proportions


Week of Oct. 19-25, 2014

We can never predict when the next cover-up will occur in our nation's capital, but we can with those in the heavens. And on Thursday, Oct. 23, we'll be having a good one: a partial eclipse of the sun.

It's been a couple of years since we in North America have enjoyed a solar eclipse, and it'll be a few years until the next, so you'll definitely not want to miss this one.

A solar eclipse occurs when the moon slips in front of the sun and blocks some of its light from view. During the afternoon of Oct. 23, sky watchers throughout North America will watch as our moon appears to take a bit out of our star.

What you will see depends on where you're located. Sky watchers in the southern states and Mexico will see the smallest "bite," while those farther to the north and in Canada will see the greatest. Check out your local eclipse times in several tables here:

If you'll be viewing this cosmic cover-up — and I certainly hope you take the time to do so — I cannot emphasize enough that you must do safely: Looking at the sun without a proper solar filter — even for an instant — can cause permanent eye damage or blindness.

Never view the sun with the naked eye, sunglasses, double thickness of darkened film, smoked glass or other homemade filters. To learn more about safely viewing and photographing this sky show, be sure to check out Fred Espenak's terrific page at:

One safe viewing technique is to punch a pinhole in a piece of aluminum foil and use that to project an image of the sun onto a shaded sheet of paper a few inches away. Don't look through the hole at the eclipse; just use it to project the image.

Another trick is to punch out a 1/4-inch hole in a piece of paper and tape the paper over a flat pocket mirror. Position the mirror to reflect the sun's image onto a distant flat surface, preferably inside a darkened room. Modeling clay can be used to hold the mirror steady. The image will be about an inch across for every 10 feet it projects. Be careful not to shine it into someone's eyes by accident.

Or — and I like this option the best — check with your local planetarium, science museum or amateur astronomy club about where they'll be set up that day for free telescopic viewing.

While a partial eclipse of the sun is great fun to watch (safely, of course!), it's nowhere as exciting as a total solar eclipse. The next of these will occur in March over the Faroe Islands, and another in 2016 over the South Pacific. If you've never experienced this indescribable event — and believe me, you'd know — why not join me for one of my exciting public total solar eclipse tours! You can learn more here:; and please drop me a note if you've got any questions.

Most importantly for now ... enjoy the Oct. 23 sky show. The next one over North America won't come for another three years!

Visit Dennis Mammana at To read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at



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