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Sun to enter partial eclipse Thursday evening, but clouds, sunset could block view

The Moon begins to move in front of the Sun as the last complete solar eclipse of the millennium occurs during Orioles spring training at Fort Lauderdale Stadium on Feb. 26, 1998.
The Moon begins to move in front of the Sun as the last complete solar eclipse of the millennium occurs during Orioles spring training at Fort Lauderdale Stadium on Feb. 26, 1998. (Karl Merton Ferron / The Baltimore Sun)

A partial eclipse will be visible across North America this afternoon and evening, but chances to see it from Baltimore will be limited, and clouds could make it even more difficult.

In Baltimore, the eclipse begins at 5:51 p.m., as the new moon passes in front of the sun, casting the moon's shadow onto Earth. But we will only be able to see the very beginning of the eclipse as the sun is setting. Only about 15 percent of the sun's surface will be obscured before the solar disc slips below the horizon about 6:15 p.m., according to the NASA Goddard Space Flight Center.

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Mostly cloudy skies are forecast in Baltimore, but some areas to the west could be on the other side of a sharp delineation between overcast and clearer skies. Satellite imagery shows clouds covering most of the Northeast, with a boundary to the west running from Tidewater Virginia to western New York state, running through western Maryland.

In parts of Alaska, western Canada and the Pacific Northwest, as much as 60 percent or more of the sun will be blocked. In Seattle, for example, the eclipse lasts from 1:35 p.m. to 4:20 p.m., with up to 55 percent of the sun obscured.

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The sun will be nearly 80 percent obscured in the Arctic Canadian territory of Nunavut, according to Space.com.

Unlike the two lunar eclipses, or "Blood Moons," that have occurred this year, it's not safe to look directly at solar eclipses -- even partial ones. Pinhole projectors or special glasses or goggles are needed.

EarthSky.org explains what is happening when a solar eclipse occurs: "A lunar eclipse happens whenever the new moon passes in front of the sun, and the moon's shadow falls on our planet. A solar eclipse is only possible at new moon because that's the only time whereby the moon to go in front of the sun, as seen from Earth. Most of the time, however, the new moon either swings north or south of the solar disk, so no eclipse of the sun takes place."

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