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Solar maximum to boost eclipse

August 9, 1999
Web posted at: 4:00 PM EDT

On average, total solar eclipses happen about once a year   

(ENN) -- The last total eclipse of the sun before the millennium will be visible Wednesday along a 50-mile-wide path from the Atlantic Ocean 450 miles east of New York City all the way to the Bay of Bengal, India.

The solar maximum, which is expected to peak some time after the New Year, will make the eclipse an even more spectacular event than usual, according to the National Aeronautics and Space Administration.

"The corona will be more extended and there will be more structure to be seen inside the corona," said Richard Altrock, a solar maximum expert at the National Solar Observatory, Sacramento Peak, N.M.

About every 11 years the sun undergoes a period of heightened activity. There are frequent solar flares, lots of sunspots and the corona expands to many times its average size.

"We are close enough now (to the peak) that all of these types of activities are already occurring and already almost at the level that it would be at the solar maximum," said Altrock.

While these activities are expected to make the eclipse more exciting to view, the events are of concern. Communications satellites can malfunction, electrical power grids may experience a blackout and high-tech military instrumentation could be adversely affected.

On average, total solar eclipses happen about once a year. They occur when the new moon passes in front of the sun and the moon casts a huge shadow that sweeps across the landscape at more than 1,000 miles per hour.

The shadow turns daylight into dark and an eerie pall consumes the land. Birds stop singing and go to roost, daytime flower blossoms begin to close as if for night and the temperature drops in the coolness of the moon's shadow.

During an eclipse, the sky near the horizon still appears bright, and this distant scattered light produces a slight reddish glow and unusual shadow effects.

Since the direct light of the sun is blocked, some of the brighter stars and planets become visible. And because this eclipse occurs just one day before the peak of the Perseid meteor shower, sky watchers may catch a rare daytime shooting star, according to NASA.

Copyright 1999, Environmental News Network, All Rights Reserved

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