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Solar eclipse darkens Black Friday

Jay Pasachoff / Williams College

The moon's disk takes a bite out of the sun during Friday's partial solar eclipse, as seen from Invercargill in New Zealand. The last of 2011's four solar eclipses was visible only from an area in southern latitudes taking in New Zealand, Tasmania, South Africa and Antarctica.

Today was "Black Friday" for some folks in southern climes, and not because it's the big shopping day after Thanksgiving: A partial solar eclipse made the sky just a little bit darker in areas of New Zealand, Tasmania, South Africa and Antarctica.

Some observers spotted only a slight grazing of the sun, while others — such as Williams College astronomer Jay Pasachoff and his eclipse-chasing colleagues — could see the moon take an appreciable bite out of the sun's disk in the skies over Invercargill in southern New Zealand. "After an in-and-out, off-and-on-rain day, we are very pleased," Pasachoff said in a report from Sky & Telescope's Kelly Beatty.

Pasachoff passed along another perspective on the eclipse, taken from the seventh-floor offices of the New Zealand Department of Conservation in Invercargill. The hand in the picture belongs to Steve Butler, who works for the government agency.

Jay Pasachoff / Williams College

The partially eclipsed sun can be seen through a filter held in front of a seventh-floor window in Invercargill. Appropriate safety protection, such as specially designed solar filters, should always be used when gazing at the sun, even during a partial eclipse.

"I gave him one of my solar filters to hold so I could take that photo (Nikon D200)," Pasachoff told me in an email. "He is the regional project manager and was able to grant us access to that site where we were shielded from the wind ... aside from the fierce wind that came through the opened window."

Antarctica's researchers had what were potentially the best seats in the house, with up to 90 percent of the sun's diameter blacked out. Unfortunately, it doesn't sound as if the weather was all that cooperative down at the bottom of the world.

Today's event was the last of four partial solar eclipses during 2011, but there's one more eclipse to close out the year. A total lunar eclipse will be visible from half the world on Dec. 10-11, with best viewing available from Australia, Asia and the Pacific. North Americans will see the beginning stages of the eclipse, while Europeans and Africans will catch the ending.

Next year brings a new crop of solar spectacles, including an annular "ring" eclipse visible from Asia, the Pacific and the western U.S. on May 20, and a total solar eclipse visible from Australia and the South Pacific on Nov. 13. 

More eclipse treats:

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