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Presenting the Sun

Whistler astronomers lead Egypt eclipse tour

By John Nemy & Carol Legate

The Pacific Observatory

Egypt, one of the oldest civilizations on Earth, will be the place to see the next total solar eclipse on March 29, 2006. As the Moon moves in front of the Sun on March 29, the lunar shadow touches down on Earth in Brazil, then travels east across the Atlantic Ocean, northern Africa, and central Asia. No part of this eclipse will be visible from North America.

The shadow, after racing over remote parts of North Africa at 2,500 kilometres per hour, crosses the northeast corner of Egypt. The eclipse will be perfectly positioned for one to enjoy this once-in-a-lifetime adventure together with the ancient history of Egypt. The last total solar eclipse for North America occurred in 1979 and the next will not happen until 2017.

Only during a total solar eclipse does the Sun’s true stellar personality become visible to the naked eye and reveal the stunning outer atmosphere of our local star. The corona, a crown of pure white light, races away from the Sun. Embedded within this crown are the fiery orange flames of the chromosphere.

On March 29th, the sky overhead will show a "black hole" where the Sun and Moon have aligned. Visible around them will be the planets of Venus, Mercury, Mars and a sprinkling of daytime stars. The surreal celestial scene from Egypt will last a generous 3 minutes and 56 seconds. Photographs cannot capture the full range of light of this spectacle but the human eye can. Seeing totality with your own eyes is the magic and lure of a solar eclipse. The only time that the Sun can be viewed safely with the naked eye is during a total eclipse, when the Moon completely covers the disk of the Sun. It is never safe to look at the Sun at any other time.

On March 26, 2006, a group of experienced and first-time eclipse chasers from across Canada will depart Toronto for Cairo, Egypt. This tour, organized by Vacations Internationale, will be led by Whistler astronomers and futurists John Nemy and Carol Legate.

This group will be joined by a historian from the University of Cairo as they tour the Great Pyramids of Giza and the Sphinx. The tour continues to the Mediterranean coastal city of Alexandria. This 4,000-year-old centre of culture and art was the home to the Library of Alexandria which contained 500,000 volumes of literature, science and philosophy. The group will visit a rebuilt version of the ancient library.

On eclipse day, the group will travel to the border between Libya and Egypt to a secure viewing site for the noon-time total solar eclipse.

Knowing that 50 centuries of civilization have come and gone in this land sets the stage for an event that has been happening for millennia. Although the Sun is hidden for only a few minutes during an eclipse, the emotional impact lasts a lifetime.

For more information contact The Pacific Observatory in Whistler at 604-938- 8090. Visit for images and more information.

Upcoming Events: Thursday, Nov. 17th, Whistler Naturalists Annual General Meeting, Millennium Place. 6-7 p.m. AGM. We intend to discuss the past year and future plans, and elect a new board of directors. Everyone is welcome. For information contact Bob Brett (; 932-8900). 7:30 p.m. Whistler astronomers and futurists John Nemy and Carol Legate present another great multimedia event: "Stargazing For Everyone & The Whistler World Eco-Centre."

Saturday, Nov. 19th, 7:30 p.m., Rainbow Park. Mars Night with The Pacific Observatory and the Whistler Astronomy Club. See Mars through large telescopes. Mars is now positioned high in the evening sky for the best view of the planet Mars in the next 13 years. Contact if you have any questions about or are interested in writing a Naturespeak article.

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