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Rare annular solar eclipse over Utah Sunday night

Published: Sunday, May 20 2012 3:00 p.m. MDT

File-In this Jan.15, 2010 file photo showing a combination of three separate photographs, the various stages of an annular solar eclipse seen over Anuradhapura, Sri Lanka. An annular solar eclipse occurs when the moon blots out all but a ring around the sun. This year's solar show can be viewed from eastern Asia to parts of North America.

Eranga Jayawardena,File, Associated Press

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SALT LAKE CITY — Utahns will have a rare chance to view an annular eclipse of the sun Sunday night, the country's first total solar eclipse in 18 years.

Experts say the best spot to view the eclipse in the state will be Kanarraville, 13 miles south of Cedar City, where thousands of anticipated watchers will see a perfect "ring of fire" around the moon, when that sphere passes between the earth and sun. In northern Utah and across the Wasatch Front, people will see more of a "crescent of fire," with the moon covering 90 percent of the sun. The eclipse will begin around 6:15 p.m., and will last until 8:30. The best time to view it, however, will be around 7:30.

Even with most of the sun covered, looking at the rare sight is unsafe because direct sunlight burns the retina in seconds and can lead to partial or total blindness. Not even sunglasses offer enough protection. The Clark Planetarium is sold out of eclipse glasses, but grade 14 welder's masks provide enough protection.

"It's not like the sun is more dangerous during an eclipse," said Seth Jarvis, director of the Clark Planetarium. "It's not. It's always dangerous. It's just that now you're going to be tempted to look at it because the moon is moving in front of it."

Jarvis said the Clark Planetarium has seen a lot of activity the past week, and people are excited for the eclipse.

"Lots of phone calls, phones are ringing off the hook, activity on our Facebook page," he said. "This is your chance to see a rare celestial wonder."

Clark Planetarium is hosting viewing parties across northern Utah: Weber State University, the University of Utah physics building, Library Square, Gateway Mall, Sam's Club in Murray and Dimple Dell Recreation Center in Sandy. At each location, there will be telescopes equipped with solar filters and experts to answer questions.

"We do expect huge crowds," Jarvis said. "People are going to want to see this."

Kanarraville is expecting a big crowd as well. The town, which doesn't have a single restaurant or motel, is planning for 5,000 to visit Sunday.

E-mail: hschwarz@desnews.com

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