A Celestial Christmas Gift

ByABC News
December 26, 2000, 9:23 AM

B O S T O N, Dec. 26 -- As celestial events go, it no doubt paled incomparison to the Star of Bethlehem. Yet, skywatchers in much ofNorth America were treated Monday to a rarity of rarities: Apartial solar eclipse on Christmas Day.

At its midday peak, the moons shadow sweeping across theNortheast United States obliterated as much of the 60 percent ofthe sun, turning the solar disc into an odd-looking yellowcrescent.

Viewing was best in New England and the upper Midwest, whileclouds obscured the view through much of the nations midsection.

A Three-Century Wait

How unusual is a Christmas solar eclipse? The last one occurredin 1954, and was visible only in parts of Africa. The next partialChristmas eclipse, according to Fred Espenak of NASAs GoddardSpace Flight Center, will occur on December 25, 2307.

In Boston, where the temperature barely reached 20 degrees, onlya few die-hards were out on the historic Boston Common to watch theeclipse.

It seemed important just the coincidence of it being onChristmas Day, said Pat Rowell, talking through her scarf. Sheand her husband Ken were walking back to their home in the nearbyBeacon Hill neighborhood and planned to return with a small paperdevice they had made for safe viewing of what they said was theirfirst eclipse.

At first, Francisco Healda said he couldnt care about theeclipse. But then he remembered buying a pair of fancy,eclipse-viewing glasses in Mexico to watch an eclipse there 10years ago, and decided he might try to dig them out of hisCambridge apartment.

Viewing a solar eclipse with the naked eye can be extremelydangerous. Experts recommend using special equipment, such as awelders lens or a pinhole projector, to protect the eyes and getthe best view.

Ron Jencks was in awe when he finally made out the chunk themoons shadow had taken out of the sun. The Providence, R.I., manwas just out taking a walk when he was told the partial solareclipse was at its peak.