Dubai: Residents are expected to flock to Liwa for the UAE’s first annular solar eclipse in 172 years on December 26, but Dubai Astronomy Club are warning sky-gazers to take precautions.
Known as the ‘Ring of Fire’ because only the edges of the sun will protrude around the moon, the event will only be visible in its entirety in the Gharbia or Liwa region of Abu Dhabi, whereas the rest of the country will experience varying degrees of a partial eclipse.
The phenomena, which last occurred in the UAE in 1847, will stretch from Saudi Arabia in the north down to Indonesia in the southeast and back up towards Malaysia and the Philippines, but as spectacular as it is, it also comes with inherent risk explains Hassan Al Hariri, CEO of Dubai Astronomy Group.
“The sun is very bright and emits intensive light, which is too much for our eyes,” said Al Hariri. “So, if we look at it without protection our eyesight will be damaged. That is why we are asking everyone to take precautions.
“We have appropriate glasses with film that can cut the light by 99.99 per cent (Dh20 from dubaiastronomy.com), so we are encouraging everyone to use these and get in touch with us ahead of the eclipse in order to experience it safely with the help of experts.”
Al Hariri rubbished claims that the eclipse could be viewed safely by using a welder’s mask, candle wax smeared on glass, car tinting film or through the reflection in water.
“Do not attempt any of this,” he said. “It won’t cut the sunlight by a safe enough degree.”
Another common method is to project the image of the moon passing in front of the sun through a telescope and onto a white sheet by turning the eye-piece of the telescope towards the sheet. This is ideal for groups of people who don’t have enough glasses.
“But for this you should only use a telescope with metallic parts, particularly the eye-piece, because if it’s plastic or rubber, it will burn,” he said. “And in this scenario no-one should ever look into the eye-piece as that will surely blind them.”
Telescopes with filters – like the film from the special glasses – mounted onto the front of the telescope, not in projection mode but to view the eclipse regularly, is also permissible.
“But again, no one should touch the filter for risk of damaging it and blinding the person viewing the sun. Filters should also be at the front of the telescope not the part near your eye,” he added.
“There are some very cheap telescopes on the market with glass or plastic filter eyepieces, not only are they not strong enough to cut out the light, they will heat up and crack in your eye, so use film filters only at the front of the telescope.”
In the event when you have a large number of people, specifically children, and not enough glasses, Al Hariri suggested facing them all sat down in a line facing west away from the sun, before moving along the line with the glasses, getting them to put the glasses on facing west, before one-by-one turning them east to view the sun. He did warn however that all the glasses must be checked for scratches or cuts on the film lens that may allow too much light in.
End of the world?
Al Hariri added that during such celestial events, Dubai Astronomy Club gets several phone calls from worried residents, who think that something bad is about to happen.
“They see the panic in nature, with birds and animals confused by the sudden darkness and perceive it negatively,” said Al Hariri. “But actually this is a natural occurrence that occurs across the world two to sometimes three times a year in various forms, be it via partial, total or annular eclipses.
“There are laws that govern this and science is elegant and beautiful, but it requires effort to understand. That is where Dubai Astronomy Club can help. This is a golden opportunity to educate people.
“One of the biggest problems with this region is that they mix astrology with astronomy and that affects the credibility of astronomy.
“We get phone calls from people asking for the precise time of the eclipse so that they can lock doors and windows, hide kitchen knives, or take extra care of pregnant women. The Chinese even believe an eclipse is when a dragon eats the sun, or they think that it will set off a chain of earthquakes and tsunamis.
“In the Koran our prophet (peace be upon him) had an amazing reply to this. One year in Mecca there was an eclipse and that same year, the prophet Mohammad’s (pbuh) son Ebrahim died, so people linked the two events. But Mohammad (pbuh) said the sun and the moon were signs from Allah on how his mightiness controls the universe, but the eclipse isn’t because of life or death, so this totally separates astrology from astronomy, it is mentioned in Hadith.”
Shaneer Siddiqui, project coordinator at Dubai Astronomy Club said, “It’s an amazing opportunity to celebrate Christmas with this celestial event and make it a once in a life time event with your kids and family. We invite everyone to enjoy this opportunity amid a festive mood with knowledge and experience, not to see it as something negative through hoax messages and unscientific misconceptions, but, yes, above all with these things there should be safety first,” he added.
Dubai Astronomy Club will hold four events during the eclipse; one at their Al Thuraya Centre observatory in Mushrif Park, one with Immigration Department employees, another for VIPs at the Burj Khalifa and another in Liwa. To attend these however, you must book in advance. For more information visit www.dubaiastronomy.com
Timings of the Annular Eclipse:
Liwa, Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates
Annular solar eclipse visible (91.93% coverage of Sun)
Duration: 2 hours, 21 minutes, 32 seconds
Duration of annularity: 2 minutes, 47 seconds
Partial begins: Sun below horizon
Sunrise: Dec 26 at 7:01:39am
Full begins: Dec 26 at 7:35:21am
Maximum: Dec 26 at 7:36:43am
Full ends: Dec 26 at 7:38:08am
Partial ends: Dec 26 at 8:52:34am
Times shown in local time (GST)
UAE Space Agency events
The UAE Space Agency has organised an event in collaboration with the International Astronomical Centre, based in Abu Dhabi, at Liwa Hills Hotel, near Madinat Zayed in Al Dhafra. They have also collaborated with the Thuraya Astronomical Observatory to organise an event at the Qasr Al Sarab Desert Resort, coupled with another event organized in collaboration with Emirates Mobile Observatory at Marina Mall in Abu Dhabi. All three events are open to the public and free of charge.
The UAE Space Agency has warned residents of the UAE about the risks looking directly looking at the sun without proper eye protection, or viewing the eclipse through regular sunglasses, an unfiltered camera lens, a telescope, binoculars or any other optical device, even if it is provided with a solar filter. Looking directly at solar eclipses can cause severe damage to the eyes. The UAE Space Agency has also stressed the importance of taking the necessary safety measures by following the general safety guidelines while observing the eclipse, including using solar filters or solar eclipse glasses that are no older than three years, scratch free, and have the name and address of the manufacturer.
Dr Mohammed Al Ahbabi, Director General of UAE Space Agency, said: “Happening in the UAE for the first time since 1847, the annular solar eclipse will be closely monitored by various space and astronomy related entities across the UAE. Sponsoring these events comes in line with the UAE Space Agency’s efforts to achieve its strategic goals of raising awareness about the national space sector, along with other space and astronomical activities that the UAE is hosting.”