Backyard astronomy: a partial solar eclipse

Submitted photo. A map shows the path of the Oct. 14 solar eclipse, and what residents in various parts of North America can expect to see.

A few times each year the sun, moon and Earth perform a cosmic lineup in space producing an eclipse. This year our planet will witness two solar and two lunar events.

On Saturday, October 14, 2023, skywatchers along a path starting in Oregon through Nevada, Utah, New Mexico and ending in Texas will see an annular eclipse of the sun. The rest of North America (depending on your geographic location) will see a partial eclipse with varying percentages of the sun covered by the moon.

Although this seems like an incredible event to view and photograph, it comes with great risk and danger. Unlike a lunar eclipse where the moon slides into the earth’s shadow, turning a burnt orange or coral colour and is completely safe to view, the sun is a far different story. Protective measures must be applied to prevent eye and camera damage.

Solar eclipses come in basically three flavours, total, annular and partial. The first two are dictated by how far the moon is away from Earth at eclipse time. In its monthly orbit around our planet, the moon’s elliptical orbit causes an approximate 50,000-kilometre or 30,000-mile variance between the closest and farthest approach called perigee and apogee.

The so-called “supermoon” is the combination of a full moon and the closest distance to us which we experienced at the end of August with the “Blue Moon” or the second full moon in the same month..

On Oct 14, the moon will be farther from Earth and therefore not block the entire solar disk. The classic total eclipse is when the entire sun is completely covered for a few seconds up to a maximum of seven and a half minutes depending again on the moon’s distance in its orbit. Much like a hockey goaltender challenging a shooter as he skates out and retreats in the net.

Since at no point will the sun be safely covered by the moon, DO NOT LOOK DIRECTLY AT THE SUN without protective means. Unless you have a certified solar filter or a number 14 welder’s glass which many of us do not possess, you can still safely see by items such as a vegetable strainer, spaghetti collinder or anything with small holes, even a Ritz cracker. Holding up the stainer or cracker allows you to view little crescent suns on a sheet of paper in safety.

For the photographers, Baader solar film or other solar filters are a must or you run the risk of melting your camera’s CCD chip or your cell phone sensor. 

Eclipses are an awe-inspiring wonder of nature that can be enjoyed safely. 


I have set up a GoFundMe page to help rebuild my observatory here in the countryside. The main goal of the observatory is taking my astronomy outreach to the next level by broadcasting live images from the telescope over the internet. I have dubbed this astrocasting. Here, people can ask questions and run this as a type of Astronomy 101. 

Another aspect will be searching remote galaxies for supernovas. These are massive stars that exploded and can outshine their host galaxy for a couple of weeks. Once a discovery is made, the professionals can study it.

Clear skies.

Known as “The Backyard Astronomer”, Gary Boyle is an astronomy educator, guest speaker, monthly columnist for the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada as well as a STEM educator. In recognition of his public outreach in astronomy, the International Astronomical Union has honoured him with the naming of Asteroid (22406) Garyboyle. Follow him on Facebook and his website: