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How to watch the pandemic solar eclipse online

Total solar eclipses are typically magnets for world travelers with a scientific bent — but when it comes to the eclipse that’ll be visible from Chile and Argentina on Dec. 14, the coronavirus pandemic has put a damper on the dreams of eclipse-chasers.

Fortunately, there are lots of ways to see the solar eclipse online, and this way at least you don’t have to worry about hurting your eyes.

Solar eclipses occur when the moon lines up just right with the sun to cast its shadow on Earth’s surface. If the sun’s disk isn’t completely covered, a partial solar eclipse results. That’s the kind of eclipse that you have to wear solar filters to see safely in the flesh.

If the moon’s disk completely covers the sun’s disk, you have a total eclipse. Such eclipses are visible only along a narrow track that the moon’s shadow follows as the orbital ballet plays out. This week, the track passes across the Pacific Ocean, through Chile and Argentina, and then across the Atlantic before sunset ends the eclipse. A wider swath of South America (and parts of Africa) will see a partial eclipse.

Witnessing a solar eclipse is a must-see lifetime experience, but travel restrictions have kept would-be eclipse tourists stuck at home this year. For millions of fans, webcasts will provide the only way to see the crescent sun disappear — giving way to a diamond-ring effect at first, and then the mystical sight of a black sun surrounded by flaming prominences and the delicately glowing aurora.

The peak time for totality stretches from 8 a.m. PT, when the moon’s umbral shadow hits Chile’s west coast, to 8:25 a.m. PT, when totality ends on Argentina’s east coast. The maximum duration of totality at any point along that part of the track is a little more than two minutes.

From 6:40 to 9:31 a.m. PT, NASA will air a webcast of the view as seen through telescopes in Santa Martina, near Santiago, Chile, in cooperation with the Pontificia Universidad Católica de Chile. There’ll also be a show with Spanish-language commentary from NASA’s Yari Collado-Vega and Bea Gallardo-Lacourt. The NASA production starts at 7:30 a.m. PT and climaxes with totality at 8:02 a.m. PT.

San Francisco’s Exploratorium will be piggybacking on the video feed from Pontificia Universidad Católica, with live streams provided via its Facebook page and YouTube channel. The Exploratorium has also put together a wealth of online resources about solar eclipses.

The Slooh online observatory is planning an online eclipse party with streaming video as well as commentary from experts and other members of the Slooh community, starting at 6:30 a.m. PT. TimeAndDate.com also has a webcast scheduled to begin at 6:30 a.m., and is providing maps and other background about the eclipse.

Argentina’s Canal 10 is planning two hours of special eclipse coverage starting at 6:30 a.m. PT. Chile’s 24Horas is updating its special report.

So what’s ahead? Next year will bring an annular solar eclipse (also known as a “ring-of-fire” eclipse) that’s best seen from Canada or Greenland in June, and a total eclipse in December, visible only from Antarctica. But for North Americans, the ones to watch for will be an annular solar eclipse on Oct. 14, 2023, followed by the next Great American Eclipse on April 8, 2024.

By then, let’s hope that the Great Pandemic is just a memory.

By Alan Boyle

Mastermind of Cosmic Log, contributing editor at GeekWire, author of "The Case for Pluto: How a Little Planet Made a Big Difference," president of the Council for the Advancement of Science Writing. Check out "About Alan Boyle" for more fun facts.

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