Unique eclipse-watching opportunities in 2014

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A 2013 solar eclipse seen from Uganda. A partial solar eclipse is scheduled for October and will be visible to Provo residents. (NASA photo)

There are several celestial surprises in store this year for the state of Utah. A total eclipse of the moon happened earlier in April, along with another total lunar eclipse in October. A partial solar eclipse will also occur in October.

“In order to have an eclipse, the moon has to be directly in front of the sun, or vice versa,” said Patrick Wiggins, NASA ambassador to Utah.

Some years, the sun, moon and earth line up correctly to create eclipses, and other years they do not, according to Wiggins.

Denise Stephens, an assistant professor in the physics and astronomy department at BYU, said it is fortunate to be able to see these eclipses this year.

“There are usually four eclipses a year, but for us in Provo to be able to see three of the four is a very good year,” Stephens said.

Roger Butz said the state of Utah is one of the best places for eclipse-watching and astronomy in the United States. Butz is the observation training director for the Salt Lake Astronomical Society, which is the most active astronomy club in the nation, according to Butz.

“Utah has the darkest skies in the country,” Butz said. He said the high altitude of Utah is another benefit.

Wiggins said lunar eclipses are best seen in rural areas, away from cities and light pollution.

He said it is important for people to be prepared with proper eye protection when looking at a solar eclipse, even though most of the sun could be covered.

Ever since the beginning of time, man has loved looking at the stars and constellations, according to Butz.

“It’s a connection to something larger than ourselves,” Butz said.

Eclipse-watching gives a person greater insights and an experience they cannot get in any other way, said Carla June Carroll, president of the BYU Astronomical Society.

“Everybody possesses some desire to understand truth in general, and the truth manifests itself really well through natural phenomena,” Carroll said.

Many people miss out on seeing eclipses because they wait around for an eclipse to happen at their location, Wiggins said.

“You almost invariably have to travel somewhere to see them,” Wiggins said. “If you travel, you can see them all the time.”

Butz said because people are so busy, they do not take the time to learn about eclipses even though there is a lot of information at their fingertips.

“It is unfortunate because eclipses are a part of the natural process of this planet,” Butz said.

Stephens said observing eclipses gives people an opportunity to appreciate the wonder that surrounds them.

Stephens said the NASA eclipse website is a great place for people to find more information and see schedules of eclipses.