A solar eclipse will be visible this evening before sunset in the south western part of Africa. The eclipse is total in South America and will end just off the coast of Namibia.

However, it will be a partial solar eclipse in the western parts of Namibia, South Africa and Angola, and will be visible for an hour before sunset. In South Africa, the eclipse will start at 18:54, with 59% of the eclipse visible in Cape Town at 19:53 and 73% in Kleinsee at 19:48.

A solar eclipse takes place when the Moon comes between the Sun and the Earth. As the Moon’s shadow races across the surface of the Earth, regions under it will see the Moon slowly cover the disc of the Sun and subsequently move away, over a few hours.

At maximum eclipse, only a portion of the Sun may be covered, depending on your location, and this is a partial solar eclipse.

Locations on the Earth that are exactly under the Moon’s shadow will see the Sun covered completely for a few minutes during maximum eclipse.

For example, on 21 June 2020, since the Moon was further away from us than usual, the moon’s shadow could only cover about 96% of the surface of the Sun at maximum, resulting in a ring of fire, or annulus, of the exposed Sun around the Moon. This is a path of annularity that is around 60 km wide.

Experts advise the public not to look at the Sun directly at any time with the naked eyes or through a telescope or binoculars, as this may cause permanent damage to the eyes. The African Astronomical Society (AfAS) says it is safe to see the eclipse by projecting the image of the Sun onto a surface for convenient viewing.

AfAS has produced an illustrative handbook and a set of posters that explain some of the methods by we can use to see the eclipse in projection. These contain tables of eclipse timings for each African country that can see the eclipse.

Simple methods of viewing the eclipse include looking at the images of the eclipsed Sun below the trees that are formed by the gaps in the leaves above, looking at the image formed by a pin-hole on a paper held up against the Sun, and using a small mirror to project the Sun into your room.

AfAS is a Pan-African professional society of astronomers, registered as a non-profit company in South Africa. It is funded by the South African Department of Science and Innovation (DSI) and physically located at the South African Astronomical Observatory (SAAO) in Cape Town, South Africa.