A Sunset Spectacular

If clear skies prevail Saturday, sunset-watchers will get a glimpse of a burning horizon unlike any to be seen again for thousands of years.

The occasion is an annular eclipse of the sun. Saturday's event is especially unusual because it's likely to combine a solar eclipse with the magnificent colors produced by a sunset.

The National Park Service will offer enthusiasts a free astronomy program and viewing area at Circle X Ranch, located in the Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area.

"We'll have two telescopes set up that will enable visitors to see a projection of an image of the sun," said park ranger Costa Dillon. "We'll also have four rangers giving continual talks about the eclipse and why it occurs."

Located at an altitude of 1,700 feet, Circle X Ranch provides an unobstructed view of the sunset over the ocean.

"To enjoy this particular eclipse you need a flat horizon," said Moorpark College astronomy instructor Hal Jandorf. "So the best spot is a view of the ocean."

Jandorf said an annular eclipse occurs when the moon passes between the earth and sun, blocking out a portion of the sun as it passes by.

"This is different from a full eclipse," he said. "It is a ring instead of a crescent."

Weather permitting, the result could be enchanting.

"What makes this one so spectacular is that the coincidences are just incredible. It just so happens to be taking place at sunset. You'll have to wait about 20,000 years before that ever happens again," Jandorf said.

Although it is possible to "glance" at the eclipse, Jandorf said viewers should take extreme caution. "Even though the eclipse will be dim, infrared rays will damage your eyes if you stare at it," he warned. Proper light filtration is a must when viewing for extended periods.

The park service program will begin at 3:30 p.m. To reach Circle X Ranch, take Pacific Coast Highway to Yerba Buena Road. Go north on Yerba Buena Road six miles to the Circle X Ranch site. A ranger will guide you on a short walk to the viewing location from that point.

"Watch for a ranger on the side of the road," Dillon said. "It's a good idea to bring a flashlight for the walk back, and dress warmly."

The program will be canceled if weather turns cloudy, he said. Those interested should call ahead. To do that, or get more information, call the park service at (818) 597-9192.

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