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Eclipse parties planned

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Northern Utah's weather forecast is great news for skiers and reservoir managers. But it poses a bleak prospect for those who are excited about tonight's total eclipse of the moon.

Still, hoping against hope, astronomy fanatics are planning two public viewing sessions for the eclipse, one in Salt Lake City at Clark Planetarium and the other at Stansbury Park, Tooele County, at the Salt Lake Astronomical Society's observatory.

But they may not be held at all if a storm system continues dumping rain in the valleys and snow on the mountains. In fact, according to the National Weather Service, the prediction for Wednesday night in Salt Lake City is "a 70 percent chance of rain. Lows in the mid 40s. Southeast winds 10-20 mph."

The partial phase of the eclipse begins at 7:14 p.m., according to NASA. The moon will be totally eclipsed from 8:23 p.m. until 9:45 p.m.

During totality, the planetarium notes, the moon will be dark and "almost due east, about a quarter of the way up the sky."

The Salt Lake eclipse watch happens from 7:30 to 10 p.m. at Clark Planetarium — assuming rain and clouds don't prevent it. Moon watchers will be in front of the planetarium at the corner of 100 South and 400 West, said spokeswoman Claudia H. Nakano.

Telescopes will be set up there and information about the eclipse is a feature of the star show Skywatch, which begins at 6:30 p.m. inside the planetarium.

"Assuming the sky is clear, the eclipse may be easily seen with the unaided eye," Nakano said. No special equipment is needed.

Telescopes will be set up too at the Salt Lake Astronomical Society event, if the weather does not interfere.

This eclipse watch is planned for Harmon Observatory, part of the Stansbury Park Observatory Complex. From Salt Lake City, visitors can reach SPOC by driving west on I-80, taking Exit 99, the Stansbury/Tooele exit, then following signs south to Stansbury Park and the complex.

SPOC is about a 35-minute drive from downtown Salt Lake City, said the group's vice president, Mark Bloomenthal.

This the last total moon eclipse visible from Utah until August 2007, the planetarium noted. But the 2007 event will happen at an inconvenient time, with totality from 2:51 until 6:23 a.m.

"The next eclipse visible in the evening will not occur until 2008," said Duke Johnson, education manager at Clark Planetarium, according to a press release.

Assuming the weather does not cooperate, Utahns can still watch the eclipse unfolding live by watching one of the Web broadcasts. Fred Espanek of NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center notes that space agency has set up links to broadcasts on the Internet at sunearth.gsfc.nasa.gov/eclipse/LEmono/TLE2004Oct28/TLE2004Oct28.html#webcast.


E-mail: bau@desnews.com