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5:32 AM Fri, Feb. 22nd

Kingman astronomy club eyes solar eclipse

The sun dimmed slightly during a rare solar eclipse as members of Kingman's High Desert Astronomy Club peered through a special 16-inch reflective telescope.

About 80 percent of the sun was blocked late Monday afternoon when the moon passed in front.

One of the best views around was right here in northwest Arizona, club member Mark Williford said.

With its clear, dry desert air and high altitude, Mohave County is an ideal place to watch an eclipse as well as peer into the dark depths of space.

The event, which won't occur for another 10 years, lasted from 5:20 to 7:20 with the peak time about 6:20, Williford said.

The sun appeared as a ring of fire around the moon.

People on the East Coast were not able to see the eclipse, he said.

During a solar eclipse, sun gazing can be done safely with special optical filters or more simply by projecting the image onto a piece a paper using a hole in a cardboard.

The sun can also be seen using a pair of dark arc welding glasses, Williford said.

The astronomy club, with about two dozen members, meets at the St.

Johns Methodist Church on Kino Avenue every third Tuesday of every month, Williford said.

Club members attend star parties, or get-togethers in the desert.

Western Arizona is ideal for stargazing because of the sparse population and lack of light pollution.

Anyone interested in the hobby can pick up an inexpensive telescope for less than $100.

Serious astronomers can spend from $200 to $300 for a telescope with improved optics.

For more expensive models, one can spend as much as $4,000.

Some amateur astronomers patrol the sky looking for rouge asteroids.

One amateur astronomer spotted an asteroid several years ago that missed the earth by several thousand miles.

Williford said he is trying to put together a portable planetarium which can be taken to churches and schools or anywhere big enough for a 20-foot screen.

Already having a computer, the screen and the software program, all he needs is a video projector.

The planetarium would take visitors on a three-dimensional tour of the solar system.

Williford also plans to teach a class at Mohave Community College this fall.