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Updated May 17, 2012, 12:04 pm
The sky will darken early over Tucson on Sunday with the first solar eclipse viewable in the United States in 18 years, and Saguaro National Park and the University of Arizona are offering prime viewing.
Saguaro National Park's Tucson Mountain District, 2700 W. Kinney Rd., will have an unobstructed view of the western sky and is a perfect location for viewing the eclipse over the city, said park spokeswoman Natalie Luna Rose.
The eclipse will be visible low on the western horizon just before sunset as the solar event begins at 5:29 p.m. with peak coverage at 6:38 p.m. The eclipse will end after sunset.
At the peak of the partial eclipse, the will appear as a crescent of light with 86 percent obscured by the moon, the UA said.
Gary Mechler, lead astronomer at Pima Community College's West Campus, will be on hand at the park's visitor center during the eclipse with a special telescope and can answer questions, said the park's event planner Richard Hill.
Special solar glasses must be worn to protect the eyes because the sun only will be partially covered.
“Sunglasses are not good enough protection to look directly at the sun. There are inexpensive solar glasses that better protect eyes that are available online, from bookstores and other science related gift shops
around town,” said Andy Fisher, Saguaro's branch chief of interpretation.
The glasses can be purchased at the visitor center for $2.99 and groups are encouraged to call ahead to reserve them, which should be picked up by 5 p.m., said Carolyn Dodson, who is in charge of sales at the park's visitor center. Anyone interested in reserving the glasses can call Dodson at 733-5159.
Meanwhile, the University of Arizona will hold "A 'Crescent Sun' Over Tucson" viewing party at Flaundrau Science Center, 1601 E. University Blvd., with lead-telescope viewings and astronomy experts and students available for questions, the UA announced.
Flaundrau will offer the solar-viewing glasses for $3.99, which includes admission to the center and Pink Floyd's "Dark Side of the Moon" laser show.
There where also be a special viewing event at UA's SkyCenter on Mount Lemmon, which has "the bsest perch in the area," according to SkyCenter's Adam block, who will host the viewing program.
"Up here at 9,000 feet, we'll be able to see all the way to the horizon and watch the eclipse through special equipment as it unfolds," Block said in a news release. "What makes this eclipse remarkable is that it occurs at sunset, so it's a rare treat to be able to watch this celestial occurrence happening with the added beauty of the southwestern landscape.
The SkyCenter will stream images live at its website during the eclipse.