Can't get to Europe for the last total solar eclipse of the millennium? Relax. The Aug. 11 eclipse will be but a mouse click away, thanks to webcasts of one of nature's most awesome events.
One such Web site belongs to Live!Eclipse, a nonprofit Japanese organization, which will set up video cameras at seven strategic points in Europe and the Middle East. Grab coffee, a doughnut and belly up to your computer screen, as this broadcast starts at 5 a.m. EDT, bringing you every moment of the eclipse.
In general terms, however, the height of the eclipse-watching on this site will be from 6-7:30 a.m. EDT. You'll get to see the eclipse reach totality from Helston, England, then on to Metz, France; Stuttgart, Germany; Govora, Romania; Lake Balaton, Hungary; Elazig, Turkey; and Esfahan, Iran. For each site, totality will last about two minutes.
Rimnicu Vilcea, Romania, however, will be the site of the eclipse's longest duration, where totality is expected to last 2 minutes and 23 seconds, according to Fred Espenak, an eclipse expert from the NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt.
To watch on Live!Eclipse, go to: www.solar-eclipse.org.
One of the most comprehensive Web sites featuring information about this eclipse is run by Espenak. His site shows clear maps of the eclipse path, understandable explanations of the event, and it can guide you to other Web pages showing the eclipse live. Espenak's site can be reached at sunearth.gsfc.nasa.gov/eclipse/TSE1999/TSE1999 .html.
For those who want to soak up every technical detail, Espenak and Canadian meteorologist Jay Anderson have prepared a 128-page guide, downloadable at his site. Alluding to the controversy about whether the millennium starts Jan. 1, 2000, or Jan. 1, 2001, waking up early and not missing this eclipse will be worth it. "No matter which way you count the millennium, this will be its last eclipse," says Espenak. The next total solar eclipse? June 21, 2001, as the moon's shadow crosses the southern parts of Africa.
Thanks to a new moon, visual conditions couldn't be better to watch the annual Perseid meteor shower. Catch it during the late night of Aug. 12 and the early morning hours (about 1 a.m.) of Aug. 13, when a secondary peak is expected to occur, says astronomer Geoff Chester of the U.S. Naval Observatory.
"That's like a hanging curve ball for us," says Chester. "Assuming the weather holds, the circumstances look pretty good. My money for viewing is on the early morning of the 13th." Perseid meteors happen because Earth travels through the dusty trail left behind from Comet Swift Tuttle.
As Earth passes through this leftover cometary trash, its dust particles strike our atmosphere and cause fiery streaks in the heavens, which can be seen all over the sky, but appear to emanate from the constellation Perseus.
Venus has all but sunk into the evening's western horizon, close on the heels of the sun. It makes a spectacular return to the morning, eastern skies late in August. Meanwhile, Mars stands firm in the south-southwest at dusk. The reddish planet will set around midnight now. By the middle of the month, it will set around 11:30 p.m.
A planetary performance unfolds in the eastern sky as Jupiter ascends just before midnight now and crosses the meridian near sunrise. By the middle of the month, Jupiter rises just after 11 p.m. Late in August, it starts climbing the sky at about 10 p.m., perfect for prime-time viewers.
In just a month's time, Jupiter gives us an additional hour and 45 minutes of viewing time. If you're looking for Saturn, it follows Jupiter by about 40 minutes.
Tomorrow -- How were the landing sites on Mars selected for the Viking and Pathfinder probes? And how will the next sites be chosen? Jim Zimbelman explains at his Curator's Choice talk. Meet at the Gold Seal, Milestones of Flight Gallery, National Air and Space Museum. Noon. Information, 202-357-2700.
Aug. 5 -- Astronomer David Neufield explains the "Clouds of Gas Between the Stars," at the University of Maryland astronomy department's observatory. Sky-watching follows. On Metzerott Road across from the System Administration building. 9 p.m. Information, 301-405-3001.
Aug. 11 -- Curator Valerie Neal explains the second mission of America's first space station, Skylab, in Space Hall, National Air and Space Museum. Noon.
Aug. 14 -- Join the National Capital Astronomers and the National Park Service as they explore the heavens from the field located at Military and Glover roads NW, near the Rock Creek Nature Center. 8:30 p.m. Information, 202-426-6829.
Aug. 20 -- Astronomer Grace Deming discusses "Sunspots on the Rise," at the University of Maryland astronomy department's open house. 9 p.m. Sky-watching follows.
Aug. 25 -- Curator Tom Watter discusses "The Earth Today," in the Rocketry and Spaceflight Gallery. National Air and Space Museum. Noon.
Aug. 28 -- Astronomy educator Steve Smith of the Arlington Planetarium provides a tour of summer and autumn's night skies. He'll use images from the Hubble Space Telescope to show the life cycle of stars, and he'll examine our place in the universe. Einstein Planetarium, National Air and Space Museum. 6 p.m.