The much anticipated solar eclipse is days, even hours away. On Monday, August 21, 2017, the New Moon will block the Sun, providing the first coast-to-coast total solar eclipse in the United States, in 99 years.
The much anticipated solar eclipse is days, even hours away. On Monday, August 21, 2017, the New Moon will block the Sun, providing the first coast-to-coast total solar eclipse in the United States, in 99 years. The total eclipse is limited to a narrow path stretching from Oregon to South Carolina, but the rest of America will witness a partial solar event. That is- if skies are not completely cloudy!
Clouds are the bane of astronomers both amateur and professional everywhere- who focus on the visible light portion of the spectrum (as opposed to radio astronomy, which goes whether skies are clear or not).
In fact, clear skies and darkness are the two essential ingredients of anyone wanting to see the stars. When it comes to viewing the most important star to life on Earth, the Sun, we need just clear weather!
Although it is the Sun that gives us light, and most observations of the Sun are in the light of day, ironically when it comes to a rare total solar eclipse, we are viewing in the temporary and wonderful near- darkness that such an eclipse brings.
This total solar eclipse probably is getting more publicity than any in the past, thanks to the advance in mass communications. It seems doubtful anyone in the eclipse path would be taken by surprise! Nonetheless, clouds or not, the eclipse will be quite startling, especially if someone was take unawares. In fact, if the sky is overcast, expect the darkness to be even deeper!
There was a time when this caused great panic. When the total solar eclipse crossed Honesdale, PA on January 24, 1925, my mother was 11. Her parents were well aware of the eclipse, and her mom took a crude picture of the event with her Brownie box camera. My mother had fond memories of the eclipse, and recalled how the already cold January morning plummeted in temperature when the Sun was covered over. She also heard a rooster crow.
She said that some people in the area thought it was the end of the world.
As this column was being written, the long range forecast for northeast Pennsylvania was sunny skies on Monday. We will soon know how many in the country were favored with a glimpse of the Sun at eclipse time!
Solar astronomers have taken special flights far above the clouds, in a plane that accommodates their science equipment and actually causes the Moon’s shadow, adding a few precious seconds to totality.
Anyone pursuing a hobby of stargazing, whether the night sky or solar viewing, must build a store of patience. Some areas of the country are more prone to clouds than others, but anywhere, you must face the fact clouds will hide the Universe for you at times. On most occasions, you can say “oh well” and wait for the next clear night. It is especially hard when it comes to a specific event such as an eclipse, which may not occur again for years.
Many thousands of people may be traveling to to the total eclipse path. Hopefully they made lodging reservations, if needed, well in advance! It is also hopeful that if skies were not favorable, they will make the best of the trip and enjoy some some sightseeing on the part of the Earth they went to visit.
Americans have another chance on April 8, 2024 when a total solar eclipse crosses the continent again, this time from southwest to northeast.
As a reminder, there are very simple ways to view the solar eclipse with absolutely no harm to the eyes. This can be done with special, commercially made solar filter eyeglasses (regular sunglasses won’t do), or by projecting an image of the Sun through a pinhole made in one side of a shoebox, cast onto a white card placed on the opposite end, inside the box. NEVER look at the Sun directly, with a telescope or binoculars without properly fitted solar filters. The focused sunlight would burn the retina!
Need I say- New Moon is on August 21!
Keep looking up!
For more information on the eclipse, how to safely view it and when:
Peter Becker is Managing Editor at The News Eagle in Hawley, PA. PLEASE SEND YOUR ECLIPSE REPORTS & PHOTOS to firstname.lastname@example.org. Mention in what newspaper or web site you read this column.