Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Get Ready for the Great American Eclipse

In just under a year (Aug. 21, 2017) a total solar eclipse will darken the skies across a wide swath of the U.S. Solar eclipses are exceptionally rare events -- the last one in the U.S. that I can remember occurred in 1970 along the East Coast.  Growing up in St. Louis, I had to watch it on TV, but we were promised a Midwestern eclipse in 2017, and I have been waiting patiently ever since then.

There are dozens of websites devoted to this eclipse, but there's a particularly good one at The path of totality passes near or through several major cities, including my ancestral home (St. Louis) and my current residence (Nashville). If you can travel to view the eclipse, do it! And be sure to buy some eclipse glasses for safe viewing. The danger in viewing an eclipse is not so much from looking at it during totality, but when the eclipse is still partial -- the problem is that people start looking at the eclipse before it is really total, or keep looking at it after the totality ends. Just don't! You don't want to permanently damage your eyes. Eclipse glasses are cheap and easy to find -- we've already gotten 20 pairs. I imagine they'll be harder to find and the price will go up significantly as it gets closer to the actual date. We'll be selling ours for $100 a piece on Aug. 20.

And if you have children, make sure they get to see the eclipse -- it's something they'll remember for the rest of their lives. And if they're misbehaving, so much the better -- let them know that the next time they're naughty, you won't make the sun come back.

1 comment:

Kathy said...

I am thinking of an Eclipse pilgrimage for my vacation next year. Indeed a total Solar eclipse is a unique and awesome experience. I was fortunate to see the one in July 11th 1991 in Mexico City. It's one of those things that really sticks to your memory.

Summer is the rainy season in Central Mexico, and the day dawned a solid gray and drizzly. But there were big gaps in the clouds when the Moon began to crawl across the Solar disk. Better yet, the day's rains had left many puddles on the streets and sidewalks, on which the eclipse process reflected rather well (also on some car windshields).

You learn what a big difference even a sliver of Sun makes. The eclipse dims the ambient light and lowers the temperature first gradually and then suddenly. Totality is completely different from day, night, dawn or dusk. It's a state all its own.

It pays to do a bit of research on what one can expect to see. Aside from the Corona, stars and planets are visible as well. Only as we're seeing them from Earth's "dayside," they'll be reversed left-to-right compared as when seen at night. And if Mercury is on this side of the Sun, it's very easy to see, even rather high in the sky.

It's worth noting, too, that this is a temporary condition, of sorts and long duration. But the Moon is moving slowly away from the Earth, and eventually its apparent size won't match the apparent size of the Sun. Eventually the best our remote descendants will get is an annular eclipse. Totality will be a thing of the past, on Earth.