“It was truly a life-changing experience! Just mind bogglingly beautiful and awe inspiring!”
That’s how science journalist David Barron describes it. He’s talking, of course, the solar eclipse he watched in Aruba in 1998.
That’s a lot of info to take in, so feel free to watch it again as many times as you need to.
The last total solar eclipse seen from contiguous United States was on Feb. 26, 1979, and it was visible across the northwestern U.S. states of Washington, Oregon, Idaho, Montana, and North Dakota. The one coming up tomorrow will cross the United States from northwest to southeast, coast to coast.
reaches totality between 10:30 am and 3;30 pm, depending on where you are. If you want to see what the eclipse will look like from where you are (enter your ZIP code), go to this site.
A solar Eclipse always comes at the time of a new moon.
total solar eclipses in any given spot on the Earth are rare. They happen roughly once or twice a year somewhere on Earth, but it’s a big planet, and a lot of it is hard to reach. 70% is ocean, and a lot of what’s left of the real estate is taken up by places like the Arctic and Antarctic. So getting a total solar eclipse over, say, the U.S. doesn’t happen often. The last one was in 1979, and that one cut a shallow chord across the northwest.
For another, total solar eclipses are one of the most beautiful, wondrous, awe-inspiring sights nature provides for us. The Moon slowly covers the Sun, taking nearly 90 minutes. In the last seconds before the Sun is totally covered, the sky grows dark, the air cools, birds fooled into thinking night has fallen stop singing … and then the moment arrives.
A solar eclipse occurs when the moon gets between the sun and Earth, casting a shadow on the Earth’s surface. This can happen only during a new moon when the sun and the moon are in conjunction as seen from Earth in an alignment referred to as syzygy. In a total eclipse, the disk of the sun is fully obscured by the moon, as seen from Earth. In partial and annular eclipses, only part of the sun is obscured. Anytime there is a total solar eclipse, there is a partial solar eclipse nearby, outside a rather narrow path of totality. This Is True
Emphasis is in the original.
the total eclipse lasts just seconds to minutes,
When depicting an eclipse path, data visualizers have usually chosen to represent the moon’s shadow as an oval. By bringing in a variety of NASA data sets, visualizer Ernie Wright has created a new and more accurate representation of the eclipse.
For the first time, we are able to see that the moon’s shadow is better represented as a polygon. This more complicated shape is based NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter’s view of the mountains and valleys that form the moon’s jagged edge. By combining moon’s terrain, heights of land forms on Earth, and the angle of the sun, Wright is able to show the eclipse path with the greatest accuracy to date.
the partial eclipse — when the moon is covering just part of the sun — takes much, much longer (hours)
you’ll even be able to see a partial eclipse from Hawaii,
right in the middle of that strip, the path of totality (which is about 70 miles wide for this eclipse)
the shadow of the moon during an eclipse starts in the west, and moves east at the speed of the moon’s orbital velocity minus the Earth’s rotational velocity. This eclipse starts in the morning on the west coast, and ends in the afternoon on the east coast.
totality is the big show
the path of totality runs through Idaho, Wyoming, Nebraska, Kansas, Missouri, Illinois, Kentucky, Tennessee, Georgia, and North Carolina. You have to be right in the middle of the path of totality to get the full length of totality. Along the edge, just 35 miles from the middle, you might only see a few seconds of totality. NASA has national and state maps where you can learn what you can see from where you are, and when.
Until totality begins, you are going to need eye protection to directly view the eclipse.
about 15 minutes before totality, changes in your local environment will become noticeable. Ambient light levels are obviously lower, like at sunset, but the landscape takes on a blue-gray tone, very much unlike sunset. The reds of sunset aren’t there because the light isn’t traveling through any more atmosphere, especially with the 2017 total solar eclipse occurring so close to solar noon
Ripples of light and shadows have been reported to move across the ground just before and after totality; this may be due to optical effects called constructive and destructive interference as the light from the Sun goes past the Moon. I don’t think it’s terribly well understood what causes it.
As the moon continues to nibble away at the sun’s disk (aka the photosphere), this is a good time to look around you. Birds and other animals may become quiet, bedding down for the night, others may become anxious. Some plants and flowers may even close up because they sense it’s turning to night!
Five minutes before totality, look to the western horizon: it will look as if a large thunderstorm is approaching, darkening significantly. If you are viewing from a hilltop, you may be able to see the edge of the darkness approaching. You are seeing the shadow of totality coming toward you! The temperature may drop noticeably.
About 15 seconds before totality, with only the thinnest crescent of the sun remaining uncovered, the first evidence of the sun’s corona, or outer atmosphere, becomes visible. Latin for crown, the corona is irregularly shaped and only visible during totality, which is very exciting for astronomers to see firsthand.
About 5-10 seconds before totality, the last rays of sunlight from the photosphere merge into a brilliant point of light — known as the Diamond Ring effect.
If you can take a second to look down to the western horizon, you’ll see that shadow now really rushing toward you.
The Diamond Ring will then fade into what is known as Baily’s Beads, about 3 seconds before totality. Along the left side of the moon, sunlight breaks through the valleys and craters of the moon’s surface, forming points of light resembling dazzling jewels on a necklace. They’re named for Francis Baily, who first described the source of the phenomenon in 1836.
Second contact is when totality begins, and you can safely remove your solar glasses from your eyes (and your camera or telescope).
Ah, the Sun’s outer atmosphere, the ethereally thin gas that is normally invisible due to the Sun’s overwhelming glare. But when the Sun is behind the Moon, the corona is visible, sometimes reaching out for several times the Sun’s diameter. Shaped by magnetic forces, it can appear wispy, or shot through with tendrils, or as just a smooth glow. It all depends on the Sun’s magnetic mood at that moment.
You’ll have just a few seconds look for the vivid red of the chromosphere, the gaseous layer below the corona and just above the photosphere. You may catch vibrant red prominences stretching into the corona. These prominences can be many times larger than Earth. If you miss it, you’ll have another chance on the right side of the moon, seconds before totality ends.
Over the next seconds to about 2 minutes and 30 seconds, depending on where you are in the path of totality, observe the corona extending out many solar diameters. Each eclipse is different; sometimes the corona appears very round, sometimes it’s wider at the equator. This is also a good time to observe the sun’s magnetic influences in the form of loops and arcs — solar flares — tracing out those magnetic fields.
Also look for planets and stars to appear. Venus and the bright star Regulus may appear right above the sun/moon. Also look for Mars about 8 degrees to the right. It’s been hidden for several weeks in the sun’s glare.
I know many people who have seen total solar eclipses, and they all say —every last one of them— that it’s one of the most beautiful things they have ever seen in their entire lives. For a few moments, under the shadow of the Moon, people gasp, choke up, even weep openly.
during totally. A 10-15 degree drop is pretty typical.
As the right edge of the moon begins to brighten, it’s time to get those eclipse glasses back on: the end of totality (third contact) is seconds away, and the whole process reverses
Use eclipse glasses or a pinhole camera to see the “bite” out of the sun, and watch how it changes over time.
And If You Miss It in 2017?
There’s another total solar eclipse coming to North America, running from Mexico through Texas, Arkansas, Missouri, Illinois, Kentucky, Indiana, Ohio, Pennsylvania, New York, northern Vermont and New Hampshire, and then the southern parts of Ontario, Quebec, New Brunswick, western Prince Edward Island, and Newfoundland, Canada. But that doesn’t happen until April 8, 2024. If you miss that one, the next one in the Continental United States won’t come until August 12, 2045. In between, though, there are other total solar eclipses that are visible in other parts of the globe. And that super-long one in Guyana in 2186, just 169 years away!
NEVER look directly at the unshielded sun, even during partial eclipse, without proper eye protection! Doing so can easily cause permanent damage to your eyes, up to and including blindness. Sunglasses definitely aren’t enough. Only when you are in the path of totality, and during totality, when the sun’s disk is completely covered right after the Diamond Ring fades, can you safely take off eye protection and look directly at the corona, Baily’s Beads, and other phenomena during the eclipse.
As magnificent as a solar eclipse is, it is a natural phenomenon that occurs at predictable times and places dictated by the orbits of the moon around the earth and the earth around the sun. It is not a “magnificent harold of end time events,” as one wannabe prophet proclaims. It is indeed a glorious wonder in the sky, but it is not a sign of things to come. A solar eclipse is just something that happens when the earth, the moon, and the sun all come into the proper positions with respect to each other. It’s something to enjoy, if you’re lucky enough to be in the right place. There is absolutely nothing about it to fear. And that’s the truth.
- Bad Astronomy: Solar Eclipse
- Crash Course Eclipses
- Bad Astronomy 1
- Bad Astronomy 2
- National Centers for Environmental Information
- Tme (Solar Eclipse Map)