It’s the end of the world! Actually no, it’s just a solar eclipse, but not just any solar eclipse: a total solar eclipse. A total solar eclipse will pass over the United States on Monday, August 21st. For a brief amount of time, around 2.5 minutes, the moon will block out the sun, the brightest stars and planets will be visible, and animals and insects will believe it is nighttime. One of the more spectacular features of a total eclipse is being able to view the corona (outer ring caused by its atmosphere) of the sun for a brief period. It is a sight to be seen.
Solar eclipses are not as uncommon as one might think. In fact, they happen at least twice per year and if the stars align (pun intended), it can happen up to five times per year. Of course the key is you have to be in the right place at the right time to see it, which makes this eclipse special for the U.S.A. The last time a total eclipse was visible from the lower 48 states was 38 years ago, in 1979, passing over just a few Pacific Northwest states. If you happened to be in Hawaii on July 11, 1991, then technically that was the last total solar eclipse to be visible in the U.S. For those who are lucky enough to be in the path of totality, enjoy it, because on average, any one location on earth will experience a total eclipse just once every 300-400 years.
What makes this eclipse so special is that every one of the lower 48 states will be able to see at least a partial eclipse. 14 states (from west to east: Oregan, Idaho, Montana, Wyoming, Nebraska, Kansas, Iowa, Missouri, Illinois, Kentucky, Tennessee, Georgia, North Carolina, and South Carolina) within a 70 mile wide path will get to experience a total eclipse. The total eclipse will begin its American journey in Oregon at approximately 10:17am Pacific time and will travel towards the east coast and exit the last state, South Carolina, at approximately 2:49pm Eastern time. Eclipse2017.org has a state-by-state path of the eclipse that mentions the major towns the total eclipse will be visible from. If you have friends or colleagues at Southern Illinois University, you should be jealous, because the Shawnee National Forest in Illinois (near SIU) will experience the longest duration of totality at 2 minutes and 44 seconds.
So, you don’t feel like driving 12 hours (one way) just to see a 2 and a half minute event? I’ve done the driving calculations on Google Maps from my home, and 12 hours is the shortest amount of time to see the total eclipse. If you’re in the same situation, you can check out the partial eclipse (with eye protection!) or you can live stream the total eclipse on NASA’s website. NASA will broadcast a 4-hour program with images from the International Space Station, eclipse balloons, and from the ground.
For us New Yorkers, a partial eclipse will be visible, as long as it’s a clear day. You’ll want to take your lunch break sometime between 1:20 pm and 4:00 pm. Around 2:45 pm is when the largest amount of the sun will be covered. New Yorkers will see up to 70% of the sun blocked out by the moon.
But remember, if you plan on going outside to see the partial eclipse, you MUST protect your eyes by wearing solar eclipse glasses. Yes, there is such a thing. It’s extremely dangerous to view a partial eclipse without these special glasses. There are also indirect methods, like a pinhole projection that may be used to view the eclipse.
According to NASA, eclipse viewing glasses should meet all the following criteria:
- Have certification information with a designated ISO 12312-2 international standard
- Have the manufacturer’s name and address printed somewhere on the product
- Not be used if they are older than three years, or have scratched or wrinkled lenses
- Not use homemade filters or be substituted for with ordinary sunglasses — not even very dark ones — because they are not safe for looking directly at the Sun
These five manufacturers are making eclipse glasses and handheld solar viewers that meet the ISO standard: American Paper Optics, Baader Planetarium (AstroSolar Silver/Gold film only), Rainbow Symphony, Thousand Oaks Optical, and TSE 17.
Many public libraries have been giving solar eclipse glasses out for free and are hosting viewing parties. Star Net Libraries has an interactive map of those participating libraries, including several in Brooklyn, Queens, and Long Island.
Alternately, a select few will be able to view the eclipse from the sky. Alaska Airlines has reserved a flight specifically for the eclipse; astronomers and invitation only guests will be aboard. Southwest Airlines has been promoting two specific flights on eclipse day that will give passengers a unique view of the eclipse.
If you’re into history and maps check out the Great American Eclipse site showing eclipse dates and paths over the earth from as far back as 1650 and continuing up to 2150. Additional eclipse maps are available from NASA. My favorite resource has been StarNet Libraries, which has a fantastic guide for the upcoming eclipse.
If this topic excites you, then you’ll want to start making plans for the next total eclipse. We luck out because in just 7 years, the path of totality will cross upstate New York on April 8, 2024.
Enjoy the show!
Contributed by: Keith Pardini, Librarian, Bay Shore