In one week, we will be able to witness a truly phenomenal astronomical event: The Great American Eclipse! Not much is being talked about it but people have been asking me questions so here is a small guide to next week. First, I wanted to give a little background.
Eclipse comes from the same root word as…Apocalypse! However, neither of them mean the end of the world. It means a veiling. Apo: meaning the lifting and Eclipse meaning to veil. Its referring to the fact of the sun being veiled by the moon. A fun fast fact, there is an eclipse that happens somewhere in the world at least every year and the longest time that has gone without one has been three years.
A little geometry: Earth’s axis tilts at 23.5 degrees, this makes the seasons it also means that the Sun will “oscilate” about 47 degrees in our sky throughout the year. Twice a year, the sun goes the midway in the sky: the equinox.
The Moon, the moon rotates around the earth 2,288mph. As it goes around the earth, it goes through phases. These are caused by the different amount of the light from the sun hitting it. It takes about 27 days to make a full circuit and return to a certain phase. This is how many cultures marked the months. When it is on the opposite side of the earth from the sun, we have a full moon since it reflects fully the light. When it is on the same side and all we see is the shadow, its a new moon. The moon’s orbit is about 6 degrees to that of the earths. As it ordits it intersects the line of sight with the sun Only at two moments. When everything lines up exatly the moon will block the Sun out. The Sun is about 400 times bigger than the moon, but its also about 400 times farther from the sun. In 100 years, about 234 solar eclipses occur. As the moon orbits it also moves distance from the earth. If its too close or if the earth is too far, its called an annular eclipse, meaning you can still see a ring around it. A partial eclipse is when the moon only covers part of the sun. On August 21 2017, as the moon reaches new moon phase, it will aline perfectly with the Sun in distance and angle to create a total solar eclipse that passes across the central united States from Oregon to South Carolina. The rest of the country will be able to experience a partial eclipse.
To find the time of your eclipse, you can follow this link: http://www.astronomy.com/eclipsecountdown
For another simulator: https://eclipsemega.movie/simulator
A few important safety things:
- NEVER LOOK DIRECTLY AT THE SUN!!!! Even at Maximum Partial Eclipse, you cannot look directly at the Sun, the Sun can and will cause damage to your unaided eyes, it will be quick and painless, but you will have damage.
- A regular pair of Sunglasses will not work. You need either welder’s glasses or eclipse glasses. Also, even with proper glasses, don’t look at it for extended periods of time because this still can be harmful.
- Drink plenty of water. Since the eclipse takes place over around a 3 hour period, you can easily over heat.
- Sunscreen. Yes, you will burn, even with partial eclipse.
Another cool thing to make is an eclipse box. It is where you can take just a shoe box, cut a circle in the lid and lean it so that its light falls on another piece of cardboard. Since it is not just the sun but the light that is eclipsed, as the light is diffused it will show the eclipse.
So, here’s what you will see and experience.
First, unless you look at the sun with protective glasses, you will not be able to tell anything at all is happening until about 50% eclipse, but then it starts getting interesting….
- Temperature: You probably will be able to tell a drop in temperature. Depending on where and how much eclipse you get will tell the difference in temperature.
- Motion: most astronomy deals with stable, stagnant images. Stars, planets, galaxies, etc. Not much apparent motion. However, because of its closeness to us, the moon is the fastest object in reference to angular shift. In one hour, it will appear to move its width across the sky. You will see, maybe even be able to feel the movement. As the Earth moves, so is the Moon, all playing into the experience of the eclipse. A fun note: The moon moves about same speed as a rifle bullet (2,288 mph or 1kilometer per sec)! That sounds fast but you can see that in astronomy, that very slow. It will be a reminder that even though we come and go on what we think is a stable planet, we are all in constant motion.
- 360 degree sunset: as it gets closer and closer to the max eclipse, start looking around you. Look at the horizon, you will see in all directions a sunset, something we never see at any other time. Don’t spend all your time looking at this, but its a good way to not just kill your eyes.
- Shadow snakes: Be sure you are standing near a tree. Not only will this give some cool shade, but a cool effect: As the sun gets eclipsed and the light as well you can see under trees where the light is being diffused, a ton of small crescent moons! Take some good pictures of these, they are hard to find pictures of.
- Stars at day time: Again, depending on how much eclipse you get and how dark it gets, you may start seeing some stars come out. Looking near the sun, you may start seeing Venus to the Sun’s upper left hand corner then soon after, Jupiter to its bottom right.
After the max of the eclipse, it will remain there for probably about 2 mins and 30 seconds and then the whole thing will go in reverse and you will see the same thing in reverse.
Nearly every state in the United states will experience at least partial eclipse. However, for a very narrow band of America, they will experience Totality. The difference between a total solar eclipse and a partial is literally the difference between night and day. During a Total Eclipse, not only do you enter total darkness and see stars, but you are able to safely observe the sun without eye protection, you can observe with binoculars the rare corona of the Sun, you can actually see what is behind the sun, sometimes you will experience sharp drops in temperature and even animals will act strange. I will be in Nashville to view it and I will try to film it and commentate on it. Look next week on www.thethinkingpriest.com
Want more eclipse? Well here’s some good news: 1) in 2019 if you keep your glasses you can witness Mercury transit the Sun! Also, 2024 another Solar Eclipse will pass almost right on the boarder between Texas and Louisiana! Happy Viewing!