Tomorow’s solar eclipse

“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, about the solar eclipse he watched in Aruba in 1998.

The last total solar eclipse seen in the contiguous United States was on February 26, 1979; but it was visible only across the northwestern states of Washington, Oregon, Idaho, Montana, and North Dakota. The one coming up tomorrow will angle across the whole country from northwest to southeast and coast to coast.

If you’re lucky enough to be in its path, it’ll reach totality between 10:30 am and 3:30 pm, depending on your location. Use this Solar Eclipse Map to see exactly when to expect it.

Total solar eclipses occur roughly once or twice a year somewhere on Earth, always at the time of a new moon. But it’s a big planet, and 70% of it is covered by water. The Arctic and Antarctic take up a lot ofthe rest of it. So  getting a total solar eclipse visible over a large populated area is less common, and one specifically over the United States is actually fairly rare.

Total solar eclipses are said to be one of the most magnficent sights in all of nature. The moon overtakes and slowly covers the Sun, taking nearly 90 minutes to do so. In the last seconds before the Sun is totally covered, the sky grows dark, the air cools, and birds stop singing. Then totality lasts just a few seconds or minutes. But everybody who sees one agrees it was worth the wait.

State capitals in the path of the total solar eclipse: Salem, OR; Lincoln, NE; Jefferson City, MO; Nashville, TN; and Columbia, SC. The optimal local viewing time is given for each. The rust-colored path marks the area where a total eclipse will appear, also called the path of totality. Map developed by CICS-NC in cooperation with NOAA NCEI, Deborah Riddle
State capitals in the path of the total solar eclipse: Salem, OR; Lincoln, NE; Jefferson City, MO; Nashville, TN; and Columbia, SC. The optimal local viewing time is given for each. The rust-colored path marks the area where a total eclipse will appear, also called the path of totality. Map developed by CICS-NC in cooperation with NOAA NCEI, Deborah Riddle

While the strip of totality is only about 70 miles wide and each location will see it for just a few seconds or a couple of minutes, the partial eclipse—when the moon covers just part of the sun—will be visible all over North and Central America plus the northern half of South America. It’ll cover a lot of ocean, and you’ll even be able to see it from Hawaii, if you happen to be there. Unfortunately for the rest of you, this is primarily an American eclipse!

Moments before totality in the 2012 Australian eclipse, just a small part of the Sun is still visible, creating a “diamond ring” effect
Moments before totality in the 2012 Australian eclipse, just a small part of the Sun is still visible, creating a “diamond ring” effect.

The moon’s shadow will race eastward across the nation at the speed of the moon’s orbit around the planet minus earth’s speed of rotation. Roughly 600 mph (combined). This particular eclipse starts in the morning on the west coast, and ends in the afternoon on the east coast. Those lucky enough to actually find themselves in the narrow path of totality–or who have made preparations in advance to be there–will see something similar to the picture above, plus or minus the clouds. It’ll be visible for just a very short time in each location.

And notice, this is a color picture; in the middle of the day, even though it looks like midnight. What you’ll actually see will vary depending on weather conditions, both here and on the sun! If you really fortunate, you may see the sun’s corona writhing for several sun diameters out around the sun itself. And all in glorious color, as you’ll see in some of the videos!

On the center line of totality, you’ll get two or three minutes of it; but along the edge, just 35 miles on either side of the middle line, you’ll only see a few seconds of totality. Outside of the narrow strip, you’ll see just a partial eclipse. No totality. But “just a partial eclipse” is still a thing of wonder!

From North Texas we’ll watch the moon crawl across the top of the sun, covering most of it eventually, and then passing on across. It’ll start at 10:02 am and end at 4:14 pm CDT, with peak at 1:07 pm CDT. I’ll be out there, rolling around in my power chair, enjoying it all.

Use eclipse glasses–available everywhere, cheap, If you’re not too late–or a pinhole camera to see the “bite” out of the sun, and watch how it changes over time. Or stand under a tree and watch the pinholes of light filtering through the leaves, each one showing a picture of the sun with a chunk cut out of it. It’s awesome!

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 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 purely 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, “Signs in the sky” of the end times, as a few Christians think, or even a “time of darkness and evil,” as some Muslims say.

It is indeed a glorious wonder in the sky, but it is not a sign of evil or things to come. A solar eclipse is just something that happens when the earth, the moon, and the sun all come into their 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.

Watch the videos to learn more. They’re fantastic! And check out NASA’s National and State Maps to learn what you can see from your location and when you can see it.

Or watch it live here on NASA TV (Below), between 11:00 am and 3:00 pm CST, if the channel works. (But it appears to be overloaded already by 9:35 am CST Monday morning. Bill)

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