On August 21st people in the continental United States will have their best chance to view an awe inspiring natural event that won’t happen without having to travel across the planet for the next seven years. Instead they only have to travel to the middle of the country, if they even need to travel at all. A solar eclipse is when the moon, in it’s orbit around the Earth, passes in front of the Sun and casts a shadow on Earth. Most of the areas in which this event can be viewed likely won’t notice the event happening because the eclipse will only be partial from that perspective but a total eclipse can be witnessed when you are under the umbra. This is the darkest part of the shadow cast by the moon when it fully blocks the sun, leaving only the bright waving corona in the sky as that light flickers around the dark disk of the moon.
The path of the eclipse will arc across the middle of the continental United States from coast to coast where it can be viewed either fully or partially in the following states Oregon, Idaho, Montana, Wyoming, Nebraska, Kansas, Iowa, Missouri, Illinois, Kentucky, Tennessee, Georgia, South Carolina, and North Carolina. For the rest of the continental US, a partial eclipse will be visible. For those here at Payton and in Chicago, they can view the partial eclipse which will begin at 11:54AM and end at 2:43PM, but in Carbondale, IL viewers will be in the umbra part of the moon’s shadow and can witness the total eclipse which will start at 11:52AM and reach totality for three minutes at 1:20PM to 1:23PM, with the event finishing entirely at 2:48PM.
Only during the short timeframe in which the total eclipse occurs can one view the eclipse directly without the risk of damaging their eyes but there are methods of viewing the eclipse safely from beginning to end. While the moon may be blocking the light, what sunlight does get past, will be more and more concentrated until right before and right after totality. In places that will see a partial eclipse, the change will not be as drastic a change as a total eclipse, even though much of the sun is being eclipsed. In Chicago, where 89% of the sun will be blocked, this blocking of the Sun should not be viewed without the proper tools. There are two very common methods of viewing a solar eclipse – the first being lenses and glasses that filter a majority of the light from the sun allowing you to safely see only an orange circle and the second method being pinhole projection. This second method requires tools such as telescopes and binoculars or even a simple box pinhole camera that can be pointed towards the sun. The viewing lense of the binoculars or telescope should be covered with something that has a small hole in it for light to go through. This light should be projected onto another surface such as paper which will show a similar image that you would see with the filtering tinted glasses. The box pinhole camera, should have a small hole in one end allowing light to pass through to make an image on the opposite of the box. No matter what tool you use to view the partial eclipse, you should never look at the Sun directly with your eyes.
The next solar eclipse to occur in North America is predicted to occur on August 8th 2024 and that will only be on the eastern seaboard, so this summer will be the best chance most people may get to view a total solar eclipse for the next seven years. So try to prepare and plan to view the eclipse if you can and remember to view it safely. The Astronomy Classes will be distributing Solar Eclipse glasses to all Payton students and staff through advisory in mid to late may.
Photo by Jacqueline Barge
You can find out more about the August eclipse at NASA’s webpage https://eclipse2017.nasa.gov/.
You can purchase eclipse glasses at https://www.rainbowsymphony.com/eclipse-glasses for a couple of dollars per pair.
Space.com has instructions for making a simple pinhole camera. http://www.space.com/27488-partial-solar-eclipse-pinhole-camera-video.html