Eclipse 101

The interest and in some cases excitement surrounding Monday’s total solar eclipse continues to build. Although the once in a lifetime event is only a day away, more people are starting to ask questions about what is really going to happen and how they can participate. In case you aren’t the average science geek here is your Solar Eclipse 101 so you will know everything to stay safe and enjoy the experience.

What is a solar eclipse and why is everyone so excited?

According to the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) eclipses occur due to the special coincidence of the moon and the Sun being the same angular size. The Sun is 400 times wider than the moon, but it is also 400 times farther away, so they coincidentally appear to be the same size in our sky. This is what allows us the phenomenal beauty of the total solar eclipse. In a nutshell the orbit of the moon moves in between Earth and the Sun. The reason why everyone is all geeked up about Monday’s eclipse is because it will be the first total solar eclipse in almost 100 years that will be seen in a path all across the United States from Oregon to South Carolina.

What is the difference between a partial and a total solar eclipse? 

Some scientific websites say a solar eclipse can happen somewhere in the world as much as twice a year. When the moon moves in front of the sun depending on where you view the event you will see a portion of the sun blocked which is a partial eclipse. If the moon blocks out 100% of the sun and you are in the area of “totality”where the entire sun will be blocked, you will see a halo around the moon, the temperature will drop about 20 degrees and you may even see some stars and planets in the sky.

How long does a total solar eclipse last?

The entire event begins when the moon starts its dance in front of the sun and ends when the moon completely moves away from the sun. The entire process can take about 3 hours. The “total eclipse” however will only last around 2 minutes. In Atlanta you will see about 95 to 97% of the solar eclipse. You will have to drive north and east to see 100%.

How can I watch the solar eclipse? 

There are many ways to watch a solar eclipse.

  1. Wear a pair of ISO certified solar eclipse glasses. They look like the 3D glasses we used to get in the theaters but these glasses are much different. When you look through the lenses you should see complete blackness until you look at the sun.Eclipse viewing glasses and handheld solar viewers should meet the following criteria according to NASA:
    • Have certification information with a designated ISO 12312-2 international standard.
    • Have the manufacturer’s name and address printed somewhere on the product.
    • They should not be used if they are older than three years, or have scratched or wrinkled lenses. Be careful of bogus solar eclipse glasses. DON’T USE THEM! You can permanently damage your eyes.
    • img 20170820 123200 Eclipse 101

      Solar Eclipse Glasses to view the total eclipse on August 21, 2017. Photo credit: Jean Ross CBS Radio

  2. An alternative method for safe viewing of the partially eclipsed sun according to the American Astronomical Society is pinhole projection(link is external). For example, cross the outstretched, slightly open fingers of one hand over the outstretched, slightly open fingers of the other, creating a waffle pattern. With your back to the sun, look at your hands’ shadow on the ground.
  3. You can look at the ground through leaves on a tree and see the shadow of the eclipse on the ground
  4. You can also make a pinhole projector to view the eclipse. This might be a great project if you have small children.  Here is a video from NASA on how to make a pinhole projector   
  5. Don’t try to take pictures of the solar eclipse unless you have a special filter for your camera or smartphone.

Where can I watch the solar eclipse?

The best way is to travel to an area in the path of totality so you can see it in it’s full glory. By now all hotel rooms are booked and many campgrounds are as well. Second choice is to stay in the Atlanta Metro area where there will be many viewing opportunities. Parks, libraries, schools, hotels, restaurants and places like the Fernbank Museum, Tellus Science Museum and Atlanta Botanical Gardens are hosting “Eclipse Watch” events. The University of Georgia is expected to have a 99% view of the eclipse. University officials are inviting people to come experience the eclipse between the hedges for free but you will have to pay for parking. The V-103 and WAOK family will host a total eclipse party on the rooftop deck at Suite Lounge in downtown Atlanta.

Of course if you want to get the full effect of the eclipse without all of the travel, crowds, glasses and everything else you can stay in the office or at home and watch it on television or on line. Wall-to-wall coverage will begin at 12 PM ET with a CBS News special report from 1 pm to 3pm ET.  Check it out here

Where ever you decide to witness this once in a lifetime event do it safely.

Everything you need to know about the August 21, 2017 Total Solar Eclipse is here.

 

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