Total Solar Eclipse of the Heart

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As you’ve probably heard, something exciting is happening next Monday. No, it’s not Hawaii’s 58th birthday, which is also exciting. Nor is it the 226th anniversary of the Haitian Revolution, an extremely fascinating event that you should all look into, but it wouldn’t be super relevant to a science blog.


I’ll stop. Of course I’m talking about the total solar eclipse, which apparently people are also calling the Great American Total Solar Eclipse. It’s well named, because Noth America is the only place it will be visible. Although really it should be called the Great Tiny Band That Crosses Across North American Total Solar Eclipse, because a very small percentage of Americans will actually get to see the total eclipse. The rest of us, along with parts of South America, Africa, and Europe will see a partial eclipse.


What exactly is total eclipse? Other than one of my favorite 80’s songs*, it’s the fancy name for when the moon passes in front of the sun and blocks all of the light. Through some sort of fluke, our moon and sun take up the same amount of space in the sky. So if you’re standing in the perfect spot on Earth and look up, the disk of the moon will completely cover the disk of the moon, the sky will go entirely dark, and you’ll be able to see a ring of light where the sun should be. That’s because you won’t be able to see the sun itself, but its atmosphere (called the corona) will be visible.   


The eclipse will only happen for a few minutes in any given place because the moon rotates very quickly around the Earth. The totality, as it’s called, will start in Oregon and end in South Carolina about 90 minutes later.


All of this is very confusing to someone like me who isn’t super great at three dimensional thinking, so here’s a picture that will hopefully do a better job explaining than me.


If you were able to fly anywhere on Earth at any point in time, you’d be able to see a total solar eclipse once every 18 months. Most of us can’t do that, so we will only be able to see a total eclipse in our city once every 500 years on average. Monday will be the only time in our lifetime that the majority of Americans will be able to see one.


Unfortunately for me, and the thousands of other students at the University of Utah, we are not in the totality, aka we won’t be able to see the total eclipse. If you’re not one of the estimated up to 19 million people who will make their way to the 70 mile tall and 2,000 mile long strip of the totality, don’t fear. As long as you’re in the continental United States, you’ll still see a partial eclipse, which will look like someone took a big bite out the cookie that is our sun.


If it weren’t on the first day of the semester I would have loved to drive up to Idaho to see it, but alas, I try to be a good student. Luckily, we will still be able to see a 90% partial eclipse. (Side note: “eclipse” has ceased to look like real word anymore after typing it approximately a thousand times.) Our own Marriot library is having a viewing party, complete with viewing glasses, Capri-Suns, and Sun Chips. 


If you’re not at the University, or you’re not in Utah at all, I can’t point you toward a specific event, but, there’s a good resource to find viewing parties near you. Whatever you do, PLEASE don’t look directly at the sun without special eclipse glasses. The last time around, almost 50  years ago, my mom saw a partial eclipse in Hawaii. She has a horrifying anecdote about two people having their corneas burnt. Don’t do that. Happy safe viewing!

About The Author

Just a girl who has a lot of feelings about planetary science

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