The Great American Eclipse

The Great American Eclipse
Courtesy: NASA

Skywatchers will get a special treat in just over a week. On Monday, August 21 the moon will pass between the sun and the Earth and if you’re in the right place you will see the sky turn dark in the middle of the day! Some are calling it the “eclipse of the century” and Central Ohioans will be able to see a partial eclipse in their back yards, weather permitting. According to NASA, the last time a total solar eclipse was visible in the United States was back on February 26, 1979 when parts of Washington, Oregon, Idaho, Montana and North Dakota experienced totality (the entire sun was blocked out by the moon).

Courtesy: National Weather Service

What makes this eclipse interesting is the fact that it will cross the Continental United States and everyone on the U.S. Mainland will see at least a partial blocking of the sun. The zone of totality will stretch from Oregon on the West Coast all the way to South Carolina on the East Coast touching another 12 states in the process (even though the areas in Montana and Iowa are so small it’s only worth viewing from these spots if you happen to live nearby). The zone of totality will be just under 140 miles wide. If you are right under the path of the eclipse you’ll see the moon block out the sun for just under two minutes on the West Coast, about two minutes and 41 seconds at the eclipse’s greatest duration (in Southern Illinois) and two minutes and 35 seconds as it exits the U.S. on the East Coast.

An eclipse occurs because the new moon lines up just right as it passes between the Earth and the sun. Because the three bodies are aligned “perfectly” the sun is entirely obscured by the moon during a total solar eclipse. This allows observers to view the sun’s corona, or outer atmosphere. As the Earth passes through the moon’s shadow those in the path of totality will experience the umbra or the “shadow’s dark core”. The lighter portion of the shadow is known as the penumbra. We will fall under the shadow's outer part here in Central Ohio when about 85% of the sun will be covered at the maximum eclipse (which according to the U.S. Naval Observatory will happen at 2:30 P.M.).

When viewing the eclipse never look directly at the sun, you can damage your eyes. Instead, use special glasses or filters for binoculars and telescopes. Sadly, NASA is warning that with the increased demand for eclipse goggles some people are selling counterfeit versions that aren’t safe. Look for a link to reputable merchants at the bottom of this article. You can click here for a link to view the eclipse safely from your computer. Enjoy the show. And don’t worry, if you miss it another total solar eclipse is expected in the United States on April 8, 2024. This one will see the Path of Totality pass through NW Ohio!

Vendors of Solar Filters: