On August 21 of this year, people living in the United States will be treated to a total solar eclipse not seen here for almost a century. It will be a dramatic and multisensory experience. As the moon passes in front of the sun, the midday sky will darken and the stars will emerge. Temperatures will drop. The birds will become silent in the sudden twilight, while the crickets will wake up.
I have waited 38 years for that day to come.
On average, a total solar eclipse is visible from somewhere on Earth about once a year. The last total solar eclipse to affect the continental United States occurred on February 26, 1979, when half of the current American population was not yet born. This eclipse affected only a tiny portion of the Pacific Northwest, but it passed just over my home in Portland, Oregon. Today I may be a professional astronomer, but at the time I was a 9 year old who had just fallen in love with NASA and space exploration. I heard about the eclipse in my fifth grade class.
Unfortunately, mostly what I learned about it was to be afraid.
Whenever adults spoke about this eclipse, they expressed fear that someone would look directly at it and suffer eye damage. The conversation was so scary that I thought the sun would emit strange scorching rays to the eyes during times of totality (when the sun is entirely blocked by the moon) – and that if I looked up I would go blind. permanently. My school administrators were so worried that students would go blind on school property that they canceled classes.
(Make no mistake: eclipse or not, looking at the sun is dangerous. During any part of the eclipse, when the sun is visible, you should use eye protection, but unlike the protective equipment necessary for you. Many sports, eclipse protection costs only a dollar. All you need are the cardboard “glasses” that have a special filter to block harmful visible, ultraviolet and infrared rays from the sun. eclipse time they will be available almost anywhere and you can order them over the internet Just make sure they are ‘CE’ certified and meet all ISO standards.)
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Because of all this worry from the adults around me, I was never able to witness this eclipse. Instead of going out, I stayed inside with the curtains drawn and watched television coverage of the eclipse. My only direct experience of the awe-inspiring event that unfolded above my head was how suddenly the house became dark at the time of the celestial alignment.
I had been deprived of an experience that changed my life.
“I have waited 38 years for that day to come.”
Now, almost four decades later, I’m doing my best to make sure that no one is deprived of the same experience. For the past five years, I have traveled to the United States to publicize what eclipses are and how they have gone from omens of evil to scientific tools to a global tourist attraction. I visited Grand Teton National Park, Yellowstone National Park, and other national parks where weather permitting visitors will get a good view of the eclipse. I’ve lectured at chambers of commerce in places like tiny John Day, Oregon, where tens of thousands of visitors are expected to congregate in August for a chance to see the sun briefly turn black. I created posters about the eclipse for communities across the country. I even wrote a book on the eclipse.
Census counts reveal that there are 12 million people living in the United States in the so-called “totality strip” where, from the perspective of people looking up to the sky, the moon will completely cover the sun. The strip is about 60 miles wide, but due to the movement of the moon around the Earth, it will stretch from the Pacific coast of Oregon diagonally across the United States to the Atlantic coast of the Caroline from the south.
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It will take 90 minutes in the shadow of the moon to make the trip. In that time frame, everyone in all, including the tens of millions of Americans who live within two hours’ drive of the path and the countless number of eclipse hunters from around the world, this will become the most photographed, tweeted and instagrammed moment in human history – a day of shared respect and joy.
Unlike most of the other astronomical phenomena that we astronomers are able to predict – meteor showers, for example, and “comets of the century” that never live up to the hype – this eclipse will occur at middle of the day at the precise moment when it will occur. been predicted. The only uncertainty will be whether there are local clouds – and whether you’ll be there to experience them.
So I urge you not to miss the opportunity. If you haven’t already, make plans now. And on this August day, get ready to see something that will truly change your life. Use your eclipse glasses to watch the sun slowly disappear and the moment the moon swallows it completely. Don’t let anyone or anything deny you this opportunity to be impressed.
Dr Tyler Nordgren is an astronomer at the University of Redlands and is the author of the book Sun Moon Earth: The History of Solar Eclipses from Omens of Doom to Einstein and Exoplanets. His artwork on the eclipse can be found at SpaceArtTravelBureau.com.