By Lisa Iannucci, CTW Features
Look up on Aug. 21, because one of the coolest celestial events will take place. It’s the next total solar eclipse, an event when the moon completely covers the sun.
This isn’t a rare phenomenon. As a matter of fact, according to www.space.com, approximately once every 18 months (on average) a total solar eclipse is visible from someplace on the Earth’s surface. What makes this one a big deal is that it’s the first one that is visible in the contiguous 48 United States since Feb. 26, 1979.
Here’s what will happen: The moon’s shadow will create a 70-mile-wide path diagonally across more than a dozen states, starting in Oregon and ending in South Carolina — otherwise known as the path of totality. The total eclipse will begin in Oregon at 9:05 a.m. Pacific time on Aug. 21 and then it will cross through Oregon and head into Idaho, Wyoming, Montana, Nebraska, Iowa, Kansas, Missouri, Illinois, Kentucky, Tennessee, Georgia and North Carolina. Then, it will start in its final destination, South Carolina, at 2:48 p.m. Eastern time.
Not everybody will be able to see the total eclipse though, which the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) says lasts only a few minutes. Unless you are directly on this path, you’re out of luck to see it, but don’t put your chairs away just yet. There is good news for those who aren’t residing or vacationing on this track.
You will still be able to see a partial solar eclipse in any other area — this is when the moon covers only part of the sun.
In Palm Beach County, we are hundreds of miles from the path of totality (the farther away from the path of totality, the less the moon will cover the sun), but we can still see 81 percent of the sun being obscured. The first glimpse will come at 1:25 p.m. The full 81 percent will be at 2:57 p.m. But be warned: Weather forecasters say there’s only a 50 percent chance of clear skies in this neck of the woods.
Eclipse road trip
If you want to travel to one of the cities on the trajectory to see the eclipse, you’ll have to act quickly, because hotel rooms are booking up fast. In Madras, Oregon, you can see the event from Round Butte Overlook Park. Or you can participate in one of the many eclipse festivals around the country in the cities on the pathway. These include the Wyoming Eclipse Festival in Casper; the Capital Eclipse Celebration in Jefferson City, Missouri; and the Music City Solar Eclipse in Nashville, Tennessee. There will be a countywide celebration in Rabun County, Georgia, while Columbia, South Carolina, has an entire weekend celebration planned.
So bright, wear shades
If you are making plans to see the event, make sure you protect your eyes before the festivities begin, because looking directly at the sun can severely damage them. Special glasses for eclipse watchers are available free at some local libraries, many of which will have special eclipse programs as well.
NASA explains that as the moon moves in front of the sun, several bright points of light shine around the moon’s edges that are called Baily’s beads. These beads diminish over time until only one is left, but only when that spot completely disappears can you safely look at the sun with a naked eye. With a partial eclipse as in Palm Beach County, you need to wear protection the entire time.
Watching the eclipse with regular sunglasses won’t cut it. Instead, you need to use special ISO 12312-2 compliant eclipse glasses to protect your eyes. These can be found through local museums, libraries or astronomy clubs.
You also can look through a special filter, such as a No. 14 welder’s glass, which has a thin layer of aluminum, chromium or silver on its surface that reduces ultraviolet, visible and infrared energy.
It’s a big buildup to a short event, but it can be a once-in-a-lifetime experience to see a total solar eclipse. Have the children join you and make it a family event. It’s the perfect time to marvel at what the universe can do.
Visit https://eclipse2017.nasa.gov/eclipse-who-what-where-when-and-how for a breakdown of what cities and states will be affected by the eclipse of 2017.
5 fun, safety-first tips
for watching with children
The excitement for the total eclipse on Aug. 21 is building, and it’s the perfect time to teach your child about the moon and stars and stargazing. There is plenty of time left to prepare them for the big event:
1. Read about an eclipse.
There are plenty of books on the subject, from The Big Eclipse paperback (Orbit Oregon, 2016) by Nancy Coffelt to Looking Up! The Science of Stargazing (Science of Fun Stuff, 2017) by Joe Rao and Mark Borgions. Read about what eclipses are so your children will understand what’s happening. You can also find solar activity sheets online that you can do together. Local libraries and the Children’s Science Explorium in Boca Raton will have free programs as well.
2. Make sure they are comfortable.
Waiting for the eclipse can make a child restless, so be sure to have plenty of snacks and drinks on hand and a blanket to lie on. The eclipse takes place in the summer heat so be sure to use sunscreen.
3. Know the safety rules.
Never view an eclipse by looking directly at it — wear the proper eclipse safety glasses. Also, refrain from using binoculars or a telescope unless you’ve purchased a solar shield, which will provide eye protection.
4. Watch children’s use of filters.
On the big day, don’t just give your children filters and not supervise them. Children need to be watched to make sure they use the filters correctly to protect their eyes.
5. Throw an eclipse-viewing party.
The eclipse is a perfect time to get kids excited about science, so why not throw a small neighborhood gathering to make it all the more special? Serve eclipse-themed foods, such as Moon Pies, Sun Chips and Starburst candies. For a few added activities, NASA offers a slew of fun printouts on its website (eclipse2017.nasa.gov/downloadables), including bookmarks, posters, an activity guide and 3-D printable pinhole projectors.
Eye protection during the eclipse
When you watch the eclipse it is important to wear solar filters as eye protection until the eclipse reaches totality. That won’t happen in Palm Beach County, so keep your protection on. During a total eclipse, viewers may remove filters. As the moon moves past the sun to a partial eclipse, wear eye protection again.
According to NASA, four manufacturers have certified solar filters to meet international standards: Rainbow Symphony, American Paper Optics, Thousand Oaks Optical and TSE 17.
An alternative to solar filters: NASA suggests using pinhole projection to safely view a partial eclipse without filters. To do this, “cross the outstretched, slightly open fingers of one hand over the outstretched, slightly open fingers of the other. With your back to the sun, look at your hands’ shadow on the ground. The little spaces between your fingers will project a grid of small images on the ground, showing the sun as a crescent during the partial phases of the eclipse.”
Eclipse viewing glasses will be available in the Children’s Room at the Delray Beach Public Library, 100 W Atlantic Ave., 8/14-21 while supplies last. 266-0194. delraylibrary.org
8/21 –Solar Eclipse activities at the South Florida Science Center, 4801 Dreher Trail North, West Palm Beach, include make your own solar viewing devices, solar viewing on the science trail (weather permitting), solar eclipse corona art contest and make-and-take solar eclipse craft. 10 a.m.-2 p.m. Free with museum admission: $15 for adults, $11 for children and $13 for seniors. 832-1988; sfsciencecenter.org
8/21 - Great American Total Solar Eclipse, Eclipse and Celebration at Boynton Beach City Library, 508 S. Seacrest Blvd. Learn the path of the eclipse, receive a free pair of eclipse viewing sunglasses, watch the eclipse. All ages. 1-2 p.m. The eclipse will start about 1:25. After the eclipse, create an edible lunar science treat. Grades K-12. Free. 742-6380; boyntonlibrary.org
8/21 – Eclipse viewing at Boca Raton Public Library’s Spanish River branch (Lakeside patio), 1501 NW Spanish River Blvd. Free solar eclipse glasses are available for event participants on a first-come, first-serve basis. All ages. 1-4 p.m. Free. 393-7852; myboca.us/957/Library
8/21 – Eclipse drop-in event at the Children’s Science Explorium, 300 S. Military Trail, Boca Raton. Science demos, make-and-take projects and free special glasses for viewing the eclipse. A 16-inch telescope will be fitted with a solar lens for viewing. In the event of rain, a live stream of coverage elsewhere will be available. 2-4:30 p.m. Free. 347-3912; scienceexplorium.org
8/21 - Open Dome and Sidewalk Astronomy Event for the Solar Eclipse at Florida Atlantic University Observatory, 777 Glades Road, Bldg: 43, Room: 434, Boca Raton. Telescopes available for safe solar viewing; free solar viewing glasses. 1:30-4:30 p.m. Free. 297-7827; cescos.fau.edu/observatory/observatory.html
— Mary Thurwachter