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What’s a Solar Eclipse, Anyways?

By August 21, 2017September 6th, 2017Uncategorized

Today’s eclipse has everyone talking. It’s an exciting event in astronomy and astrology, science and spirituality, and everything in between. Whether you’re the one leading those conversations or blindly nodding your way through them, we’ve uncovered some celestial facts for you. Here’s everything—and we really mean everything—you need to know:

    1. A “solar eclipse” is what happens when the moon passes between the sun and the earth, blocking part (or all) of the sun for a period.
    2. On Monday, August 21, a total eclipse will be visible across the United States. The last time we could see one from the States (excluding Alaska and Hawaii) was February 26, 1979.
    3. And it’s been even longer since the eclipse was visible from coast to coast: June 8, 1918.
    4. This year, the “totality” of the eclipse (meaning, where the moon blocks the entire sun, leaving only a ring of light behind) will be visible in parts of 14 states. (Oregon, Idaho, Montana, Wyoming, Nebraska, Kansas, Missouri, Iowa, Illinois, Kentucky, Tennessee, Georgia, North Carolina, and South Carolina, in case you were wondering.)
    5. That’s why Monday’s event has taken on the nickname of “The Great American Eclipse.” People will be able to see a partial solar eclipse in the rest of the contiguous United States too, as well as parts of Africa, South America, and Europe.
    6. The eclipse will cross through the United States over the course of an hour and a half, encasing the aforementioned 14 states in darkness for approximately two minutes each.
    7. The eclipse will enter the United States at 10:15 a.m. PDT off the coast of Oregon and leave at approximately 2:50 p.m. EDT in South Carolina.
    8. These 10 American cities are close to the path of totality, so they’ll have some great views during the following times: Madras, Oregon (10:19 a.m.–10:21 a.m.); Idaho Falls, Idaho (11:33 a.m.–11:34 a.m.); Casper, Wyoming (11:42 a.m.–11:45 a.m.); Lincoln, Nebraska (1:02 p.m.–1:04 p.m.); Jefferson City, Missouri (1:13 p.m.–1:15 p.m.); Carbondale, Illinois (1:20 p.m.–1:22 p.m.); Paducah, Kentucky (1:22 p.m.–1:24 p.m.); Nashville, Tennessee (1:27 p.m.–1:29 p.m.); Clayton, Georgia (2:35 p.m.–2:38 p.m.); and Columbia, South Carolina (2:41 p.m.–2:44 p.m.).
    9. You can see just how much of the eclipse will pass through your ZIP code with this nifty calculator. It will also tell you how far you’ll need to travel to see a total eclipse.
    10. Love a good craft project? Make your own pinhole projector. It’s an easy, fun way to make sure your viewing experience doesn’t damage your eyes. For a basic version, you just need two pieces of paper and a needle. It shouldn’t take more than a couple of minutes. If you have a bit more time, you can make your own box projector. Find directions for both here.
    11. If you aren’t the crafting type and maybe you could use some new shades anyway, grab a pair of “eclipse glasses” to block out the sun’s UV rays. More effective than your typical sunglasses, paper frames approved by the American Astronomical Society let no more than 0.00032 percent of the sun’s light into the eyes.
    12. To find some sunnies, try your local library, or check out NASA’s distribution points around the country.
    13. Be careful when picking your pair, though, as some glasses on the market aren’t strong enough to fully protect the eyes. Rainbow Symphony, American Paper Optics, Thousand Oaks Optical, TSE 17, and Baader Planetarium are all brands that pass a stringent safety test.
    14. NASA hopes to eventually map out the entire eclipse, and it’s calling on everyday citizens for some help. By downloading their GLOBE Observer app, you can get involved by recording data about the eclipse from your perspective, no matter where you’re watching from.
    15. NASA scientists will also be tracking the celestial event from the sky. They’ll set out to “chase” the eclipse in jets equipped with stabilizing telescopes in the hopes of tracking it in totality for up to seven minutes.
    16. “Total Eclipse” recounts writer Annie Dillard’s experience viewing the 1979 eclipse in Washington state. The essay has gone down as a masterpiece of literary nonfiction and a must-read for the eclipse-curious among us.
    17. In ancient times, celestial events like eclipses were interpreted as divine signs. In China, solar eclipses were associated with the health and fortune of the emperor, and according to legend, failing to predict a solar eclipse would put the emperor in danger. It is believed that two astrologers were executed for failing to predict an eclipse on October 22, 2134 BCE. (If true, that would make it the first solar eclipse in recorded history.)
    18. The Chinese word for solar eclipse is actually shih, which translates to “to eat.” In Ancient China, people would make loud noises by banging pots and pans and drums during a solar eclipse in an effort to frighten the dog they believed was devouring the sun.
    19. Another infamous eclipse took place the day of the decisive battle of The Wars of the Roses (the war that established the Tudor dynasty). The Battle of Bosworth happened on August 22, 1485—the day of a lunar eclipse. Richard’s wife had died on the day of a solar eclipse, so he thought the eclipse was a bad omen. The battle ended when Richard was killed, and his crown was placed on Henry’s head. Perhaps he was right to fear eclipses?
    20. As a matter of fact, many cultures still consider solar eclipses harbingers of doom. In India, people fast during eclipses because they believe any food preparedduring this time will be poisonous.
    21. A tribe indigenous to the northwestern United States, the Pomo have fascinating folklore about the origin of eclipses. In their story, the sun and a bear run into each other as the bear is going for a stroll along the Milky Way. The two get into a fight about who will move out of the other’s way, and the bear takes a bite out of the sun. The Pomo name for a solar eclipse literally translates to “sun got bit by a bear.
    22. Another common superstition is that eclipses are harmful to pregnant women. But modern medicine makes it clear that this is 100 percent myth, zero percent fact. The only potential physical harm that can come from the eclipse is to the eyes if exposed directly.
    23. On the other end of the spectrum, according to Greek historian Herodotus, a solar eclipse in 585 BCE brought about peace between the Lydians and Medes. They interpreted the astrological event as a sign from the gods that they should cease fighting.
    24. Though many historians, astrologers, and astronomers had observed and recorded eclipses, it wasn’t until 1605 that a scientific explanation of a total solar eclipse was written down by astronomer Johannes Kepler.
    25. A century later, Edmund Halley (yes, like the comet) predicted the timing and path of a solar eclipse on May 3, 1715, to within 18 miles and four minutes—startlingly accurate when you consider that it happened over 200 years ago.
    26. A Canadian astronomer from the University of Alberta, J.W. Campbell, was a world-famous “eclipse chaser” in the first half of the 20th century. He traveled the world and chased 12 different eclipses, but poor weather and visibility got in his way every time. Thank goodness for Weather.com.
    27. An especially spectacular feature unique to the total solar eclipse is the “diamond ring effect.” This is caused by a phenomenon known as Baily’s Beads, named after Francis Baily, who provided a scientific explanation for it in 1836. Because of the peaks and valleys of lunar topography, points of sunlight can shine through in some places. Those points of light shine through to create the ring. The “diamond ring effect,” in which the light appears to form a diamond surrounded by a golden ring, appears when only one bead is left.
    28. Many people still place a great deal of significance on eclipses, but in the Western world, it tends to be of a more romantic sort. Marriage proposals and weddingsare often planned to coincide with these once-in-a-lifetime events, to make them even more unforgettable.
    29. For a total solar eclipse to occur, the moon must be directly between the sun and the earth. That can only happen during one lunar phase: the new moon.
    30. Total solar eclipses are made possible by a miraculous symmetry that most people don’t know about. The sun is exactly 400 times larger than the moon, and 400 times farther from the earth. That’s why these two celestial bodies appear exactly the same size.
    31. And, yes, as you may have inferred from the previous fact, that means that the only place a total solar eclipse can occur in our solar system is on our beautiful, great, green Earth.
    32. Speaking of which, the United States is the only place on Earth that’ll see a total solar eclipse twice within a decade—August 21, 2017, and again on April 8, 2024.
    33. Wondering how many people are actually going to catch a glimpse of the eclipse? Well, a lucky 12.25 million people live within the path of totality. And an estimated 1.85 to 7.4 million more will travel somewhere within that path on the big day. Talk about traffic jams
    34. Nashville, Tennessee, is the largest U.S. city in the path of the total eclipse
    35. Many smaller towns in its path are expecting the biggest spike in tourism they’ve seen maybe ever. They’re treating it like an emergency situation, down to planning for potential port-a-potty shortages. Somebody’s got to think of these things, after all.
    36. Certain schools are even pushing back their first day of classes to ensure they don’t fall on Monday. They’re driven by concern that children will be too tempted to stare into the sun.
    37. The first people in the world to see the eclipse will be on the waterfront at Government Point, Oregon, at 10:15:56.5 a.m. PDT.
    38. The longest amount of time anyone will see the totality of the eclipse is 2 minutes and 40.2 seconds.
    39. You won’t need a telescope to get a great view of this event, but if you want to get a closer-up glimpse, consider grabbing a pair of binoculars.
    40. If you’re a parent, the eclipse can be a wonderful opportunity to teach your kids about nature’s grandeur. 
    41. Horticulturists guess that the chilly, dark eclipse conditions will throw plants, insects, and birds into a bit of a tailspin. During the hours surrounding the eclipse, songbirds could stop singing, crickets could stop chirping, and bats might set out for nighttime flight a little early. No need to worry about your houseplants, though. The eclipse isn’t long enough to do any major damage to their growth.
    42. One thing we should actually be concerned about is the eclipse’s influence on our power stores. States that rely heavily on solar power, like California, are in for a major drop in supply.
    43. If you’ll be driving on Monday afternoon, prepare to turn your headlights on. Also, listen to AAA’s advice and don’t attempt to watch or photograph the event from the road.
    44. There are plenty of spiritual rituals that can help get you in the right mental space to take in the spectacle. 
    45. The term “solar eclipse” has gained some serious Google traction in recent days, and curiously, Mozambique seems to be the region that’s most actively searching for information on it online.
    46. If it’s rainy or cloudy in your area, you sadly will not be able to see the eclipse.
    47. According to astronomers, looking through the eyepiece of a camera can be dangerous during the full eclipse, so be careful and keep your glasses on if you’re trying to immortalize the moment.
    48. By most accounts, this is the most highly anticipated eclipse in human history, so get ready for an exciting start to the week!

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