The Great American Solar Eclipse
Are you ready for the Great American Solar Eclipse? On August 21 there will be a total solar eclipse. They happen all over the world, usually about once a year and sometimes as many as five times in a year. So what's the big deal with this one?
The first solar eclipse ever photographed,
taken by Berkowski on July 28, 1851.
There have been solar eclipses that were visible in some part of the U.S. before, the last one was in Hawaii in 1991 and the last one visible on the U.S. mainland was in 1979. But Everyone in the United States (even in Alaska and Hawaii) will see this eclipse as the moon's shadow passes across the entire United States. No matter where you are in the U.S., you will see at least a partial eclipse, and most people are within less than a day's drive to see a complete, total eclipse. Awesome!
So what's going on? The Earth circles around the sun and the moon circles around the Earth. Sometimes the Earth, moon and sun line up in a straight line, and then BINGO! we have a solar eclipse. The moon sandwiched between the Earth and the sun appears to block out the sun, and we little Earthlings will be in the moon's shadow, unable to see the sun. In a nutshell, it will be dark in the middle of the day!
So where are you viewing it? Here at FiberWild! in Galena we will see the moon cover 88.4% of the sun at 1:14 pm (please don't call the store then - we'll be out on our front sidewalk looking up!). We won't see a total eclipse (that happens further south from us), but it will still be pretty awesome! To see how much of an eclipse you'll see at your house type in your zip code here.
The sun is really bright, and even with 88.4% of the sun covered up it's still very bright. So you must wear protective eye wear. Very dark sunglasses are not good enough. NASA recommends that you wear eye protection that is compliant with the ISO 12312-2 international safety standard and NASA has a link to the American Astronomical Society's list of reputable vendors who sell the viewers. The glasses look like the cheap 3-D glasses you get from the movie theater, except instead of a blue and red eye both eyes in your eclipse viewing glasses look like they are covered with tinfoil. They're so dark you can't see anything but the sun, but look directly at the sun and you'll see a perfect orange ball.
So what did they do before our modern eclipse viewing glasses? A newspaper article in the St. Louis Globe-Democrat printed on July 26, 1878 prepares readers for the 1878 eclipse with "A piece of smoked or colored glass will be found a valuable adjunct. Those who were victims of the blue glass mania may find useful employment for that material at last. Those who have not this advantage may take a strip of ordinary window glass and smoke it beforehand."
Viewing an eclipse by looking at the
reflection in a bowl of water.
It may feel safer than looking
directly at the sun, but it's not.
So what will happen? If you are in an area of totality then the sky will go dark and it will look like twilight in the middle of the day. It won't be pitch-black-middle-of-the-night dark, but more like the amount of darkness you get on a night with a full moon. The air will get cooler and wildlife and livestock will get quiet as they settle down and prepare for bed. If you are in the line of totality you can take off your protective glasses and look directly at the sun once it hits totality. You'll still see the corona (the "glow" around the sun), but the sun itself will appear to be gone, replaced by a giant black hole.
We know that the sun will be completely covered for about two minutes and then will become visible again ... but what a scary event an eclipse would be for ancient people who looked up in the sky and believed that their sun had been swallowed - never to return! Throughout history most ancient cultures viewed an eclipse as a bad omen. Homer's The Odyssey described an eclipse of 1178 B.C. with "The sun has perished out of heaven, and an evil mist hovers over all." Sounds more like a horror movie than an astronomical event!
Are you road tripping to view the eclipse in an area of totality? If so, good for you! Have a friend drive while you knit our Sierra Sun Hat and Mittens set. A tribute to the sun in a classic southwestern style, the hat and mittens use three colors - but only two colors are used at a time, making it a fun and easy colorwork project. And you'll have cool bragging rights this winter when you tell your friends you were knitting your Sierra Sun Hat and Mittens Set on the day the sun disappeared!
Happy Knitting! ... Scout