Save the Date: August 21, 2017 Total Solar Eclipse
January 5, 2017
“It is a spectacle pure and simple, the most magnificent free show that nature presents to man. . . . [N]ot to view the coming one would be literally to lose the opportunity of a lifetime.”
— “On the Solar Eclipse of 1925,” The New York Times
To witness a total solar eclipse total solar eclipse is a rare phenomenon. The last time one touched the mainland United States was in 1979. But on August 21, 2017 some of us in the United States will have a chance to see one without traveling too far. A continent-spanning eclipse like the one this year hasn’t occurred in the United States since 1918.
Total solar eclipses happen when our Moon is exactly the right distance from the Earth to cover the sun completely. For a couple of minutes, the Earth is fully in the shadow of the Moon.
Eclipses actually happen fairly frequently, but sometimes the Moon’s shadow is cast in the endless reaches of space. Imperfect alignments happen, too, and those are partial eclipses. To experience a total solar eclipse in one particular point on Earth more than once is very rare indeed. Astronomer and physics professor Tyler Nordgren, in his new book, Sun, Moon, Earth, says, “Though eclipses happen roughly twice each year, each one follows a different path across our planet. The patterns repeat in shape every eighteen years, but each time, the path is positioned one-third of the way around the planet and a little farther north or south than before. . . . eventually any spot on Earth can expect, on average, to see totality every 375 years.”
The path of totality for the August 21, 2017 solar eclipse cuts a swath across the entire United States. You can find maps at http://www.GreatAmericanEclipse.com. It will start at 10:26 PDT on the Oregon coast and 93 minutes later will move away from the Atlantic coast.
I have made camping reservations on the Oregon coast for a few days overlapping the day of the eclipse. That morning, I will have to drive about 2 hours south to be in the path of totality. Barring clouds (always a possibility on the coast), I should experience one of Nature’s most awesome shows.
The descriptions in Nordgren’s book have primed me to expect a wondrous and multi sensory few minutes: “. . . the temperature drops, birds grow quiet, shadows sharpen, and colors become muted and fade. Then, all at once, the Sun turns black and the stars come out. Overhead a ghostly aura steams outwards around the Sun’s dark disk.”
And, “The corona, a ring of immense pearly tendrils, envelopes the darkness and stretches off into the sky in all directions. It is unimaginably beautiful and only visible during these few precious minutes of totality. All around it are the brighter stars and planets, invisible until now; it is a day that has become night at noon, with the Sun, Moon, planets, and stars overhead all at once.”
You don’t want to miss this year’s eclipse because you will have a long wait for another one. The next total solar eclipses on American soil will happen in 2024, 2044, 2045, and 2052.
I wonder how I will be affected by seeing a day with two dawns and midnight at noon?
“. . .[T]he great lesson of the eclipse to the masses who saw it is that one little unusual phenomenon in the skies makes us realize how closely akin we all are in this common planetary boat out on an ethereal sea that has no visible shores.”
— The New York Times, January 25, 1925