By Jing Ren
BOSTON—America should get ready for a once-in-a-lifetime experience.
A total solar eclipse will occur over the United States on Aug. 21, 2017. It will be the first total solar eclipse within the contiguous 48 states since 1979.
Ten to 12 million people live along the “path of totality,” where the moon will briefly block out the sun. If the weather permits, they will be able to see one of the most spectacular sights in all of nature: the solar corona — the sun’s pearly outer atmosphere.
Other spectacular effects on display will be Baily’s Beads, when a sliver of the sun appears broken into beads of light at the beginning and end of the eclipse; and the Diamond Ring, which is when a bolt of sunlight peeks through.
As journalist David Baron describes in his book American Eclipse: “A total eclipse pulls back the curtain that is the daytime sky, exposing what is above our heads but unseen at any other time: the solar system. Suddenly, you perceive our blazing sun as never before, flanked by bright stars and planets.”
Speakers from The American Astronomical Society’s Solar Eclipse 2017 Task Force and the International Astronomical Union’s Working Group on Eclipses gathered at this year’s AAAS Conference at Boston Feb. 17 to urge the public not to miss this extraordinary opportunity.
The 2017 solar eclipse path will start in Oregon, travel across Idaho, Montana, Wyoming, Nebraska, Kansas, Iowa, Missouri, Illinois, Kentucky, Tennessee, Georgia, North Carolina, and then exit through South Carolina. Outside the path, people will only see a partial eclipse, still an amazing sight, but nothing like the rare total eclipse, the scientists said. That is why scientists advise people to drive there to grasp this lifetime experience.
“We want as many as people to come to the path to see it, while at the same time, we want to get everybody who cannot get there to watch the partial eclipse safely,” Angela Speck, professor and director of astronomy of the University of Missouri at Columbia said. “Columbia lies directly on the path of totality. ”
The eclipse will start at around 10:15 a.m. Pacific time on the West Coast and end around 2:45 p.m. Eastern time (11:45 a.m. Pacific time) on the East Coast. In all, it will take about 90 minutes to go across the country, but it only lasts at most two minutes and 40 seconds at a given location.
In Columbia, Missouri, where Speck is promoting local eclipse-viewing events, the moon will begin crossing the sun at 11:45 a.m. local time and finish at 2:40 p.m. The totality will begin at 1:12 and end at 1:15.
The American Astronomical Society’s Solar Eclipse 2017 Task Force was established in 2014, Michael Kentrianakis, solar eclipse project manager for the American Astronomical Society said. It has been working on coordinating with communities, government entities in state and national levels, and universities.
In their engagement with educational institutions, researchers found that the public interest in the eclipse has been rising. “Once the teachers know about the eclipse, they are willing to teach their students about that,” independent science consultant Charles Fulco said. He urged getting students out to observe the eclipse, instead of keeping them indoors.
However, people of all ages need to be aware of the safety issues.
Dr. Mario Motta, a physician from North Shore Cardiovascular Associates said that the only safe time to look directly at the sun with naked eyes is during the totality, when the moon entirely blocks the sun’s face, which will happen only within the path of totality. Otherwise, people need to wear special solar filters, called “solar glasses.” He also said that people need to make sure to purchase only certified filters, which cost just a dollar.
“Please enjoy it, because you may end up not seeing it in the rest of your life,” Fulco said.