Don't Shoot the Messenger 8/16

The sun and the moon have aligned, or will, quite literally placing Niobrara County directly in the path of totality. Sounds impressive. And it really is. The following facts were gathered from Astronomy Magazine by Michael Bakich.

 The total solar eclipse of June 8, 1918 crossed the United States from Washington State to Florida. This path is roughly similar to the August 21, 2017 total solar eclipse and was the last time totality crossed the nation from the Pacific to the Atlantic.

This will be the first total solar eclipse in the continental U.S. in 38 years. The last one occurred February 26, 1979. Unfortunately, not many people saw it because it clipped just five states in the Northwest and the weather for the most part was bleak. Before that one, you have to go back to March 7, 1970.

Everyone in the continental U.S. will see at least a partial eclipse. In fact, if you have clear skies on eclipse day, the Moon will cover at least 48 percent of the Sun’s surface.

It’s all about totality. Not to cast a shadow on things, but likening a partial eclipse to a total eclipse is like comparing almost dying to dying. I know that 48 percent sounds like a lot. It isn’t. You won’t even notice your surroundings getting dark. And it doesn’t matter whether the partial eclipse above your location is 48, 58, or 98 percent. Only totality reveals the true celestial spectacle: the diamond ring, the Sun’s glorious corona, strange colors in our sky, and seeing stars in the daytime.

Although the big payoff is the exact lineup of the Sun, the Moon, and your location, keep your eyes open during the partial phases that lead up to and follow it. As you view the beginning through a safe solar filter, the universe will set your mind at ease when you see the Moon take the first notch out of the Sun’s disk. Around the three-quarters mark, you’ll start to notice that shadows are getting sharper. The reason is that the Sun’s disk is shrinking, literally approaching a point, and a smaller light source produces better-defined shadows. At about 85 percent coverage, someone you’re with will see Venus 34° west-northwest of the Sun. If any trees live at your site, you may see their leaves act like pinhole cameras as hundreds of crescent Suns appear in their shadows.

Nature will take heed. Depending on your surroundings, as totality nears you may experience strange things. Look. You’ll notice a resemblance to the onset of night, though not exactly. Areas much lighter than the sky near the Sun lie all around the horizon. Shadows look different. Listen. Usually, any breeze will dissipate and birds (many of whom will come in to roost) will stop chirping. It is quiet. Feel. A 10°–15° F drop in temperature is not unusual. 

I have heard many varying opinions on what the eclipse means for our community. From doom and gloom to party until you are eclipsed. My favorite was the woman whom asked why we would schedule the eclipse on a Monday instead of the weekend. Ma’am, we in Niobrara County are capable of moving mountains however, celestial matters are a little above our pay grade. 

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