Monday, August 21, 2017, an enormous part of the USA will have the opportunity to see a total solar eclipse.
Not a partial eclipse. We get those pretty frequently. The total is special.
Consider this: we have special eclipses on earth. The apparent sizes of the sun and the moon are almost exactly equal. No other planet in our solar system has this lucky configuration. For some planets/moons, the sun appears much bigger, so every eclipse is partial. For others, the moon appears much bigger, so their eclipses are total, but lack the drama.
Ours are perfect.
Which brings me back to Monday.
I’m in Canada, and only 70% of the sun will be covered by the moon. This means a two things. First, it means that I regret not taking a vacation to be in the totality. My bad.
Second, it means that the day will not get darker for me. In fact, if I didn’t know there was an eclipse happening, then I’d never notice. Still, for those of us out of the path of totality, we can still observe the eclipse either directly or indirectly. Indirectly is easiest. Take something solid, say, a piece of cardboard, and poke a hole in it. Stand with your back to the sun and focus the sun’s image through the hole onto a wall, or a sidewalk or other convenient spot. The eclipse will be perfectly visible. It’s really awesome. If you show anyone, they’ll object and say that the black spot covering part of the sun is due to the imperfection of the hole in the cardboard. Calmly rotate the cardboard to show that the spot doesn’t move. For kids, it’s a good idea to take the whole box and poke a hole in one end. Then the child puts the box over her head and stands back to the sun. The box is adjusted until she has a perfect little cinema inside. This prevents any risk of her looking directly at the sun in excitement.
You can watch the partial eclipse directly through welder’s glass, or through a properly filtered telescope. I’ll be out with my scope and filter.
For everyone who can experience the total eclipse, this is not something to be missed. Yes, I’ve heard a few soulless cretins complain that the eclipse is overrated. Don’t listen to them.
If you’re in a city, go to your local planetarium, science centre or astronomy club site and take the experience in with others. There will be telescopes, big screens and people who know what they’re talking about. Take advantage of this. (BTW this also applies to those experiencing the partial eclipse.)
But if you can get to a more natural spot, you are in for a special treat. Observe the coming eclipse, following appropriate safety measures. And BE QUIET. At the anointed hour, as the moon completely covers the sun (for between 30 seconds and 7 minutes, depending on where you are), feel the change in heat on your face. See the world plunge into an eerie darkness, rather unlike the night. Listen to the reactions of the birds.
Experience the wonder of the world experiencing our planet’s special treat.