Aug 01

What’s Up in the Sky

What’s Up in the Sky – August, 2017


In June I wrote about the wonders of witnessing a total solar eclipse like the one coming up on Monday, August 21, and encouraged readers to do some web searches for “information on locations and methods of safe viewing.”  Now, for those traveling to a viewing site along the path of totality, I will describe the eclipse’s “special events”, times during the event that you don’t want to miss.

I first must remind readers that at NO TIME should you ever look at the partially eclipsed Sun.  SOLAR ECLIPSE GLASSES should always be worn when observing the partial phases before and after totality.  Observing with a special solar telescope or one fitted with a proper solar filter is best done with an experienced observer who is familiar with the equipment.  Also be reminded that you have to be located along the path of totality, about an eight or nine hour drive south.

Now, about those “special” sights of interest.  The beginning of the eclipse occurs when the Moon first begins to cover the Sun.  For the next hour and a half the Moon moves slowly in front of the Sun, partially covering its disk.  View this phase best by projecting the image, do not look directly at the partially eclipsed Sun.

Since the timing of the events depends on your location, you will have to use outside resources such as solareclipsetimer.com to accurately predict them.  As the partial phase comes to an end, be aware of your total environment, the wind, the birds and insects, and the color of the sky both above and near the horizon.  As totality nears, be sure to watch through your solar eclipse glasses as the last sliver of the Sun disappears.  Immediately before this happens watch for “Bailey’s Beads” where the Sun still shines through the valleys on the Moon’s limb.  These gradually (in a few seconds) morph into a single, last bead that brightens dramatically and, when combined with the Sun’s corona (outer, bright atmosphere) forms the “diamond ring” effect.

Now totality begins.  In our area, it will last slightly less than three minutes.  It is not necessary to wear eye protection during totality, in fact you won’t see anything if you do.  The diamond will be gone but the beautiful ring remains.  You are standing in the shadow of the Moon and as it moves across the landscape you may be able to see its effects, depending on your view.  Some have witnessed “shadow bands” on the ground or the shadow itself moving over the distant horizon.

Check the time again and be ready to go back to eye protection for the end of totality when the Sun’s disk again is visible.  There may be a second diamond ring but afterwards the thin disk of the Sun will continue to grow.  During this last phase you will probably want to let it all sink in and form lasting memories.  In some circles it is customary to give a champagne toast to the most beautiful thing you will ever see up in the sky. (For a wonderful description of the eclipse, see: http://www.eclipse2017.org/2017/what_you_see.htm)

This month in history:

August 1:  Production of Saturn V rocket ends – 1968
August 3:  First in-flight space shuttle repair – 2005
August 6:  Curiosity rover lands on Mars – 2012
August 12: Echo 1 satellite launched – 1960
August 18: Helium discovered in the Sun – 1868
August 25: Voyager 2 flies past Neptune – 1989
August 28: Galileo spacecraft flies past asteroid Ida – 1993