Americans across all 50 United States will get a treat from Mother Nature on Monday -- the first total solar eclipse visible nationwide in 38 years.
While the entire nation will experience some level of eclipse, the path of the “umbra” – where the eclipse is total – will be only about 100 miles wide and stretch from Oregon to South Carolina.
“We’re about 400 miles south of the center line, where they’ll see totality,” said Dr. Wayne Wooten, an astronomer who recently retired from Pensacola State College.
In northwest Florida, the eclipse will last three hours, beginning at 12:03 p.m. Central time, and maxing out at around 1:37.
“Then at 3:03 in the afternoon, it’s all over. The moon leaves the sun’s disk, and it won’t be back again until the next eclipse we have locally, which will be in 2024,” Wooten said.
About 12 million people live in the total eclipse area, and another seven million are expected to travel there to see the totality.
But why all the fuss about this eclipse? The one-word answer is: proximity.
“We have not had a coast-to-coast totality since 1879,” said Wooten. “And the last totality that touched the continental 48 [states], was Feb. 26, 1979.”
A solar eclipse occurs when the moon passes between the sun and Earth, and appears to cover the disk of the sun completely. In doing so, the moon casts a shadow that turns day into twilight on Earth. Other effects, says Wooten, will be felt as well.
“You will see a considerable drop in the temperature as more and more of the sun is covered,” said Wooten. “It will typically drop 10-15 degrees Fahrenheit. There will be a rush of wind in toward the central shadow. You may be able to see Venus and Jupiter with most of the sun covered about 1:30 in the afternoon.”
The eclipse can be viewed safely, with some precautions. Wooten recommends special solar filters on telescopes, and filters in the form of paper glasses -- similar to those worn to see a 3-D movie. There’s also an old-school, indirect way of viewing.
“Get a flat mirror, and cover it with paper; punch a hole about an inch in the paper,” said Wooten. “Point the mirror at an angle toward the sun, and then reflect the solar image on a wall. Maybe put a big piece of poster board on a wall 15, 20, 30 feet away.”
During an eclipse, the moon has no influence on the sun, in regard to solar flares and sunspots. However, the moon does impact Earth.
“We’re getting in an eclipse either a new or full moon [with] either a lunar or solar eclipse,” Wooten said. “We’re getting a spring tide. The sun and moon are acting together, and so we’re having unusually strong tidal conditions. A week [after the eclipse], not much change in tides at all.”
The next total solar eclipse, on July 2, 2019, will be visible only from parts of South America. The next one visible in the U.S. is April 18, 2024,running from central Texas to upstate New York.
And for some extra enjoyment, we recommend viewing the solar eclipse while listening to “Moon Shadow” by Cat Stevens and Pink Floyd’s “Dark Side of the Moon.”