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What Exactly Is A Solar Eclipse?

16 Aug 2017, 10:55 am

 

On August 21, 2017, we will experience an event that has not occurred in almost a century.

“1918 was the last time an eclipse actually swept across the entire continental United States,”  Dr. Michael Kirk said, a Research Scientist for the NASA Goddard Space Flight Center.

It’s a phenomena dating back pretty far in the history books.

“More than 4,000 years ago was some of the first earliest recordings of watching solar eclipses,” Dr. Kirk said. “And getting excited about them and scientists recording what they saw during a total solar eclipse.”

During a solar eclipse, the moon passes between the sun and Earth, blocking all or part of the sun for a period of time.

“It’s really the moon casting it’s shadow on the Earth,”  Dr. Kirk said.

This can only occur when the moon is in a certain position.

“As the moon orbits around the Earth, at certain times everything is in perfect alignment where the moon’s shadow hits the Earth and that shadow is a total solar eclipse,”  Dr. Kirk said.

So on August 21, 2017, parts of 14 states will go dark for several minutes in the middle of the day with the rest of North America witnessing a partial eclipse.

“The difference between 99.9% and 100% is night and day,”  Doug Biesecker said, a meteorologist at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Space Weather Prediction Center.  “It’s the difference between a picture of the Grand Canyon and being at the Grand Canyon; there’s no way to really describe it other than at 100% you’re opening up something that we never normally see, and that’s the solar atmosphere.”

If you’re lucky enough to be on the path of totality, which goes from Oregon all the way down to South Carolina, you will see one of the most mesmerizing views — the solar corona.

“We observed this as sort of a curve-like spiky structure around the solar disk and because it’s a million times fainter than the solar disk itself, we can’t see it without an eclipse,”  Dr. Gordon Petrie said, a Solar Astrophysicist at the National Solar Observatory.  “So this is a very rare treat for scientists and the public alike.”

For those in the path of totality, there’s several other things you might notice happening around you such as a difference in animal behavior.

“When the sun’s surface is completely blocked by the moon, it gets dark, it’s nighttime dark,”  Dr. Claire Raftery said, a Solar Astrophysicist at the National Solar Observatory.  “So the animals, they don’t know that a solar eclipse is happening.  They just know it’s dark so therefore it’s time to come out and feed if they’re nocturnal or it’s time to go to bed if they’re daytime animals.”

Another thing you might notice is the air around you feels cooler.

“We are going to block out that sunshine during the period of totality and so the temperature is expected to drop anywhere from 10° to 15° Fahrenheit during that period so you’ll feel a bit of a nip in the air,”  Dr. Raftery said.

If your home or business has solar panels, you could also see a change in power.

“A gradual reduction throughout the partial phase, and then a complete loss of power, you know, for the few minutes of totality,”  Biesecker said.

But whether you will view the partial or the total solar eclipse, just know you are going to be part of something that will not happen again until 2024.

“That moon is, we’re talking millions of years here, it’s slowly drifting away from Earth,”  said Biesecker.  “So eventually there will be a time when there are no total eclipses so enjoy them when we can.”

For WeatherNation, I’m Meredith Garofalo

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