On August 21, 2017, people living on the North American continent will witness their first total solar eclipse in nearly a century, and estimated 12 million US residents who live in the “path of totality” are already gearing up for this awesome natural event.
The total solar eclipse of June 8, 1918 crossed the United States from Washington to Florida. “To say scientists are excited by the possibilities offered by this month’s eclipse is an understatement,” says Chau Tu.
Another 1.7-2 million visitor are expected to travel to a band of land approximately 75 miles wide that stretches from Oregon to South Carolina where viewers will be able to bask in shadow as the moon eclipses the sun, blotting out all light from the sun, except for the ring of its corona. The eclipse’s total darkness will last anywhere from 2 to 2.5 minutes, depending upon where you are located — in Carbondale, Illinois, eclipse chasers will be treated to the longest stretch of darkness, lasting 2.5 minutes.
Eclipses have helped humans reach many scientific conclusions over the centuries, even some that seem pretty obvious to us now, such as when the Greek philosopher, Anaxagoras, used solar eclipses — when the moon moves in front of the sun — to “conclude that the sun had to be farther away than the moon from Earth,” says Tu. Scientists even used an eclipse to prove that Einstein’s theory of relativity was accurate.
Alex Filippenko, a UC Berkeley professor of astronomy and an acknowledged eclipse addict, has seen 15 since his first one in 1979 and says he wouldn’t miss this one for the world.
The Space Sciences Lab at University of California Berkeley has teamed up with Google and will be documenting the course of the eclipse. Over one thousand photographers from Oregon to South Carolina will be setting up to capture images of the changing corona as the moon blocks the sun over the 1.5 hours that the shadow crosses the continental U.S.
These images will allow scientists on the ground to monitor changes in the inner corona and ultimately to understand the inner workings of the sun—solar flares and coronal mass ejections, for example, that interact with Earth’s magnetic field and sometimes cause power outages. Satellites orbiting Earth, for technical reasons, cannot record these changes.
So all you citizen scientists out there, grab your cameras and make your way to the “path of totality.” You can also help NASA by recording other solar eclipse data, and they’ve got just the app for it.
During an eclipse, temperatures and cloud conditions, for example, can change rapidly, animals can will suddenly fall silent, and while scientists know these events are bound to happen, they don’t exactly why or how. That’s where we all can help, wherever we are, simply using a thermometer and the GLOBE Observer app.
The eclipse will last from 9:05 a.m. PST until 2:48 p.m. EST.