Staying Safe on August 21

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You’ll need a pair of special eclipse safety glasses to stay safe on August 21.

The most important thing to consider when planning for a solar eclipse isn’t your location within the path of totality, your distance to the centerline, or even the weather. It’s eye safety. If you attempt to view an eclipse incorrectly, there’s a really great chance your souvenir of the eclipse will be irreparable eye damage or even blindness. We all want to make lifelong memories on August 21, but those memories should be indelibly imprinted onto our minds, not our retinas.

Unfortunately, the media sometimes neglects to mention the importance of solar eclipse eye safety and occasionally they even unwittingly provide incorrect or dangerous information. Recently, one of the largest media companies in the world suggested that people should use sunglasses to view the eclipse on August 21. Of course, ordinary sunglasses are never safe to use for direct solar viewing. Another media outlet encouraged readers to get their binoculars ready for the eclipse and never mentioned the fact that optical devices like cameras, binoculars, and telescopes need specially designed solar filters that fit snugly on the front end (the Sun side) of the device. Attempting to view an eclipse with an unfiltered optical device is like holding a magnifying glass to your eye while focusing direct sunlight through the lens. No, you definitely don’t want to do that.

Our hope is that as we get closer to August 21, the media will take the subject of eye safety more seriously and communicate the proper and safe way to view a solar eclipse as carefully and unambiguously as possible. Too many eyes are at risk not to get this information right every single time. In the meantime, here’s what you need to know to stay safe on August 21:

Use Eclipse Safety Glasses

You must use special eclipse safety glasses to view a partial eclipse, an annular eclipse, and the partial phases of a total eclipse. Although it may be tempting to look directly at an eclipse with unprotected eyes when so much of the Sun is obscured, the small amount of light emitted during even a 99.9 percent partial eclipse is still dangerous. The only time it’s safe to look at a total eclipse without proper eye protection is during the very brief period of “totality” when the Sun is 100 percent blocked by the Moon. If you’re in a location where the eclipse won’t be total, there is never a time when it’s safe to look with unprotected eyes. (For the record, on August 21, we’ll have a total eclipse that will be partial most of the time within the path of totality and partial all of the time outside the path of totality.)

Be Wary of Phony Glasses

Make sure that your eclipse safety glasses are certified as meeting ISO standards for safe solar viewing. Take care to purchase your glasses from a reputable seller and be wary of knockoff glasses that claim to be safe but aren’t. Already, there are reports of bogus eclipse glasses made by a company called Solar Eclipse International. Be very careful and don’t use any product unless claims of safety can be verified. We recommend the products made by Rainbow Symphony. You can easily find a variety of eclipse safety glasses and handheld solar viewers made by Rainbow Symphony at online sites like Amazon.com and the NationalEclipse.com eclipse store provides direct links to many of these items. Before using your glasses or viewers, make sure that they are not damaged in any way and that you read all of the safety instructions that came with them. Children should always be supervised when using eclipse safety glasses and handheld solar viewers.

Don’t Improvise

Unless a product has been specifically designed for safe solar viewing and has been certified as meeting international standards for such products, it’s best to assume that a device, method, or instrument is unsafe. Don’t risk it! Items such as regular sunglasses, smoked glass, exposed film, medical x-rays, homemade filters, and many others are all unsafe. You can use welder’s glass to view an eclipse, but it must be #14 welder’s glass; any rating below #14 is not safe. It’s also safe to view an eclipse using indirect methods, such as projecting an image of the eclipsed Sun onto a white screen. Search online for “pinhole projector” and follow the instructions provided by a trusted organization like NASA to make your own.

Protect Your Eyes Before and After Totality

If the eclipse will be total in your location, don’t remove your glasses until the very last bit of the Sun is gone, including “Baily’s beads” and the “diamond ring.” Again, it’s only safe to look with unprotected eyes when the Sun is 100 percent blocked by the Moon and only the soft wisps of the solar corona are visible. Once totality begins, it’s important to know exactly when totality will be ending in your precise location so that you can once again put on your eclipse glasses before the first brightness of the exposed Sun is revealed.

Optical Devices Must Have Solar Filters

As already noted, attempting to view the Sun using cameras, binoculars, telescopes, or other optical devices without proper filters is extremely hazardous and can permanently damage the eyes in an instant. These devices need specially designed solar filters that fit snugly on the front end (the Sun side) of the device. Never attempt to view the Sun through an optical device using eclipse glasses or any type of filter that attaches to the viewing side (as opposed to the Sun side) of the instrument; the focused light will destroy the filter and enter and damage your eyes. Remember the magnifying glass analogy? Since viewing or photographing a solar eclipse with an optical device requires specialized equipment and knowledge, your best bet is to consult with a qualified astronomer or just enjoy the eclipse with your own eyes using the safe solar viewing procedures already mentioned.

For more information on how to safely view a solar eclipse, see the excellent pages on viewing safety by the American Astronomical Society and NASA.

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Ten Unique Places to View the National Eclipse

 

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Ten unique places to view the National Eclipse on August 21, 2017.

With less than a year to go until the National Eclipse touches down in the U.S., the obligatory top ten lists of the “best” or “greatest” viewing sites are starting to pop up in the media and around the web. Usually, these lists focus on places with the most promising weather prospects, the longest durations of totality, or the most interesting local attractions. To be sure, these lists are valuable if you’re still trying to decide where to go to see the eclipse. But for our list, we decided to resist the temptation to mimic what everyone else is doing and instead add some levity to the decisionmaking process by offering our picks for the most quirky, outrageous, or just plain unique places to view the National Eclipse. On August 21, 2017, everyone should seek out clear skies and long durations, but if you want a good story too, this list is for you. Here are our picks, presented from west to east along the path of totality:

1. Fishing Rock — Lincoln Beach, Oregon. On the coast of Oregon there’s an unincorporated community called Lincoln Beach, population about 2,000. On the south end of the beach for which the town is named is a spit of land called Fishing Rock that juts out a few hundred feet into the Pacific Ocean. Apparently, you can walk out onto Fishing Rock. And if you happen to be standing there at exactly 10:15am PT on August 21, 2017, you’ll be among the first people in the U.S. to see the National Eclipse and you’ll be the very first person to see the centerline, where the eclipse lasts the longest, make landfall.

Of course, you can’t actually see an imaginary centerline, but that’s where it will first touch U.S. soil, just off the southern edge of Fishing Rock. Plus, your elevated vantage point might give you a really good glimpse of the Moon’s shadow as it races toward you across the ocean in the moments before totality. It’s unclear how early you’ll need to arrive in order to secure a spot on that narrow rock. If you arrive too early, when it’s still dark, you’ll be risking life and limb on the cliffs. The other risk is that morning clouds or fog along the Oregon coast might spoil the event for observers. But if you manage to safely find a spot and the weather cooperates, Fishing Rock definitely qualifies as a unique place to view the National Eclipse.

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Fishing Rock in Lincoln Beach, Oregon. (Photo by Scott Catron)

The eclipse will begin at Fishing Rock at 9:04am PT with totality starting at 10:15am PT and lasting for one minute and 59 seconds.

2. Volcanoes EclipseFest — Keizer, Oregon. All around the U.S., minor league baseball teams are known for their goofy promotions and silly gimmicks. Even some of the team names are absurd: the El Paso Chihuahuas, the Lansing Lugnuts, the Montgomery Biscuits. But the Salem-Keizer Volcanoes have come up with one of the zaniest (and best!) minor league baseball promotions of all time.

The Volcanoes, a Class A affiliate of the San Francisco Giants, will host a three-game brewfest on August 18, 19, and 20. But that’s not the best part. The celebration will culminate with a morning game on August 21 that will feature the first ever “eclipse delay” in baseball history. As the moment of totality approaches, the game will be paused, fans and players alike will don their Volcanoes-branded eclipse glasses, and everyone in the ballpark will witness the sight of a lifetime. After totality, the game will resumeno tarp roll-up necessary. If you’re a baseball fan, how can you resist?

The eclipse will begin at Volcanoes Stadium at 9:05am PT with totality starting at 10:17am PT and lasting for one minute and 46 seconds.

3. 1918 Viewing Site — Baker City, Oregon. Before 2017, the last time a total solar eclipse swept across the U.S. from coast to coast was 1918. That eclipse, too, entered the U.S. in the Pacific Northwest. There aren’t too many places where the paths of both the 1918 and 2017 eclipses overlap before they diverge, but Baker City, Oregon, is one of them and that’s where a U.S. Naval Observatory team stationed itself to observe the 1918 eclipse. Led by astronomer John C. Hammond, the team included eclipse expert Samuel Alfred Mitchell and artist Howard Russell Butler, whose painting of the eclipse was important in a day before reliable color photography.

According to an expedition report written by Hammond, “an ideal site was obtained at the fair grounds which were located about a mile from the center of the city.” Maybe someone in Baker City can tell you if the original fairgrounds still exist. If so, and if you’re an astronomy history buff and think this might be cool, maybe you can view the eclipse from that exact spot and follow in the footsteps of the men from 1918.

The eclipse will begin at downtown Baker City at 9:09am PT with totality starting at 10:24am PT and lasting for one minute and 34 seconds.

4. Craters of the Moon National Monument — Butte County, Idaho. On May 2, 1924, President Calvin Coolidge signed a proclamation establishing Craters of the Moon National Monument. Today, it encompasses over 1,000 square miles of volcanic features and lava fields.

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Craters of the Moon National Monument. (Photo by National Park Service)

Certainly, there are lots of scenic places and stunning vistas along the path of totality, especially in the western U.S., from which you can view the National Eclipse. But where else can you bask in the shadow of the Moon in a place that purportedly looks like the Moon? Granted, most of Craters of the Moon National Monument lies outside the path of totality to the south. If you want to see a total eclipse, you’ll need to find an access point in the very northern reaches of the preserve, just below the town of Arco, Idaho. And even then, you might only get a little more than a minute of totality. But the landscape will be otherworldly.

The eclipse will begin at the northern tip of Craters of the Moon National Monument at 10:13am MT with totality starting at 11:31am MT and lasting for one minute and 16 seconds.

5. Carhenge — Alliance, Nebraska. If you’ll be in western Nebraska on August 21, 2017, consider viewing the National Eclipse from Carhenge. It’s one of several viewing sites designated by the city of Alliance and it’s arguably one of the most unique along the path.

If you can imagine Stonehenge, but with automobiles instead of stone monoliths, that’s Carhenge. Conceived by Jim Reinders in 1987 as a memorial to his father who lived on the site, it was constructed with 39 vintage American-made cars. The cars, painted gray to mirror Stonehenge, are arranged in a circle to closely replicate the prehistoric astronomical site in England. It may all be a bit kooky, but it’s pure Americana right in the heartland…so maybe, it’s the perfect place to view a total eclipse that will be visible only in America. Plus, it’s virtually right on the centerline.

The eclipse will begin at Carhenge at 10:27am MT with totality starting at 11:49am MT and lasting for two minutes and 29 seconds.

6. The Iowa Triangle — Fremont County, Iowa. If you’ve already done some research on where to view the National Eclipse, you’ve probably at least memorized the 12 states through which the path of totality will travel, from Oregon in the west to South Carolina in the east. If so, you’re probably wondering Iowa? The eclipse doesn’t travel through Iowa. But it does. As the path of totality exits Nebraska, the northern line of the path makes a short side trip into Fremont County, Iowa, before entering Missouri. The word “short” is really an overstatement here. It amounts to a distance of less than two miles and the resulting wedge of farmlandwhich we’ve dubbed the “Iowa Triangle”is just shy of a mile square.

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The National Eclipse will travel through a tiny slice of Iowa on August 21, 2017.

If you’d like to forever be known as the only person to have witnessed totality in Iowa on August 21, 2017, here’s your chance (assuming nobody else shows up). There are exactly three roads that can be used to access the Iowa Triangle: 240th Avenue, County Road J64, and 100th Street, which forms the bottom side of the triangle as it runs along the Iowa-Missouri state line. Since this eclipse path anomaly occurs at the very northern limit of the path, totality here will be very, very short. But it will make for a good story and possibly a good claim to fame.

The eclipse will begin at the intersection of 100th Street and 240th Avenue at 11:38am CT with totality starting at 1:05pm CT and lasting for 25 seconds.

7. Eclipse Crossroads — Jackson County, Illinois. After 2017, the next total solar eclipse to occur in the U.S. will take place on April 8, 2024. Since the 2017 eclipse crosses the country from northwest to southeast and the 2024 eclipse travels through the nation from southwest to northeast, the two paths cross each other and create a zone of overlapping totality in southeastern Missouri, southern Illinois, and western Kentucky. If you stand in the same place within this totality zone on August 21, 2017, and April 8, 2024, you can tell your friends that you witnessed two total eclipses from the same spot in seven years. Pretty neat, right?

This totality zone is big, encompassing roughly 9,000 square miles. But when two eclipse paths cross each other, there can only be one unique point on Earth where both centerlines meet. For the 2017 and 2024 eclipses, that point is located near the eastern shore of Cedar Lake in Jackson County, Illinois. Of course, if you set up camp in the nearby town of Makanda, less than 4 miles away, nobody will dispute your claim that you saw the eclipse from the crossroads. In fact, even the largest nearby city, Carbondale, is calling itself the “eclipse crossroads of America.” What’s more, the 2017/2024 centerline crossing is coincidentally located only about ten miles from the “point of greatest duration” in 2017. If you decide to view the eclipse at or near the crossroads on August 21, you’ll also enjoy the longest total eclipse in the country.

The eclipse will begin at the centerline crossing at 11:52am CT with totality starting at 1:20pm CT and lasting for two minutes and 40 seconds.

8. “Little Green Men” Days Festival — Kelly, Kentucky. Every year, the unincorporated community of Kelly, Kentucky, holds an event called the “Little Green Men” Days Festival. The festival commemorates a local encounter with supposed extraterrestrials, known as the Hopkinsville Goblins, that took place on August 21, 1955. Notice the date? The close encounter occurred on the exact date of the upcoming National Eclipse, 62 years before.

If the date connection isn’t enough to raise the hairs on the back of your neck, the site of the farmhouse where the encounter occurred just happens to be mere miles from the exact spot on the eclipse path where the Moon’s shadow aligns most closely with the Earth, called the “point of greatest eclipse.” Coincidence? Or are the Hopkinsville Goblins coming back on August 21, 2017? Some think they are. If you attend the “Little Green Men” Days Festival, you might just find out.

The eclipse will begin at the “Little Green Men” Days Festival at 11:56am CT with totality starting at 1:24pm CT and lasting for two minutes and 38 seconds.

9. Clingman’s Dome — Swain County, North Carolina. At an elevation of 6,643 feet, Clingman’s Dome is the third highest point in the eastern U.S. But since those other two peaks are outside the path of totality, that makes Clingman’s Dome the place to be in the east if you want to be as high as possible on August 21, 2017. As far as eclipses go, being up high has its advantages. You might be able to see the shadow of the Moon racing toward you across the landscape at faster than the speed of sound. And, especially here in the Great Smoky Mountains, it gets you up above any trees that might block your view of the sky.

As luck would have it, Clingman’s Dome is one of the most accessible mountains in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. There’s a neat-looking observation tower at the top of the mountain that, needless to say, will be a very popular place on eclipse day. The 45-foot high concrete tower only has a 28-foot diameter platform, so space is definitely limited. Perhaps the National Park Service will make passes available via a lottery system. If not, you’ll need to show up really early.

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The observation tower at Clingman’s Dome. (Photo by Wikimedia user Dsdugan)

The eclipse will begin at Clingman’s Dome at 1:06pm ET with totality starting at 2:35pm ET and lasting for one minute and 24 seconds.

10. Cape Romain National Wildlife Refuge — Charleston County, South Carolina. Stretching along 22 miles of coastline and consisting of 66,000 acres of salt marshes, maritime forest, and coastal waterways, Cape Romain National Wildlife Refuge is where the centerline of the National Eclipse will last touch U.S. soil. Most of the refuge is either not on solid ground or only accessible by water, which offers a convenient excuse to view the eclipse by boat if you’d like to be one of the very last people in the U.S. to wave goodbye to the shadow of the Moon as it heads out into the Atlantic Ocean before concluding its journey off the coast of Africa.

A couple of small fishing towns, like Awendaw and McClellanville, are located on the mainland adjacent to the refuge. You can bet that enterprising boat owners will be renting and chartering vessels of all types and sizes on August 21. For past eclipses, especially those that have occurred mainly over open ocean, entire cruises have been organized for the benefit of eclipse chasers. Maybe a few ship captains will offer something similar. But whatever your vessel of choicefrom rowboat to cruise shipand wherever you happen to bea few feet from the refuge or miles out at seabeing on the water as the National Eclipse exits the U.S. will unquestionably qualify as a unique eclipse experience.

The eclipse will begin at the eastern end of Cape Romain National Wildlife Refuge at 1:18pm ET with totality starting at 2:46pm ET and lasting for two minutes and 34 seconds.

We’re not claiming any of these viewing sites are the “best” or “greatest” places to view the National Eclipse. They may not necessarily have the most promising weather prospects or the longest durations of totality and some of them may be far off the beaten track. If you’ve never seen a total solar eclipse before, you may want to hedge your bet by selecting a site located close to the centerline in an area that offers a good possibility of favorable weather. On the other hand, if you’re a nonconformist who enjoys a good adventure, consider viewing the National Eclipse from one of these ten unique places. And even if you don’t, simply knowing about them is fun too.

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X Marks the Spot: Two Total Solar Eclipses in Seven Years

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The paths of the 2017 and 2024 eclipses and where they will cross.

It’s been said that, on average, a total solar eclipse can be seen from the same place only once every 375 years. The methodology used by whoever calculated this number is unknown and it’s debatable whether there can even be a definitive methodology for such a calculation. For instance, how many points on Earth do you use to arrive at an average number of years? But regardless of the math, there’s no denying the fact that a total solar eclipse is a relatively rare event for any given place. So, for an area to get not one, but two, total solar eclipses in just seven years is a truly remarkable occurrence!

An area spanning parts of Missouri, Illinois, and Kentucky will be the nexus of the next two total solar eclipses to occur in the U.S., on August 21, 2017, and April 8, 2024. Because the 2017 eclipse travels across the country from northwest to southeast and the 2024 eclipse makes its way through the nation from southwest to northeast, the two paths cross each other and create a zone of overlapping totality of almost 9,000 square miles, or roughly the size of New Jersey.

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The totality zone where the paths of the 2017 and 2024 eclipses will cross.

Although no major American cities are located within the totality zone, a few decent-sized ones are. In Illinois, Carbondale is located in the northern quadrant of the zone and Marion is located in the eastern. In the southern quadrant there’s Paducah, Kentucky, and Cape Girardeau, Missouri. Farmington, Missouri, is located in the western quadrant. The Shawnee National Forest is completely enclosed within the zone of totality and both the Mississippi and Ohio rivers run through it.

The centerline of any total solar eclipse path is where totality lasts the longest, and cities located on or near this line often promote themselves as being the very best place to view an eclipse. Of course, when two eclipse paths cross, there can only be one singular point on Earth where both centerlines meet. For the 2017 and 2024 eclipses, “X” marks the spot near the eastern shore of Cedar Lake in Jackson County, Illinois. Technically, the closest town to this exact astronomical treasure map spot is Makanda, population about 500. The nearest city of any size is Carbondale, located about three miles to the northeast. In fact, both Makanda and Carbondale are touting themselves as the place where the two centerlines cross, with Carbondale and its Southern Illinois University partner adopting the tagline “Eclipse Crossroads of America.” We’ll just split the difference and give Jackson County the bragging rights.

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The centerline crossing of the 2017 and 2024 eclipses.

After 2024, eight more total solar eclipses will occur in the U.S. this century, resulting in a few more centerline crossings. We’ll dedicate a future blog post to discuss where and when these will occur, although some of us probably won’t be around for all of them. In the meantime, if you’d enjoy the unique distinction of seeing two total solar eclipses in one place, start making plans to be in southeastern Missouri, southern Illinois, or western Kentucky on August 21, 2017, and mark your calendar to do the same for April 8, 2024.

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Why a Total Solar Eclipse Can Never Occur on Easter

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A full moon. (Photo by Gregory H. Revera)

Easter Sunday falls on March 27 this year, one of those years when it feels like the holiday arrives too early. In 2008, we had the earliest Easter in almost a century when it occurred on March 23, its earliest arrival since 1913. Next year, we’ll celebrate Easter much later, on April 16. We celebrate other holidays that change dates each year, like Thanksgiving, but at least Thanksgiving always occurs on the fourth Thursday of November, regardless of the actual date. Easter, on the other hand, seems to jump from day to day in an almost random pattern, falling anywhere from March 22 to April 25. But why does the date of Easter vary so widely from year to year anyway?

Here’s why. According to the Bible, Jesus was crucified and resurrected around the time of the Jewish Passover. So, early Christians decided to celebrate Easter each year at that same time. There wasn’t really any agreement, though, on exactly which day the holiday should be observed. Some celebrated on the first day of Passover and others celebrated on the Sunday following the first day of Passover. It wasn’t until 326 CE that the date of Easter was standardized. Or, more accurately, the formula to determine the date of Easter each year was standardized. A group of bishops known as the Council of Nicaea mandated that Easter would thereafter always fall on the first Sunday after the first full moon occurring on or after the vernal equinox, the first day of spring. If the full moon happened to occur on a Sunday, Easter would be celebrated the following Sunday. Christians have been using this date determination method ever since, with the only adjustment being a change in the calendar itself when the Julian calendar gave way to the Gregorian calendar in 1582. For example, if we were still using the Julian calendar, the date of Easter this year would be April 18 instead of March 27. In fact, Eastern Christians still use the Julian calendar, so they celebrate Easter this year on May 1, which is April 18 on the Julian calendar converted to the Gregorian calendar.

So, that’s how the date of Easter is determined and why it can vary so widely from year to year. It all depends on how early or how late a full moon occurs after the vernal equinox. Now that we’ve got that settled, what does all of this have to do with eclipses and why can’t a total solar eclipse ever occur on Easter?

It’s simple, really. A total solar eclipse can only occur during a new moon, the phase that occurs when the Moon is positioned directly between the Earth and the Sun. Since Easter can never occur any earlier than one day after a full moon nor any later than seven days after a full moon, it’s impossible for the date of Easter to coincide with a new moon, which is always separated from a full moon by about two weeks. And if a new moon can never occur on Easter, than a total solar eclipse can never occur on Easter either.

Incidentally, the fact that a total solar eclipse can never occur during a full moon would also seem to refute the claim by some that an eclipse caused the darkening of the sky that the Bible describes as taking place during the crucifixion of Jesus. The first day of Passover always occurs on the 14th day of the first month of the Jewish calendar. The Jewish calendar is a lunar calendar with the months based on lunar cycles, and the middle of each month corresponds to the appearance of a full moon. If Jesus was in fact crucified around the time of Passover, the Moon would have been full or nearly full and a new moon would still have been many days away.

Happy Easter!

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