The Great American Total Solar Eclipse of 2017
It’s being called “The Eclipse of the Century.” Have you heard about it? It’s just over two weeks away. I only ask because I mentioned it to a former science teacher a couple of weeks ago, and he hadn’t heard about it. I couldn’t believe it! So I gave him all the juicy details. And if you haven’t heard about it, I’ll give you the juicy details, too.
On August 21, the moon will pass between the earth and the sun in the middle of the afternoon. Most of the continental U.S. will see a partial eclipse. But for those in the 70-mile wide “path of totality” that crosses through 14 states from the west coast to the east coast, well, they get the full deal: a total solar eclipse.
“To people within that ‘path of totality,’ the sun will seem to disappear for two minutes, leaving an improbable black hole ringed by a dancing halo of light. The stars will come out. People who travel to witness total eclipses say the experience is unmatched on Earth or in the heavens.” – theatlantic.com
Who’s Viewing It?
You are. And your kids. Some people will say it’s not a big deal, but as it approaches and the media begins to hype it up even more, you’re going to want to be a part of it. And you should want to. It’s cool, and it’s a novel event to share with your kids. Plan ahead so that you and your family aren’t disappointed when the time comes.
Who else is viewing it? Everyone in the U.S. (barring bad weather/clouds) will be able to see the partial eclipse. 12 million lucky people live smack dab in the path of totality and a whopping 2/3 of the population of the U.S. are within a day’s drive of the path of totality. There’s no way to tell, but some guesstimates predict that up to 7 million people could travel to the path to see the sun disappear for two whole minutes.
- “Never before will a celestial event be viewed by so many and explored from so many vantage points: from space, from the air and from the ground.” –Thomas Zurbuchen, associate administrator of NASA’s Science Mission Directorate
- “The swath of the shadow will touch the United States for only 1h 33m 16.8s – less than the length of a short movie! But in that time, many, many people in our country will have had their perceptions, and their lives changed forever. It’s that kind of a sight.” –eclipse2017.org
Apparently, it’s an entirely impressive two minutes. I’ve already heard that some schools are closing in Tennessee. People are trying to convince offices to close for the day. And friends in North Carolina are pulling their kids out of school to make a trip to the path of totality.
If You Read Nothing Else, Read This: Protect Your Eyes (and Your Kids’ Eyes!)
It may sound obvious, but you can’t look at the sun–not even a tiny bit of it. Here’s the problem: Looking at the sun on any regular day hurts. It’s unbearable. But during an eclipse, as the sun is covered and the intensity is blocked out, it seems almost bearable. So people (and especially kids) may be tempted to look with their naked eyes. DON’T. AND MAKE SURE YOUR KIDS DON’T. Looking at the sun without eye protection, even if it’s just a sliver of sun, can cause permanent damage or blindness.
The key here is not to be afraid, but to respect the intensity, and view it the right way.
There are several ways to view it safely–from special glasses to pinhole cameras. NASA’s Eclipse 101 Safety has all of the details. If you’re going to get glasses, make sure they’re the real deal, certified, and up for the job.
P.S. Many libraries are hosting events and giving out free glasses. Contact your library to find out if they’re hosting an event and/or providing supplies.
What’s going on in Richmond?
Richmond isn’t in the path of totality so the eclipse will be partial. Still, as the Science Museum of Virginia notes, you won’t have seen a comparable partial eclipse since 1994. At the max, the moon will cover 86% of the sun.
- Eclipse2017.org has general event timing starting days before so you’ll know what to expect.
- According to timeanddate.com/eclipse, the partial eclipse will start at 1:18 p.m. in Richmond, max coverage of the sun will happen at 2:44 p.m. and the eclipse will end at 4:03 p.m.
RVA Viewing Parties
- Science Museum of Virginia: Eclipse Viewing Party, noon to 4 p.m.
- Lewis Ginter: Sun Celebration Solar Eclipse, 1-3pm
- Richmond Public Library: Solar Eclipse Watch Party
Now, if you want to get out of Richmond and get to the path of totality, you’d better make your plans yesterday. The two closest cities in the path of totality to Richmond are Greenville, SC, and Nashville, TN. If you haven’t made plans yet to travel to one of these locations, it may be too late. Many hotels have been booked for months.
What About Travel Before and After the Eclipse?
The U.S. Department of Transportation has distributed a Fact Sheet for State and Local Departments of Transportation so that they can be prepared for eclipse traffic. It says that this is “a rare planned special event for which State and local Departments of Transportation (DOT) should prepare and that it’s “a planned special event for which there has been no recent precedent in the United States.” Wow.
I’m not usually a planner, but in this case, I’d recommend that you plan ahead before traveling. I certainly wouldn’t want to be stuck in bumper-to-bumper traffic in the middle of blazing August heat with wiggly kiddos and nowhere to stay.
Get to your viewing location well before the eclipse begins. Anticipate crowds and potential traffic delays. Pack chairs, blankets, food, drinks, diapers, sunscreen, hats, viewing glasses, and anything else you’ll need to make a day of it.
If you can’t travel to the path of totality, or if you can’t even get outside, NASA will be megacasting the event for you.
What if clouds or rain rolls in?
Pray pray pray for clear skies. But we live in Virginia, and rain has ruined former eclipses. I’ll be in Greenville, SC, and we plan to monitor weather conditions starting three days prior. If weather becomes a factor, we’ll definitely consider an alternative location so that we don’t miss this very unique event.
Have fun and be safe! And if you’ve got questions, comment on the article, and I’ll do my best to get you the info you need.