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An eclipse is coming!

January 17, 2017

It's almost hard to believe. I feel like I have been looking forward to the solar eclipse of August 21, 2017 for decades. Hmm. It HAS been a long time. Some folks have been looking ahead to this eclipse since the late 1970s. For me, I got hooked the first time I saw a total solar eclipse, August 11, 1999.

 

I was aboard a cruise ship, the Stella Solaris, in the Black Sea. I was lucky to accompany the tour group from the Adler Planetarium, and it was a pretty large group. There were well over 100 people in our group alone, and we joined other groups from the Griffith Observatory and elsewhere. It was an amazing atmosphere to be around hundreds of people who were all there to see a rare celestial spectacle, when the Moon completely covers the Sun as seen from Earth.

 

Image: Right before totality, August 11, 1999, Black Sea, aboard the Stella Solaris, looking toward two other ships nearby. Image credit: Michelle Nichols

 

A total solar eclipse is only visible from a narrow path on Earth, and being on a cruise ship was ideal because had it been cloudy, the cruise ship captain could have moved the ship to a different location to try to avoid the clouds. But it wasn't necessary on this day. It was cloudless, hot, and the Black Sea was like glass. When totality happened, I was not expecting the reaction I had...I sobbed. It made complete sense as to why ancient people were afraid of eclipses. If you don't know one is going to happen, and suddenly, the sky goes dark and the Sun fades away, it truly looks like there is a hole in the sky. It is hauntingly, frighteningly, astronomically beautiful. And right then and there, I made a vow to myself to try to go and see another total eclipse.

 

Image: August 11, 1999 total solar eclipse. Credit: Unknown photographer; image is a scan from a film print.

 

It so happens that I am heading to see the eclipse this August 21, and amazingly, it's the next eclipse in the same cycle of the 1999 eclipse. I'll be in Carbondale, Illinois, and I hope to be there among thousands of fellow eclipse enthusiasts. If we're lucky, weather-wise, we'll see the Sun covered by the Moon for about 2 minutes 40 seconds.

 

Want to learn more about how eclipses happen and how you can use a pinhole projector to view the Sun safely? Check out several activities in my book!

 

I'd love to know if you are able to see the Sun yourself! Just remember... even if you aren't in the path of totality, and even if it's not even a day when a solar eclipse is happening, you can view the Sun safely using a pinhole projector. Give it a try! And contact me with questions! My email address is astroeducator {at} aol {dot} com.

 

Clear skies!

Michelle

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